Top 10 Books That Make Me Want to Quit Writing

[From the vaults, October 16, 2009]

Here’s my top ten list of books that make me want to quit writing,
because I’ll never write anything this good, so why am I bothering.

pp1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
I know, kind of obvious, but I defy anyone, whether they’re reading it for the first time or the fiftieth, not to have at minimum twenty laugh-out-loud moments. We are most seriously pleased.

monte2. Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer.
A new addition to the list, and please note how far up. Phenomenal prose style (by page 30 I was looking for people to read aloud to), delightful characters, and you can smell the dust on the trail. A lot to say about frontiers and what gets left behind when they’re gone.

tey3. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.
A British policeman flat on his back in a hospital solves a double homicide four hundred years old. Terrific on every level, characters, plot and setting(s).

lamb4. Lamb, the gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal by Christopher Moore.
First time Jesus ever died that I felt like I’d lost a friend. Entirely too many great scenes to recount here, beginning with Jesus resurrecting his brother’s lizard and, later, a jittery Jesus on a caffeine high buzzing around Antioch marketplace healing everybody. A funny book, yes, but also very, very smart.

civil-contract5. A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer.
Actually, pretty much anything by Georgette Heyer, who wrote the best dialogue in the English language. I love this book because it’s her most realistic novel, but I also love The Unknown Ajax, Frederica, The Foundling, Venetia, Cotillion, Friday’s Child, okay, I’ll stop.

trustee6. Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.
You’ll remember Nevil Shute for On the Beach and A Town Like Alice, but this was his best story, about engineer Keith Stewart’s round-the-world journey to recover his orphaned niece’s inheritance, and the adventures he has along the way. Illiterate heart-throb sailor Jack Donnelly is one of my all time favorite characters.

folly7. The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.
A book which informed my entire world view. In it, Tuchman posits the existance of folly, or the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest–in other words, why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She uses the Trojans taking the Greek horse inside the walls of Troy as her template, and then goes on to talk about how the Renaissance popes caused the Reformation, how the British lost America, and how the US lost in Vietnam. A lively, engaging prose style with more than a hint of “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

lion8. The Lion’s Paw by Robb White.
I grew up on a fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska, and I was always looking for books about other kids on boats. In this one, Ben, Penny and Nick run away on a yacht called the Hard-A-Lee, and they’re not coming back until they find a rare sea shell called a lion’s paw, because when they find it Ben’s father will return from the war in the Pacific. Great details, great characters, and White’s heirs finally got it together to bring this book back into print, yay! See also The Pearl Lagoon by Charles Nordhoff and The Sea Flower by Ruth Moore.

gate9. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper.
In post-apocolyptic America, the women have a plan to study war no more. Tepper doesn’t chicken out, either, she’s got an idea and she sees it through to the bitter end. Or as she puts it, the Damned Few.

seersucker10. The Seersucker Whipsaw by Ross Thomas.
A couple of American politicos go to the African nation of Albertia to run the election campaign of Chief Sunday Akomolo, and there is nothing they won’t do to win. Funny, smart as hell, and an ending that will knock you sideways.

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Dana View All →

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31 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Yes, I know it’s a classic, but i HATE Pride and Prejudice! Whenever I read it I just want to yell at the people to go out and GET A JOB and do something useful, rather than sit around whining and plotting all day.
    I haven’t read any of the others, so I guess I’ve got some interesting reads ahead of me.

  2. Dana, have you read PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES yet? It literally is P&P, but with a zombie storyline thrown into Austen’s original. (See also SENSE & SENSIBILITY & SEA MONSTERS)

  3. Speaking of books …
    In The Singing of the Dead, top of p. 100, Kate is reading a SciFi novel “set on another world where the human settlers left their ship in orbit to control the weather…” Bioengineered angels fly back & forth to talk with the ship; after hundreds of years, the people came to believe that the ship was a god. It sounds familiar, like something I’ve read, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten with my memory — does anyone recognize this storyline? Or Dana, if you’re reading this comment, please let me know what book this is — it’s been driving me nuts!

  4. Thanks! Now I realize that I read only the blurb on one of the books my husband bought recently; I can look forward to reading the whole book.

