Everyone has a list of his or her favorite books on writing.
Everyone also knows the better-selling ones, and I can pretty much recommend them without reservation: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. And for the mythological underpinnings of narrative, Joseph Campbell's justly-famous Hero with a Thousand Faces.
I'm also a big fan of William Goldman's book about movie writing, Adventures in the Screen Trade. (I once mentioned it glowingly to a studio executive I knew, who exclaimed, "I hate that book!"--a ringing endorsement if I've ever heard one.)
However, I'd like to suggest some other books, personal favorites, that I think speak more powerfully and tellingly to the inner life of the writer. Though not all these books are about writing specifically, the issues explored are relevant to anyone living the writer's life.
In Praise of What Persists, edited by Stephen Berg. A collection of essays by a variety of writers detailing the personal experiences that influenced their work.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. A great book on the dynamic--and often crazy-making---process of striving for quality, however you define it.
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. Elegant and personal, as well as hard-nosed and pragmatic. Wonderful reading.
Life Work, by Donald Hall. A beautifully-written book by the much-honored poet and man of letters, exploring his obsession with--and consolation from--a life devoted to the craft of writing.
Mastery, by George Leonard. A primer on the value of practice, the consistent doing of a craft. A strong rebuttal to a goal-oriented approach to creativity--and to life.
The Courage to Create, by Rollo May. The title says it all.
On Moral Fiction, by John Gardner. Densely written, frankly pedantic, and inevitably self-righteous--and those are the things I like about it. A stirring, sometimes maddening call-to-arms on behalf of writers taking what they do--and its effects on society--seriously.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sixty thousand perfect words. A masterpiece of lucidity, banked emotional fire, sustained tone, depth and heart. I try to read it once a year, just to clear out the cobwebs.
That's just a sampling of my favorite writing books, of course. An eclectic group, I admit. There are other worthy books I could've included, by writers as diverse as E.B. White and Ray Bradbury, Ben Hecht and Stephen King.
But for now, I'll stick with my list. Good companions on the writer's journey.
Naturally, if you have any favorite writing books to add to my list, I'd be happy to hear about them!