I've gotten 10 emails this week from friends and friends of friends asking for book recommendations to give as gifts for writers. Since there is no way I could respond to all the emails (and get my Christmas cards out before New Year's), I'm going to cheat and post my answers here.
(Disclosure: After much prompting from people who know more about blogging than I do, I finally set up an Amazon affiliate relationship so if you buy from the links below, I get a cut. I only recommend books that are on my own shelves and dog-eared from use.)
On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (William Zinsser) -- I recommend this book to everyone whether they write for a living or not. Zinsser's central message is "clarity, clarity, clarity" and his engaging voice and excellent examples make this a useful resource for anyone who has to communicate in writing.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott) -- A great book for the writer in your life who is often overwhelmed with the details.
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Mignon Fogarty) -- Just out this year. A grammar book that's fun to read. What a concept. Conquer your fear of the semi-colon forever.
Story (Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting) (Robert McKee) -- I know what you're thinking. Screenwriting? But I don't want to be a screenwriter. Well, I don't want to be a screenwriter either, but McKee's book is an excellent road map to understanding how stories are constructed. How they work and how they fail. I recommend this book to all of my writing friends, novelists to non-fiction writers. It has application across the board. (Plus, he uses examples from some of my favorite movies).
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (Steven Pressfield) -- The first time I read this book, I felt like I'd been kicked in the head. (Mostly in a good way). If you (or the writer in your life) are struggling with blocks, depression, and other writing-related maladies buy this book now.
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (Noah Lukeman) -- Geat for fiction and non-fiction writers. A helpful guide on how to be mindful of the details that bring a story to life. More than just the usual "use your senses" advice. Lukeman digs into specific things to look for and think about.
And because I believe that one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read good writing, I'm a fan of the "Best of" books that are published yearly. These are collections of magazine articles published in the last year. They also have collections for short stories and essays.
And the bonuses for Travel, Adventure and Nature Writers
The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years -- As you'd expect from the title, articles from Outside magazine. I picked up this book years ago at LL Bean in Maine and have read it so many times the pages are falling out. Great stuff by Jon Krakauer, Tim Cahill, Jane Smiley, Michael Paterniti and many others. Read about Ian Frazier and friends debagging the Mississippi River Valley after the 93 floods.
Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape -- edited by Barry Lopez. A very helpful resource for defining the world around us. From watershed to high plains to kudzu, this book features descriptions from writers who know their language. Read Terry Tempest William's description of a reservoir or Barbara Kingsolver explain a mesa.
What am I missing?
Image courtesy my friend Jill. Go visit her flickr stream.