  5. Dana,
    I was introduced to you by a little used book store owner in Northern California (Oroville/ The Bookworm) recently. In the past month I have read almost every one of your books, in order, and the individual books, I could lay my hands on – at the expense of sleep. Laughed out loud @ Breakup! Although the subject matter is serious and sad being murder mysteries, your sense of sarcasm/humor is all through the books, but Breakup was a crack up.
    Although embarrassed I have to be honest, I have learned a tremendous amount about Alaskan History – mine was woeful, hate to admit that it’s so. However, that discrepancy can easily be fixed. Oh by the way, I read your books with an atlas. I know Kate’s home is fictional, but at least my knowledge of Alaskan geography is 100% better. Fairbanks, Anchorage, Valdez, Juneau, The Park, Nome, oil fields in the north, Kodiak Island and the Aleutians -I could probably hold my own in Do You Know More Than A Fifth Grader!
    I got a hold of an earlier book, Play with Fire on Friday. Started and finished it today. It may be my favorite of the 12 I have read. I like your philosophy on religion as spoken through Kate, Jim, Jack, Bobby and Dinah. All true from my view on the balcony. Raised a Catholic as I think you may have been, I have become disillusioned with the one way of thinking, “If you don’t think like me then you are wrong”, mentality that is so prevalent. Sure, there are plenty of wonderful people in churches, plenty of clergy who hold the Holy Spirit in their hearts. But these other fanatics in any religions make my sick. You hit the whole religion issue right on the money. Will young Matthew Seabolt ever be back in a story? I hope that kid finds a way out. Just want you to know that I really enjoy your books.
    Sorry that Jack had to die. That was the saddest book. I felt so badly for Kate. I do like that you gave Johnny to Kate in the later stories. Jim is a character. Kate needs Jim to lighten her up, she’s so intense…but will they last???? I have a patient whose father is a retired Alaskan State Trooper from the Anchorage – Wassila area. Can’t wait to see her again and get into a Dana Stabenow conversation. Also, I have been going through a tough time with my family ( father 94) and like Kate, I have immersed myself in reading to keep the front of my brain busy during a tough times so I don’t have to fret about Dad 24/7. Sometimes you just have to let the brain settle on it’s own.
    Love the Liam Campbell series so far. I have read the first three books. I think it’s a scream that he hates to fly and “Our Jim” is a pilot. Wy is a great character too.
    I found your Top Ten reasons to quit writing and I am going to make a point to check out the novels. Which leads me to the whole reason I am writing to you. Do you have some kind of master list that you keep after your segue/reference other novels, characters into your books? I copied pages 132/133 from The Singing of the Dead so I can track down the Alaska books and check out other titles. I am always looking for good book recommendations. By he way, Robert Heinlein’s series for teens – Starship Trooper, Between the Planets, Red Planet, Rolling Stones…are some of my favorites. I am so glad to see you have Johnny reading them. My son loved Red Planet. He said he “wanted a Willis.” Great stuff. Heinlein was a master. I am going to track down the books by Garfield on the Aluetian Islands during WWII. So how come I never knew the Japaneses attacked Alaska during WWII? I least I have read Robert Service, Jack London and John Muir @ Alaska and know about the Iditarod and about Balto. Cracked me up when the eagle swooped up the French ladies dog…oh, that was nasty… but funny. Don’t you EVER let Mutt die…I’ll be in mourning for weeks like I was when my two old friends died this year. I am not completely hopeless. I own all 10 or so of the Frank Baum Wizard of Oz series..way better than the movie! Nevil Shute has always been a favorite since On the Beach. I would have been just as mad as Kate was when she found Paula’s books and Paula dead. Why did Paula have to die???? I keep some of my books too – can’t part with “my friends” – I like having Albus Dumbledor in my house – want to be able to summon him to me when I need a dose of his philosophy! Read Dead in the Water yesterday. Thanks for keeping my mind active and learning new things.
    Do you think you might write more books heavy on the humor in life? You make me laugh out loud! Keep up the good work, you have a gift and I, as an audience of one, am applauding loudly! Hope you can hear my applause from California. Thanks again, Lois

  6. Dear Dana, I’m just finishing up Whisper to the Blood and you have Kate giving Jim “the four -book memoir by Gerald Durrell…”. This stopped me in my tracks as I only have three of them: My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and Family and Fauna. What is the fourth? Where can you get it? I use your books as a reading list and whenever a book shows up in the story I try to check it out. Thanks for putting me on to Lois McMasters Bujold and Sharon Shinn and many others. Do you know Arthur Upfield’s Bony detective novels? Thank you for many hours of pure pleasure with your books.

