7 Writerly Books To Read Instead Of Finishing NaNoWriMo

Come on, give yourself a break.
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How time flies! It’s nearly a third of the way through NaNoWriMo already, with only a couple weeks left to finish a 50,000-word novel draft. We hope you’re hitting your word counts!

But if you aren’t, or you never bothered to begin with, don’t worry about wasting your literary November. The world isn't lacking in published novels looking for readers. Here are just seven novels about writing that might make you grateful not to be in the throes of composing one -- or that might reinvigorate you with purpose.

Farrar, Straus

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

Say you write that whole novel -- the whole darn thing -- and manage to get it published. The world of published authordom, in Edward St. Aubyn’s high-culture farce, manages to be even more depressing than the unpublished life. Egotistical authors brood over whether their latest opuses will garner a major literary prize while, behind the scenes, unscrupulous judges trade favors and skip the reading. At least the whole mess is pretty hilarious.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Surely you’ve heard of this, one of the literary blockbusters of this fall, but if you haven’t read it yet: do. Groff weaves together two stories of the same marriage, a glamorous partnership between a charming, wildly successful playwright and his stunning wife. In a shocking twist, we’re asked to reexamine our conception of the lone genius, as well as our own eagerness to believe flattering untruths about our talents.


Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Reading Nabokov: Always a good idea. Pale Fire takes on the obsessive tendencies of scholars and superfans in the literary milieu, told through the voice of Charles Kinbote, a seemingly unhinged admirer of American poet John Shade. Kinbote’s interpretations of Shade’s poem of the same name display the madness of conspiracy theories, leading readers into a narrative as confusing as a hall of mirrors. We’re not saying a literary obsession is dangerous, but it’s a concept worth pondering.

Nan A. Talese

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Like Pale Fire, The Blind Assassin isn’t just about writing -- it’s a book within a book… within a book. Interspersed with Iris Chase’s memories of her upbringing with her dreamy, idealistic sister, Laura, are chapters from a novel drawn from their lives and a romance with a radical named Alex, who became friends with the sisters. Within that novel is embedded a haunting sci-fi tale about a blind assassin. Atwood evokes the many chambers of meaning that an author can hide in a work, and the power of storytelling to reveal and conceal the truth.


How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Gritting your teeth through a bout of writer’s block? Heti understands. In this contemplative novel-from-life, the narrator tries to write a play, but struggles to set words on the page, even turning to less-than-admirable methods to jumpstart her creative process. Or she just kills time, spending afternoons in bed with a boyfriend or going for walks with her painter friend Margaux. At the very least, How Should A Person Be? will leave you feeling less alone, and maybe even inspired.

Alfred A. Knopf

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

Ifemelu, a Nigerian college student who goes to school in New York, ends up staying after graduation -- and becoming a popular blogger who examines race and blackness across continents. Adichie’s heroine makes her way through romantic and professional pitfalls, all while trying to write her way into a better understanding of the country where she lives. Ultimately, Americanah underscores both the vital need for thoughtful writing, but also the personal toll it can exact upon the writers.

Coffee House Press

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, trans. by Christina MacSweeney

This novel, originally written to be read aloud to Mexican factory workers, tackles the question of why stories matter head-on. The protagonist, an auctioneer and chronic fabulist, weaves mythical tales about his own past, his dental history, and even the items he’s auctioning. We rarely know for sure what’s “fact” and what’s “fiction” within the world of the novel, but the thrill of the story, Luiselli suggests, has an intrinsic value that can’t be underestimated.

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