Back in 1909, a guy named Charles Eliot (who happened to be the president of Harvard University at the time) suggested that by reading a collection of books that would fit on a 5 foot shelf, you could get yourself a proper liberal education. The collection comes in 51 volumes, and you might have heard of it: the Harvard Classics. They are, admittedly, some of the most important works ever written, and I can’t in good conscience suggest you don’t read them.

But in between your 15-minute stints of reading the Classics, have a look at these books from the last century. They’re not necessarily my favorites (my “favorites” list actually contains a lot of fluff), but they’re the ones I think are most important for a writer to read:

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Why it’s important: This book marched into four different genres, took a look around, and then proceeded to fuck their shit up.
What you’ll learn from it: The importance of style as it impacts moods and themes, and how to weave mind-breaking subtext through a narrative.

Harry Potter, by JK Rowling
Why it’s important: Harry Potter wasn’t just a series of books, it was a full-blown cultural movement that got kids reading for fun again.
What you’ll learn from it: This series is a master class in world building.

Henry & June, by Anais Nin
Why it’s important: Anais Nin paved the way for female erotica writers.
What you’ll learn from it: The nuances of sensuality, and how sexual attraction can be emotional instead of physical

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Why it’s important: We should all know exactly where our food comes from.
What you’ll learn from it: I promise it will make you rethink what you have for dinner.

On Writing, by Stephen King
Why it’s important: This is, to date, the closest thing we have to an autobiography from Stephen King, and if you don’t get why that’s important then I’m sorry, but I cannot help you.
What you’ll learn: That it’s okay to not follow contemporary advice about writing.

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