Reading Lists: “Eight Great Writerly Novels”

The piece of writing advice that is always debated: "Write what you know." Naturally, if writers followed that advice every time then bookshelves would be full of books about writers. I've heard literature professors and book admirers like myself say that writing about writers is a cop out, an excuse to not think of something original. Then there are novels about writers that challenge that statement, stories about writers that truly stand out. As a writer, it is nice to read about other writers in novels on occasion. Some outstanding writerly novels:

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon: A portrait of two writers on different paths: Grady Tripp, a university professor struggling to write his follow-up to his acclaimed debut, and James Leer, self-destructive student whose problem seems to be more so that he writes too much. The two benefit from each other, creating a heartwarming narrative about writers finding their place in the world.

About the Author by John Colapinto: Cal is a 25-year-old aspiring novelist. The problem is that he does not write at all. What unfolds is a series of bizarre and perfectly timed events that thrust him into the position that he always dreamed of, a novelist. Colapinto's novel is a psychological thriller that shows how human desires have the ability to outweigh the moral compass. An interesting look inside the mind of a first time novelist, if Cal can even be considered one.

The Comedy Writer by Peter Farrelly: When Henry Halloran's girlfriend dumps him, he does what every logical man does when life seems to be falling apart: Quits his job and moves to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. Full of zany characters and countless laughs, Farrelly's novel is for all the dreamers who look at the Hollywood lifestyle with awe.

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely: Pete Tarslaw wants what most people desire, yet are scared to admit: fame. He writes a novel for the sole purpose of achieving recognition and all of the perks that come with it. A work of comedy by a writer who has worked with David Letterman that not only provides laughter, but comments on book publishing, popularity, and the reasons why literature matters.

The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer: Langer weaves real life personas with fictional characters to create a mystery novel as secretive as the man whose name appears in the title. The story follows two writers: Adam Langer and Connor Joyce. Both are dragged into a mysterious world filled with characters who seem to live in the shadows of society. With an imaginative plot, excellent, cliff hanger pacing, and revelatory ending, Langer's novel is a writer's dream.

After the Workshop by John McNally: Composed as the fictional memoir of Jack Hercules Sheahan. Like McNally himself, Sheahan is a graduate of The Iowa Writers' Workshop. He serves as an escort for visiting writers. When one of the writers that Sheahan is escorting disappears, he is forced to confront his own struggles, both old and new. A satirical look inside the life of a fledgling writer.

Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton: Leonard Schiller was once adored by many as an incredible author, but in his old age, he has fallen out of the limelight, unable to produce significant work. When he is contacted by Heather Wolfe, a determined graduate student, who wants to write about him, a unique friendship is born. Schiller's relationship with his daughter is tested, and ultimately the presence of youthful ambition gives new meaning to his life. An inspiring story from the perspective of an aging novelist that is sure to garner many smiles.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: Quite possibly one of the greatest novels about life-long friendship. In the setting of English academia, a burgeoning writer, Larry Morgan, and his wife Sally develop a relationship with the Langs. A beautifully crafted narrative from one of last centuries most under appreciated writers, Crossing to Safety is a book that values the written word, but more importantly, gives meaning to the friendships that grow from the shared love of literature.

But of course there are many more inspiring writerly novels. Honorable mentions to Philip Roth's character, Nathan Zuckerman, who appears in many of Roth's timeless novels, and to Stephen King's slew of tortured writers from The ShiningMiseryBag of Bones'Salem's LotLisey's StoryThe Dark Half and his many haunting short stories with writer characters.

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Steven Petite

About Steven Petite

Steven Petite received his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Cleveland State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Publishing Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. His journalism has appeared in Playboy, Huffington Post, Crixeo, Ranker, New York Game Critics Circle, and others. His fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine. He can be reached at