Writers have always been the most interesting people I meet, and they almost all tend to be passionate readers as well. They're also impulsive and vibrant and twisty and unpredictable and curious and generally enjoyable to talk to and to get into adventures with.
Reading and writing have always gone hand-in-hand with me. I was such an avid reader that eventually I had to start writing my own stories to fill in the gaps of what was out there for me. The first writer I ever knew was my Uncle John Merkel. He was the coolest person I had ever known in my life. While my main circle of adults was made up of boring, responsible, church-going normal folks, my uncle was wild. He read comic books and played video games and watched Star Trek and had a great office with a home computer(!) where he wrote stories. I so desperately wanted to be like him. He's also the one who got me hooked on reading popular fiction, first with science fiction and fantasy, and then crime fiction. So writers as characters have fascinated me even more.
While I think writers make great characters and provide readers with some behind-the-scenes access to the creative process and sometimes even the inspiration for the book their reading, I think writing is a pretty boring thing to write about. Writers must have adventures and get in trouble and express their personalities. So here are my five favorite books with writers as characters and why I love them so much.
Misery by Stephen King – This is one of the first books about a writer I really remember making an impact on me. Part of that is because this is also the first adult book I really remember being challenged on by my local librarian. As a little kid, it didn't take me long to move from the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Bobsey Twins stuff to the dreamy magical land of the adult shelves. I was given virtually free reign in that section, but when I brought up this paperback with that lurid cover of a man in a wheelchair and a shadow of an ax-wielding woman, the librarian asked me if I was really sure I wanted to read it. I was, and it was the fastest I've ever read a book. And it scared me. Still scares me. This should also serve as a place holder for praise for all of Stephen King's books about writers. More than anyone, he has built a career about exploring the life and struggles of a writer through fiction.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon – I actually came to this book through the movie and fell in love with it right away. While more cerebral and quieter in many aspects than Misery, Wonder Boys is also wonderfully over-the-top with its characters and situations they find themselves in. There are great lines and great scenes galore in this book, and I reread it every couple of years just to keep it fresh in my head.
All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry – This is an odd one in that I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the book, but I vividly remember how I felt after I read it for the first time. An author friend of mine, with whom I share this obsession of books about writers, suggested this to me, and I read it at just the right time. I was on the verge of being a father for the first time and was struggling with selfishness and worrying that a baby was going to crush all of the work I'd been doing for thirty years to become a writer. Danny Deck became my guide and my avatar. He was crass and selfish but also vulnerable and sweet and looking to make his way through a weird life. Also, his life is such a wreck that I was able to look at my own and feel comforted that I had not married a woman like Sally.
Wake Up, Sir by Jonathan Ames – A few years ago, I went through a huge Jonathan Ames phase. A subset of books about writers that I truly and deeply love is books about writers playing detective. Ames wrote a beauty called Bored to Death that become a wonderful HBO show. But as much as I loved Bored to Death, I love Wake Up, Sir even more. This is more surreal, goofy, meta humor and really explores Ames' entire career. It's also a wonderful homage to P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books and throws in a nod to my oddly specialized interest in reading about the old Borscht Belt in the Catskills.
The Serialist by David Gordon – This is another phenomenal book that I read at exactly the right time. At its base level, it's about a pulp writer who writes a lot of books, most of which aren't very good. But it's also an excellent think piece about genre and pulp fiction, what makes a writer, and what kind of sacrifices one needs to make to be a working writer. I read this while I was in the process of converting my writing process from one book every four years to trying to write multiple books in one year. While I didn't completely succeed, I'm better than I used to be. The true highlight of this book though is the excerpts of the other books the main character is writing. They're really amazing.
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Bryon Quertermous is a reader, writer, and editor. His first novel Murder Boy is about a writer, naturally, and is available now. For more information, go to his website or find him on Twitter @bryonq.