The Favorite Books of Our Favorite Authors

Lawrence Block is one of America’s most-lauded mystery and thriller writers, and spent much of the 80s and 90s writing a column for Writer’s Digest magazine in which he gave advice to aspiring writers. The industry has changed a lot since then, but one piece of his advice remains true a quarter-century later.

He’s said it more than once, in slightly different phrasings each time, but it boils down to the following:

A writer who does not read will not succeed, and does not deserve to.

Could you imagine an architect who never looked at houses? A violinist who never listened to music? As writers, it’s our responsibility to read often and deeply. It’s how we keep up with what’s happening in our world, and how we learn by example how to make our writing better. 

To help you accomplish this important goal, here are the favorite books of some leading authors, and what they had to say about them. 

25 Authors on Their Favorite Books

Amy Tan: The Plum in the Golden Vase, by Anonymous

“I would describe it as a book of manners for the debauched. Its readers in the late Ming period likely hid it under their bedcovers, because it was banned as pornographic. It has a fairly modern, naturalistic style — “Show, don’t tell” — and there are a lot of sex scenes shown. For years, I didn’t know I had the expurgated edition that provided only elliptical hints of what went on between falling into bed and waking up refreshed. The unexpurgated edition is instructional.

Anissa Gray: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

“It is a close examination of family, marriage, politics, and culture, all done with humor and heart.”

Anthony Bourdain: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs

“Filthy, dangerous, depraved groundbreaking. And funny as hell. Not an ideal role model, I’ll grant you. But a writer I very much looked up to and wanted, for better or worse, to emulate.”

Ayn Rand: Calumet K, by Merwin-Webster

Calumet K is a quaint, endearingly Midwestern novel about the building of a grain elevator. It’s a procedural about large-scale agricultural production.”

Brad Thor: The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader, by Jason Redman

“This is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. Not only does it embody what it truly means to be a warrior, but it also leads readers on an amazing journey of humility, self-reflection, and accomplishment. This novel will challenge you to explore who you are and who you want to become.”

Brit Bennet: Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

“I first read Song of Solomon when I was studying abroad in the UK. This book found me when I was beginning to think, more deeply than ever, about what it means to be both Black and American. This is a story about a search for hidden gold that, instead, uncovers a hidden family history. It’s a perfect novel. 

Diana Gabaldon: Haunting Bombay, by Shilpa Agarwal

“One of a kind: a book that exists on multiple levels, inviting you into death and mystery, into the heart of a family, and into the tantalizing, aromatic swirl of another culture. Beautiful, lyrical, and genuinely haunting.”

Erik Larson: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammet

“I love this book, all of it: the plot, the characters, the dialogue, much of which was lifted verbatim by John Huston for his screenplay for the beloved movie of the same name. The single best monologue in fiction appears toward the end, when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he’s giving her to the police.”

Ewidge Danticat: Love, Anger, Madness, by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

“I have read and reread that book, both in French and in its English translation, for many years now…each time I stumble into something new and eye-opening that makes me want to keep reading it over and over again.”

Fiona Davis: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

“Having moved a lot as a young girl, I was mesmerized by The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, about a missionary family who relocates to the Congo. The book opened my eyes to the way multiple points of view — particularly women’s points of view — can inform and propel a novel, each voice adding to the narrative as a whole.”

George R.R. Martin: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

“I won’t soon forget Station Eleven, a deeply melancholy novel, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac…a book that I will long remember, and return to.”

J.K. Rowling: The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit

“A breakthrough children’s book. Oswald is such a very real narrator, at a time when most people were writing morality plays for children.”

Joan Didion: Victory, by Joseph Conrad

Victory (is) maybe my favorite book in the world. I have never started a novel without rereading Victory. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing.”

John Grisham: Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre

“I reread The Little Drummer Girl every five years or so, just to remind myself what brilliant suspense sounds like.”

John Steinbeck: Le Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory

“Perhaps a passionate love for the English language opened to me from this book.” Steinbeck’s love for this work from an early age led him to attempt his own adaptation of the Arthuran legend in his own The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.

Joyce Carol Oates: Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky

“I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is.”

Judy Blume: Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

“I loved it so much I hid it so my mother would not be able to return it to the library. I thought it was the only copy in the world. To this day I feel guilty. It was the first book I bought for my daughter’s library when she was born.”

Kosoko Jackson: The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr.

The Prophets…is one of those visceral, raw books that sinks its fangs into you the moment you crack its spine, ad won’t let go until you die. The moment I heard about Robert’s debut — a story of love, queerness, blackness, religion, and poewer, set on a Deep South plantation during slavery — I knew I had to get my hands on it. Robert’s ability to mold words like an alchemist who changes matter is legendary. The way he cares for his characters without shying away from the truth…we are so lucky to exist in the world while Robert Jones, Jr. is creating literature.”

Laura Taylor Namey: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

“I read (it) in college and immediately sank into the raw, brutally honest storytelling. College-me found such beauty and power in Janie’s story, in the trials and triumphs heralding her experience. And when I stumbled across what is, perhaps, Hurston’s most famous line from this book, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer,” I remember letting out an audible gasp over how true that felt. It still does.”

Lydia Davis: Orient Express, by John Dos Passos

Orient Express was a turning point for me. That was one of the first ‘grown up’ books that made me excited about the language.”

Maya Angelou: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

“When I read Alcott, I knew that these girls she was talking about were all white, but they were nice girls and I understood them. I felt like I was almost there with them in their living room and their kitchen.”

Meg Wolitzer: Old Filth, by Jane Gardam

“It’s a thrilling, bold, and witty book by a British writer whom I discovered rather late. I can’t say I’ve read anything else like Old Filth, which stands out for me as a singular, opalescent novel, a thing of beauty that gives immense gratification to its lucky readers.”

R.L. Stine: Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

“(It’s) one of the most underrated books ever. Bradbury’s lyrical description of growing up in the Midwest in a long-ago time, a time that probably never even existed, is the kind of beautiful nostalgia few authors have achieved.”

Ray Bradbury: The John Carter Series, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

“(They) entered my life when I was 10 and caused me to go out on the lawns of summer, put up my hands, and ask for Mars to take me home. Within a short time I began to write and have continued that process ever since, all because of Mr. Burroughs.”

Saaed Jones: Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry, by Essex Hemphill

“(It) is forever on my mind. Published in 1922, electrified by the urgency of the AIDS crisis which would claim Hemphill’s life three years later, this book exploded my previously staid, even meek, understanding of what is possible on the page. Every time I sit down to write and realize a poem could be a story, could be an essay, could be a play, that freedom is Essex Hemphill singing in me.”

Taylor Jenkins Reid: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“I know that it’s a children’s story but I didn’t read The Little Prince until I was in my late twenties. I picked it up during a period of time in which I was struggling with immense grief. It soothed me in a way that felt sort of revolutionary. Now, I find myself coming back to it time and again…there’s such warmth and peace to be found in it.”

Join the Conversation

There’s a favorite author we’ve left off this list: YOU! When you have a moment, hop onto our Facebook group and post about your favorite book. Or whatever book you’re reading right now. Reading is great, but we grow as readers and writers even faster when we talk about books with our colleagues. 

Amazon links above are affiliate links and if you purchase a book after clicking then we may earn a small kickback at no extra expense to yourself. Photo of Lawrence Block at a book signing at the Waldof-Astoria Book Brunch in 2008 by Anulla via a CC By-SA 2.0.