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Ask HN: What are the best Well-Written Books?
3 points by uptownfunk 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments
Less about the subject and more about the exposition. Trying relearn how to write, looking for good examples.



I used to care about this at one point, but as I've learned more, it's just become increasingly difficult to care about style. I just care more about truth/substance these days.

However, I've read a ton, and of everything I've read, I loved Hermann Hesse the most. I still remember that poetic simplicity and flow, simply blew me over when I first read it.

This is the first paragraph from his famous, Siddhartha:

> In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured into his black eyes, when playing as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father, the scholar, taught him, when the wise men talked. For a long time, Siddhartha had been partaking in the discussions of the wise men, practising debate with Govinda, practising with Govinda the art of reflection, the service of meditation. He already knew how to speak the Om silently, the word of words, to speak it silently into himself while inhaling, to speak it silently out of himself while exhaling, with all the concentration of his soul, the forehead surrounded by the glow of the clear-thinking spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of his being, indestructible, one with the universe.

You can find it online at Project Gutenberg [1].

[1]: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2500/2500-h/2500-h.htm


"The best" is subjective i think.

To me, i prefer the concise style, with incremental approach.

A book tells a story, and reader needs to incrementally understand the story.


I've found that a lot of people like Paul Kalanithi's writing style in "When Breath Becomes Air". Not the happiest, but people like it.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is also well-written.

Some people say "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance" is very well-written, but I disagree heavily, it sucks.

"The Little Prince" is well-written, even if it's a children's book.

Kurt Vonnegut writes well.

You can't go wrong with The Western Canon.

Charles Fort, if you can decipher him.

E.O. Wilson, "Anthill" and "Biophilia"

Freeman Dyson, "A Many-Colored Glass"

Annie Dillard, "Holy the Firm"

Ray Bradbury, "The Martian Chronicles"

Douglas Coupland, "Kitten Clone". His writing style felt unique to me.


I used to find "well-written" prose impressive but the more I write myself, the more my perceptions have evolved. Now I find conspicuously "well-written" texts anywhere from tiresome to frustrating.

I now most enjoy writing that's clear, concise and insightful. Although it's not prose, Paul Graham's essays are shining examples of clarity that are a pleasure to read. That doesn't mean fiction needs to be devoid of poetic spark, just that when done well, the reader shouldn't often notice it. Much like cinematography, and sound design in film, the mechanics of vocabulary and phraseology should contribute to telling the story without being the center of attention.


Why the scare quotes? Why not just say your idea of what well-written prose is has changed?


Some non fiction books that thoroughly convinced me of their thesis with their rigor:

1. Bottle of Lies - Eban

2. Capital in the Twenty-First Century - Piketty. I will admit this was difficult to push through but by the end of it you really appreciate how he takes so many different angles to prove his point. Type 2 fun for sure.

Fiction books with great style:

1. A Deepness in the Sky - Vinge. -- This book is so mind blowingly exceptional I am shocked I don't see it recommended more on these types of questions. Vinge absolutely nails the micro and macro structure of the book. The build up, introduction to and revealing of mysteries, are all perfectly timed to keep you hanging onto every word.

2. All the Light We Cannot See - Doerr

3. Cloud Atlas - Mitchell


* A Deepness in the Sky - Vernor Vinge

* Foundation - Isaac Asimov (But, the sequel Foundation and Empire is more interesting as it presents ideas that continue to challenge current assumptions of software)

* Meditations on First Philosophy - Rene Descartes

* Road - Cormac McCarthy


Anything by Vladimir Nabokov, to me the best prose stylist in the English language. Not too far below is Gregory Maguire, of "Wicked" fame (it was a book before it was a musical).


These are both well written and happen to be about writing: On Writing Well by William Zinsser and On Writing by Stephen King.


The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemmingway




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