Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What I Read in 2014

Michael Salsbury
It's important for any writer to also be an active reader.  Reading helps to keep our minds active and fills them with new ideas and information which can inform our writing.  For those who write, it exposes us to new ways of expressing ideas and imparting information to readers.

Below are the books I read in 2014 (minus anything I happen to finish in the next 8 days):
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

    This book discusses comics as an art form, communication medium, etc.  You'll learn how using the comic form can enhance storytelling.
  • The Quest for the Golden Quill by C.B. Hampton

    In this book, author C. B. Hampton tells you about his quest to figure out what makes for a great story.
  • Die Empty by Todd Henry (and I even met the author)

    I really enjoyed this book, and found it incredibly thought-provoking.  The book can help you figure out what's important to you (even if you're not sure yourself), how to incorporate more of that into your life, and make your life better.
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebak

    This is another that takes a lot of effort to chew through.  Pennebak has done a tremendous amount of research around our word choices and what they say about us.  One of the things he's learned is that it's those words we tend to ignore in our speech and writing (e.g., the pronouns in the title) that say the most.
  • It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden

    I liked the title.  The advice in the book is more geared to advertising creators than to the rest of us, but there are still some good chunks of wisdom in it.
  • Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) by George Lois

    Another book dedicated to advertising creators more than the rest of us, though there is some interesting advice in it.
  • Synchrodestiny by Deepak Chopra

    I've long held the belief that the coincidences in our lives tell us when we're "on the right path" toward our destiny.  The more coincidences that line up in front of us, the closer we are to where we should be.  In this book, Chopra shares essentially this same idea as part of Indian philosophy and provides exercises for recognizing and increasing these coincidences (synchronizing you with your destiny).
  • The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

    Author Chuck Wendig offers hundreds of tips in this book for improving the stories you write.  His style will either immediately offend you (if colorful language bothers you) or draw you in with its honest, pull-no-punches humorous approach.
  • Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

    I'm still trying to understand exactly WHAT my process for brainstorming and writing a novel most effectively seems to be. James Scott Bell dispenses some good advice here on focusing in the middle of the story, on the main conflict, then branching out to the beginning and end from that point.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

    This book makes a good case for why our country's seeming obsession with extroversion is a bad thing, and on the good that comes from having introverts in our society (working both behind the scenes and in positions of power).
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

    This talks about how the seemingly "fringe" or "outlying" people are often in the best positions to achieve incredible success.
  • The First 20 Hours... How to Learn Anything Fast! By Josh Kaufman

    Much has been made of the "10,000 hour rule" that claims you will never master any skill unless you put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  Kaufman's assertion is that while it might take 10,000 hours to become a world-renowned pianist (or any other skill's master), it takes far less to be able to perform a skill competently or achieve a level of mastery that meets your specific needs.  I've been trying to figure out how to apply this to fiction writing.
  • Write to the Point by Algis Budrys

    This incredibly hard to find book talks about how to master the basics of writing fiction that sells.  At a very simplified level, Budrys tells you that you need a character, in a context, with a problem, who makes attempts to solve the problem, encounters unexpected failure, and eventually achieves some kind of victory.  He also talks about agents, manuscript formats, developing good habits, etc.
  • Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy

    The star of the "My Cat From Hell" television series tells the story of his struggles with addiction and finding his calling in live, while also telling the story of a very challenging cat that he adopted.  If you have any fondness for cats, you'll have a tear in your eye at the end of this book.
  • From 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron

    Aaron talks about the techniques and strategies she used to be come a much more prolific writer.
  • The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab

    When most of us think about psychopaths, we imagine serial killers and murderers.  While some psychopaths do end up that way, there are many others who use their lack of empathy to achieve considerable success in business, government, and elsewhere.  This book talks about how you can develop the "good" qualities of a successful psychopath without developing the darker and less-desirable ones.
  • Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler

    Comedian Chelsea Handler talks about a trip she and several friends made to Africa.  Filled with the occasional laugh, you quickly get the idea that you may never want to travel with Chelsea anywhere - unless they have a well-stocked bar.
  • Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain

    A great book for understanding characters.  Swain talks about what makes a sympathetic character, how to challenge the character, how a writer can create a character that the writer feels compelled to write about, and the basic components each character should embody.
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

    Another good book from Swain on developing stories and focusing your efforts on techniques that will build your career and improve your stories.
  • This is What Success Looks Like by Bryan Zimmerman

    Internet marketing expert Bryan Zimmerman talks about what made him a success and how you can emulate what he did to be a success yourself.
  • Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione

    Although this book is about coming up with unusual beers (like the many unusual brews from Dogfish Head - Calagione's own brewery), it starts with a great tutorial on how to brew a simple brown ale.   It then shares more advanced techniques and a bunch of interesting recipes for homebrewed beer.
  • She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson

    The "White Room" problem has been the biggest issue in the writing I've done for National Novel Writing Month each year. This book is designed to help you overcome the problem, by explaining how to use scene, props, body language, and more to make your scenes come to life.
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

    This book talks about what makes an idea stick in the minds of those who encounter it, and how to construct your own messages so that they "stick" too.
  • Vendetta for the Saint by Leslie Charteris/Harry Harrison

    A long-time fan of author Harry Harrison, I was surprised to learn that he had ghost-written this novel many years ago for Leslie Charteris.  As I read it, I could see some of Harrison's signature style come through - and perhaps the inspiration for his Stainless Steel Rat character.
  • Clone Brews, 2nd Edition: Recipes for 200 Commercial Beers by Tess and Mark Szamatulski

    This book talks about how to develop a recipe that approximates or duplicates the recipe of a famous commercial beer.  It also shares 200 such recipes, developed and tested by the authors, along with food pairings for each.  I'm currently brewing a Gulden Draak clone from the recipe in the book and hope to soon brew a Scaldis Noel clone from it.
  • The Ultimate Fiction Thesaurus - A Writing Study and The Ultimate Fiction Thesaurus II by Sam Stone

    These books, despite their titles, are about building your own thesaurus of ways to describe how characters look, how they act, how they dress, etc.  The author provides a list of examples for things like showing a character's age, and then encourages the reader through exercises to expand those lists themselves.
  • Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard and Daniel Goldman

    Author Matthieu Ricard shares a combination of Buddhist beliefs, philosophies, and mental exercises to improve the reader's happiness.  Although filled with what seems to be good advice, it's a bit hard to read.  The author has a habit to write in very, very long sentences.
Disclosure: All the links above are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission for any Amazon purchases you make after following the link.  If this bothers you, open the Amazon site in your browser and search for the titles to avoid that.

As I look over this list, I see that I need to spend some more time reading fiction in the coming year.  The combination of both reading and writing fiction is said to be the best way to improve writing skill.  Most of my reading this year has been non-fiction.  We'll have to see what I can manage in 2015.

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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