On Writing: A Book for Everyone, Not Just Writers!

18.10.2023 |

Episode #2 of the course 100 Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read by John Robin


Welcome back to our course on 100 Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read!

Last lesson, we explored the science, history, and textbook category. I hope you found the titles inspiring and added a few to your to-read list.

Get ready to explore the next category, and discover what top 10 titles await!


Biography, Memoir, Travel

Top recommendation: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

This next category includes all books that explore personal ideas derived from people telling their stories. Be it life story, in the form of a biography, autobiography, or memoir, or stories of travel, this category is where books get more personal.

It was tough to pick the best book for this category, because many of them are so great. However, I had good reasons for selecting On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

On the surface this appears to be a book about how to write, perhaps only relevant to writers. True, there is some great advice in it, such as: to become a good writer, you have to read a lot, in fact, even more than you write.

But this is secondary compared to the far deeper value of the book. We see in King’s life story the authentic tale of how an artist persevered through years of certain failure to unexpected success, how success was far from the ivory tower it appeared at the outset, and generally, what it means to live and breathe your art.

Perhaps the most powerful part of this book was when King details his near-fatal accident in 1999 when he was run over by a truck while out for one of his brainstorming walks. In a gripping manner much like something out of his books, he details the harrowing road to recovery, and his resolve to keep going. At the time of writing this memoir, he was still going through surgeries and treatments, yet there he was still putting in his daily word count.

This all comes together to impart an empowering message of the resilience to be found within, but more than that, it also is a living, breathing example of how that resilience can be accompanied by humility. There is no boasting in King’s story. It’s just a down-to-earth story of a guy who loves his art, and doesn’t let any form of self-pity get in his way.

As King puts it, “Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Ever since reading this book, I have been inspired to strive toward that same balance myself.

Runners up:

Of course, I admit personal bias to King’s memoir, and for this reason I’m glad to have the runners up category, so let’s see what other great books are here:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is an even stronger delivery than that of King’s memoir. Detailing her days spent hiding with her family in a Secret Annex during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, we see Anne’s daily experiences as gradually her family is taken away, and then eventually she stops adding entries after dying from typhus some 2 years later. Anne never survived to see her diary published, but her commitment to documenting the experience of a teenage girl determined to find meaning in a horrific situation is a powerful window into the human soul.

Another tale of resilience is Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, the 1994 autobiography of the at-the-time South African President, detailing how he endured 27 years of prison and maintained his determination, never losing focus on his goal to fight the corrupt apartheid attitudes inherent in his country. Mandela’s 700-page book is not just a personal account, but also rich in his insight on the colonialist biases which stand in the way of our progress toward equal rights.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a book known for its sheer popularity, but it’s popular for a reason. This is a great book on how a woman dealt with her midlife crisis by traveling the world in the most radical way—selling everything, divorcing her husband, risking everything on the gamble that the book chronicling her wild adventure would be a best-seller and lead her to find the meaning she desperately sought. This book challenges the boundaries of what we assume to be our comfort zones, and is truly thought-provoking for those of us feeling our lives are a bit too much in autopilot, and ways we might do something about that.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X is another cornerstone of the biography, memoir and travel category, giving much insight into African American civil rights history.

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron is another must-read in this category—a tale of one man’s travel through the Middle East, and the clash between Western and Eastern thinking.

Honorable mentions:

There are, of course, many more great books in this category, so I’ve chosen 4 more to give you 10 top picks:

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, another writer’s memoir that, like King’s, contains some great info on how to approach life like an art, whether you’re an artist or not.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the story of how one man gains self-confidence during his travels across 1950s North America.

Wanderlust: A Traveler’s Guide to the Globe by Moon Travel Guides, though not a personal story of travel, this comprehensive guide lets you discover what adventures await at every corner of the world map.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, the 1952 account of a German mountaineer who, while stranded in Tibet due to World War II, became close friends with the Dalai Lama.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll see what top 10 books await in the next category!


Recommended movie

Trumbo (2015), with Brian Cranston


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