The advice I got when I started in journalism was: “To be a great writer, you have to read great writing.” To me, that means American novels, although the most widely read American today sits in the White House and tweets. None of this lot ever typed “witch hunt” in block capitals. Kudos, fellas.
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)
This is the first book in Ford’s fiction series narrated by Frank Bascombe, a failed author who has turned to sportswriting. Ford’s storytelling captivated me, even though nothing was really happening on the page. Frank struggles with the death of his first son and interactions with his ex-wife, but there is little in the way of action. And I still couldn’t put it down.
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
I picked this up primarily because it is set in Chicago – a city I fell head over heels for when I lived there for a year. The story follows the journey of the eponymous Augie as he grows up and struggles to get his life in order. He never takes control of his destiny and events just seem to happen to him. It is another book to get lost in without it ever really going anywhere.
Death In The Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway (1932)
OK, full disclosure: this was not easy to get through. I read it only because it was meant to be the manual for good writing, and there are nuggets of advice for journalists, if you can suffer through the bone-dry descriptions of bullfighting. Another thing that made it difficult to read: I knew I was guilty of many of the flaws Hemingway railed against.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Yeah, I know, this is a really original entry … but this book ranks as probably my favourite novel of all time, so how could I leave it out? From the way Fitzgerald introduces us to Gatsby to that mic-drop of a closing paragraph, this is truly great writing. I was also moved by the fact Fitzgerald actually died penniless, thinking he had failed as a writer.
The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth (2004)
A re-imagining of US history, Roth describes what might have happened had Franklin D Roosevelt lost the 1940 election to a Nazi sympathiser. Roth narrates as his younger self and captures the naivety and confusion of youth brilliantly as he tries to understand an administration that enacts racist policies in America. Crazy idea, right?
Chris Tait is a sub editor at The National