Friday, January 1, 2016

My 2015 Reading List

Michael Salsbury
When I first read Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist, I realized the truth in his saying that your job as an artist or writer is to "collect good ideas" because those become the influences that help you produce your work.  Toward that end, I've been trying to read as much as I can in a variety of genres and areas of interest.  Below are the books I read in 2015 (links go to
  • Sand by Hugh Howey
    This is one of the best sci-fi novels I've read in a long time.  The setting and characters came to life for me in a way that they don't in many novels.  I look forward to reading more by Howey.
  • Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
    I hadn't read anything by Heinlein in years, and this sounded like a good story.  It was.  I enjoyed how a simple thing like winning a spacesuit in a contest could change a person's life.
  • How to Make a Living as a Writer by James Scott Bell
    This is really a great book that every new or struggling writer should read.  It talks about what will make you successful as a writer, the essential elements of the writing business, developing your own system for writing, self-editing, and more.  I've paid a lot more than the price of this book for writing workshops that didn't deliver as much usable information.
  • Tell, Don't Show by James Lofquist
    An old saying in the writing community is that you should show, rather than tell, what's going on in your story.  Despite the title, Lofquist isn't actually suggesting you write bland text that lacks detail.  He's actually suggesting that you write a shorter sort-of discovery draft first, filling in the details you have and telling us the rest.  Once you've completed this draft, you examine its structure, think about how you can improve it, etc., then go back and "show" the reader the whole story.  The thinking here is that it's better to write a whole draft than a partial one, and better to delete a couple of "telling" sentences than a page of "showing" text you've spent hours writing.  It's an approach I want to try with my next story.
  • Outlining the Novel: Workbook by K.M. Weiland
    This book is about outlining a novel.  It begins with some brainstorming guidance and advice, then helps you craft those raw ideas into a story outline.  As with Lofquist's book, the idea is to get you to draft the story in a brief form.  This allows you to examine it more closely and see where it might need modification or improvement.  It's a lot easier to move a few lines around in an outline than to shuffle entire chapters and rewrite them.
  • The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts
  • Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley
  • My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    Following Austin Kleon's advice in Steal Like an Artist, I started digging into the late Douglas Adams and his work.  Then I started looking at those whose work influenced him, and people who influenced them... researching a sort of  "creative family tree" of writers.  Adams was a big fan of Wodehouse and Sheckley, and when you read these other authors you can see elements of their work in the books Adams wrote.
  • Stuck in the Middle by Larry Brooks
    If you've ever visualized and started a story, only to have it unravel or screech to a halt in the middle, this book can help.  Brooks explains why a story can run out of steam in the middle, and what to do to get it back on track again.
  • Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith
    Dean Wesley Smith is a prolific writer and a hard-working guy in general.  He's also one of a few authors who has been gracious enough to take time to answer writing questions I've emailed him.  He even gave me free access to some of his training videos.  One of the things I never quite understood in his advice is that he says he never does rewrites.  After reading this book, I understand what he meant by that - and it wasn't what I thought.  Dean starts out writing a draft of the story from beginning to end.  If the story stops working at some point, he flips backward to it until he reaches the point where he thinks it went off the rails, and starts again from there (saving the earlier stuff in case it becomes useful).  Once he reaches the end, he may correct mistakes and clean up little problems, but he doesn't actually rewrite the story.  He just fixes what he has to.
  • The Write Attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    This is a book about developing the right mental attitude to be a professional writer, including building habits, routines, and material.  It's part motivational, and part practical.
  • Accelerated Learning Techniques by Brian Tracy
    This book talks about the stages of effective learning, how to prepare your mind to begin learning something, and how to work quickly through a book while also building notes that will help you with the material later.
  • Perfecting Plot:  Charting the Hero's Journey by William Bernhardt
    This book provides advice on constructing a story using the Hero's Journey concept popularized by Christopher Vogler.
  • Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy by Vonda N. McIntyre
    This is a collection of possible mistakes science fiction and fantasy writers can make, and how to avoid them.
  • (R)evolution by P.J. Manney
    This sci-fi story focuses on a young tech genius who invents the first working human brain implants that augment human memory, provide instant Internet access, etc.  This pits him against his own company, the government, and others.  It's a well-told story and I enjoyed reading it.
  • TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks by Akash Karia
    To be honest, I didn't get a lot out of this book and can't say much more about it.
  • The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley
    Can a book about doing a structural diagram of an abandoned bank building really be interesting?  If it's The Dead Key, the answer is yes.  Pulley does a nice job weaving a past and present storyline together, telling a tale of corruption and its effect on the employees of a bank.
  • What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner
    This book should probably be required reading for women, to perhaps help them understand themselves a little better, and for those who are in romantic relationships with women.  Based on scientific research, it discusses how what women believe they want and what they actually want can differ, as can what excites them vs. what they think excites them.  It also talks about why long-term monogamous relationships with women can become stagnant.  At times very graphic, it's a very interesting read.
  • Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw
    I'll have to be honest here.  I found this book to be pretty dull.  There's some good information in here for cat lovers, but it takes time to weed through it.
  • Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise
    One of the things holding my writing back is that I'm not in the habit of writing each day, or even each week.  I had some hope that this book would help me, but I find it way too easy and convenient to just not do even a mini-habit.  I'll probably give it another shot in the future, but it didn't really work for me.
  • Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More by Mary Izett
    In addition to writing, I'm also a home brewer.  This book talks about ways to create fermented beverages faster and (usually) easier than a traditional 5-gallon batch of beer.  I'm actually trying some of this out.
  • Brew Like a Monk:  Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them by Stan Hieronymus
    Belgian beers are among my most favorite of all, and this book is a great reference to the history, traditions, ingredients, and methods used to make Trappist and Abbey beers.
  • Eat Bacon, Don't Jog by Grant Petersen
    The book basically advocates a low-carb, high-fat diet and short, intense bursts of exercise rather than alternatives.
  • Things to Come by Walter Koenig
    A graphic novel by Star Trek's Mr. Chekov.  
I also re-read the following books during 2015:
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
    In print, this book looks deceptively small and simple.  The truth is that it packs a lot of useful ideas and advice in a small space.  I re-read it periodically to remind myself what I need to be doing to improve my writing.  I highly recommend it to any writer, musician, or artist.
  • 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron
    This book talks about how to prepare before you write, so that when you sit down to actually write a book you'll be able to fly through it.  It also provides suggestions and strategies for writing faster (and better) than ever before.
  • She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson
    One reason you aren't seeing my novels and short stories on this site or on is that I know I've got several huge writing problems to work on.  One of the biggest is the "white room" issue - where you have characters talking back and forth with no mention of the setting, what those characters are doing, their facial expressions, etc.  This book was a big help, but I still haven't overcome the problem yet.
I'm happy to say that I read more books in 2015 than 2014, and that I read more fiction in 2015 than I did in 2014.  I'd like to tip the balance more toward fiction in 2016, and continue to increase the number of books read.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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