  7. Wow, a diverse list with some I haven’t seen. Thank you for sharing!
    My personal “why do I bother” books are, among others, Hemingway’s “Old man and the sea,” and Chaim Potok’s “My name is Asher Lev.” Presently I’m due for a reread of “Hunter’s Moon.” My eldest daughter is off to college and I think I have an inkling of what Persephone must have felt. Cleveland isn’t as bad as Hades, but still. Time to get some second-hand angst going!

  8. Tepper’s books were always a favorite of mine from my sci fi period. She always managed to tackle social problems in thoughtful ways…apartheid, gender issues, war. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was another favorite. Thanks for the new list!

  9. Thanks, Dana. Tepper’s book sounds appealing, and sounded like a bit of the flavor of Starhawk’s ‘Fifth Sacred Thing’?

  10. I loved “Lamb”! Christopher Moore makes me laugh so much tears run down my face….and then he’ll get serious and make a point that stops you cold. He and Carl Hiaasen have that same sense of humor…only Hiaasen is a little snarkier. Thanks for including it on the list.

  11. Dana,

    Thanks so much for sharing your list with us. Some I’ve read; the others I will be hunting down. I figure anything that will make me think and laugh has got to be something I need to read! Meanwhile, keep writing, Dana. How is Marco Polo’s daughter coming along? So looking forward to it!

  12. I can always depend on you for new entries to my TBR pile! And I couldn’t agree with you more about Heyer: the woman is a dialogue goddess, not to mention the stories themselves!

  13. Thank you for reminding me of Daughter of Time. I read it some years ago and enjoyed it immensely, however in the press of other books it somehow slipped my mind. To the used book store I go…Definitely have to check the rest out of the library. And Dana, all of your books make me think I can’t write novels at all! or write at all!

  14. I have long been a fan of Tey’s – I was just at the London Tower and had the book in my mind all the while being told about what had allegedly been done to the Little Princes. Went on a course of British writers before our trip to England, which was heavy on Georgette Heyer (I own all her Regencies). A lot of the trip was a pilgrimage to Heyer, Austen, etc. A huge thrill was having lunch in the actual Pump Room in Bath, a recurring scene in many of her novels. Get back a few days ago and have continued with my Heyer reading, and I actually finished A Civil Contact yesterday. My favorite is actually These Old Shades.
    I’ve discovered many new authors thanks to you recommendations, so will have to give some of your other picks here a try. Thanks Dana.

  15. Went looking for A Lion’s Paw from my library system (Chicago suburbs) and they don’t have it! They have a book by that name, but it’s a Little Golden Book about kittens! Frustrating.

  16. Trustee From the Toolroom is my favorite book. Have loved it since I read it forty years ago. It is definitely of its time and somewhat politically incorrect but wonderful all the same. My favorite by Georgette Heyer is The Grand Sophie but I agree all are wonderful. The Gate to Women’s Country introduced me to Tepper. Some of hers are great and some are stinkers but I have reread Gate several times. There are a few on your list I’ll be ordering from Amazon. I’m always looking for good new authors to read

  17. Re: Monte Walsh. I assume you ‘ve read McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”? They’re drawing from the same well, but McM’s a MUCH better writer,…. I do like the NM stuff.

    • I have, but I like Monte Walsh every bit as much. I think Schafer is doing something different than McMurtry. And both are worth reading.

  18. I am looking for a book series you recommended. I thought it was Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera. I have just reread that series and it was not that. The first book starts with a boy, an abused orphan, village drunk, who needs to bring supplies to two men living in the mountains. On the way, a bowman starts chasing him. His arrows reach impossible distances. One of the two men carves black and white spheres.

    • I am so sorry. Kate seems perfect for TV.

      I found the series. Patrick Carr, The Staff and the Sword. The first volume is called A Cast of Stones.

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