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.