Former Arrested Development writer and producer Maria Semple is the author of This One Is Mine, a new novel about broken couples in L.A. It has just been published by Little, Brown.
Last Night by James Salter (Vintage, $13). I start every writing day by copying a few pages from Salter, one of the masters. Sometimes, I get to a sentence in this story collection that’s so gorgeous and devastating and short that I have to put my pen down and do what I feel is more my destiny, like troll the mall for sales.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Vintage, $15). My favorite book from my favorite writer. His sentences are so simple and his style so conversational, still, every book tears me apart. What can I say, other than, Philip Roth, Philip Roth ... aaaaghhh, I don’t care what Claire Bloom says, I love you, Philip Roth!
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $15). And here I only thought of Rushdie as a lady’s hound with a fatwa. This, his second novel, is screaming with confidence and life. I used to write in the reading room at the Beverly Hills library and would occasionally see him there. Lucky for him, it was before I read Midnight’s Children or I would have yammered the poor knight’s ear off.
The Travelling Horn Player by Barbara Trapido (out of print). Why don’t people know about her? I stumbled across this novel at another library. Its wonderful characters zip along with feather-light wit in a marvelously complex and moving plot. Trapido has written a ton of books, many out of print in the U.S. If I can do nothing else for you, let me be the one who turns you onto Barbara Trapido.
The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Penguin, $16). How do you not love a charming first-person novel that’s full of exclamation points?
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Prentice Hall, $10). I have read Strunk & White a dozen times and still have so much to learn. There are four copies tucked around my apartment in various states of highlightedness and dog-eareditude. (Ooch, see how much I still have to learn?