Read Living Writers

Today I was doing some professional research (by which I definitely do not mean clicking manically through Amazon’s ‘suggested reads’ feed), and was struck by a happy fact.

Most of the books showing up were written by people who are currently alive and working. Many were debut novelists and essayists; some were repeat achievers, and others were veterans of the craft.

Let me back up a second here and tell you why this stood out to me.

There’s a not-very-secret peeve of many authors, and that’s dead authors.

Not their work, not their impact, but the amount of time they still get in the spotlight.

No one is denying that their work was great and necessary and influential — there would be no modern writers without the writers that went before them — but as much as many of them tried, none of those dead authors can reflect back to us the world we live in today.

It’s instructive to read Tolstoy and Austen and Hemingway, but it’s not current. It’s not enough.

What we read has a profound impact on how we think. It shapes how we view the world and opens a channel for new ideas to flood through.

It’s a way for us to understand other people — and we need to understand each other, not some dead aristocrats who couldn’t ‘fess up when they had a crush on someone.

Imagine if, in high school, we read authors who were just a few years older than us. Or if, at university, reading lists were piled up with writers who dropped out of the same course to finish their book. Or if, as adults, we got swept up in stories written by people just a few degrees of separation away from us?

Wouldn’t that change things? Wouldn’t we all write more, because writing would be something we do, something our culture does, rather than some dead thing that we need a microscope and a dictionary to understand?

I think it would change the world, and reading living writers does all this.

It takes us all over the world, all over our home country, into people’s homes and lives and it shows us how we’re alike, instead of how we’re different… all of which makes us far better writers ourselves.

So next time you’re wondering what to read, don’t just fall back on the old classics. Find something fresh. Stretch yourself a bit — read something from someone who is not like you.

Here is a short (very short) list of some living writers and books I’ve loved from them or am falling over myself to read:


  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • The Yield by Tara-June Winch


  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Losing Eden by Lucy Jones
  • The Tiger and The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
  • The Old Ways and Underland by Robert Macfarlane
  • How The Word Is Passed by Clint Smith
  • No Friend But The Mountain by Behrouz Boochani

Away with you! It’s reading time. Let me know if you grab any of these.