Knowing your book’s category is essential to finding an audience. That’s why we created the Genre Map, a visual representation of all literary categories on Book Country. For every category, we carefully curated a selection of Landmark Books, titles that we think best exemplify the tropes and conventions of each genre. Revisiting the Genre Map recently made me think back on our process deciding which books to include as well as the writing lessons that each of them has to impart. Below, I’ve highlighted ten books that have not only improved my understanding of the craft of writing but that also happen to be some of my favorite!
Acacia by David Anthony Durham
Landmark Book for High/Epic Fantasy
This book has taught me that a great fantasy writer is an architect of worlds. With Acacia, you start with one idea of the dimensions of the trilogy’s universe, and every subsequent book makes shocking revelations about its actual scale and nature. David Anthony Durham executes this by building a solid foundation: he plants the seeds early on, so that once he lifts up the curtain, you realize there’s no other way the story could have gone.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Landmark Book for Psychological Thriller
Hawkins takes the “psychological” in psychological thriller to a new level with the unreliable narrator of Rachel, a woman whose life has been wrecked by depression and alcoholism. As a character, she’s both compelling yet utterly untrustworthy, making The Girl on the Train a masterwork of misdirection. If you’re looking for well-executed narration, look no further than Hawkins’s chiller.
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Landmark Book for Literary Fiction
This collection made me fall in love with the short story form. Lahiri’s prose is so fluid—almost deceptively simple—that she makes it seem like a piece of cake. The reason she’s one of the best practitioners of short fiction is that she pairs that economy with an impeccable sense of pacing. So next time you struggle with a short story, take a leaf out of Lahiri’s book and pace yourself.
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Landmark Book for Urban Fantasy
This may seem like a paradox, but I truly believe that some of the best mysteries are written by urban fantasy authors. My favorite thing about Moon Called—on top of the gorgeous worldbuilding, of course—is how sucked in I was by the whodunit. Fantasy authors, don’t get too carried away with conjuring up a great world—spend as much time on writing an intriguing plot as well.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James
Landmark Book for Erotic Romance
James’s international blockbuster has taught me that an erotic romance novel is a love story first and foremost. Forget about the kink. The book’s true appeal lies in the transformative power of love to tame—and change—someone as incorrigible as Mr. Grey.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Landmark Book for Young Adult Contemporary
This book broke my heart. John Green’s heroine Hazel will surely go down in literary history as one of the best written female protagonists. The secret to her characterization is in the strength of the first person point of view. From page one, we become so enamored of Hazel—we feel such intense sympathy for her—that we couldn’t possibly forget her and her story.
My Cowboy Heart by Z.A. Maxfield
Landmark Book for Male/Male Romance
In romance, demonstrating chemistry between the two main characters is paramount. Z.A. Maxfield’s novel is truly one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read. And that’s because in every scene the two heroes are present crackles with tension—the attraction between them is that palpable.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Landmark Book for Postapocalyptic Fiction
Books like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake transcend genre: because the novel is steeped in current scientific theory, Atwood actually prefers the term “speculative fiction” to science fiction. Postapocalyptic fiction also fits the bill because Oryx and Crake is set in a world decimated by a lethal pandemic. But there’s also a strong romantic plotline running through the book. Is the book literary? You bet. Atwood’s genreblending novel reminds us that we should use genre to inspire rather than constrain us.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Landmark Book for Memoir
Don’t underestimate the importance of voice! I used to think that memoir is a genre for famous people to talk about their journeys to stardom. Boy, was I wrong. Jenny Lawson’s raucously funny memoir made me realize that any story can be made extraordinary by the telling of it. A fine sense of humor is always welcome.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Landmark Book for Hardboiled/Noir
Highsmith’s creepy 1955 novel has taught me that antagonists can be as fascinating—if not more so—than heroes. Mr. Ripley started a tradition of psychologically twisted protagonists that continues today. Without Ripley, I doubt we’d have either Hannibal or Dexter.
Now it’s your turn! Tell us about the books that have influenced your writing.