What Flannery Recommends: On Writing

Part 1: What Flannery O’Connor recommends on the craft of writing

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.” 

The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

Every reader of Flannery O’Connor who then goes on to read her letters and write to tell the tale of that massive volume will comment on what a voracious reader Flannery was. Indeed she was. O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964), was a regular correspondent, read daily, discussed the books she read in her letters and personal interactions.

In 1951, Flannery moved with her mother to Andalusia Farm where she would live until her death in 1964 at the age of 39. Her daily routine was to attend Mass, write in the morning, then spend the rest of the day recuperating and reading.

In Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.), Francine Pose reminds us that “Long before there were creative writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries.” O’Connor had the benefit of formal education in writing, but a good education is never finished, especially as one hones the craft by practice. The best way to read well, is to read great works, and the best way to write well, is to read great works.

O’Connor may be one of the greatest American writers of all time.

While her themes do not appeal widely, the quality of her craft, her sense of time and space, not using a wasted word, is masterful. Writers do well to read her.

O’Connor read for pleasure, to instruct her craft, for spiritual education, and for reviews. In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

Rather than a list of 124 book recommendations in one post, let’s start here. In subsequent weeks, I’ll share the authors she recommends, fictional works and non-fiction or spiritual works.

Not all recommendations are a blanket affirmation of the work, and some of her praise is given more because the work tickled her ironic sense of humor than that it she saw in it the makings of a classic, but they were good enough to write to her friends.

  • For the author’s Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the non-fiction and Catholic works Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the novels and short stories Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.

Flannery O’Connor’s book picks on the craft writing:

What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

Understanding Fiction

Brooks, Cleanth and Warren, R.P.

An invaluable help to me and I think it would be to you/it sounds elementary but it has its virtues in that it has a variety of stories in the book and you get some idea of the range of what can be done./ it is pure textbook and very uninviting and part of the value of it for me was that I had it in conjunction with Paul Engle who was able to breathe some life into it; but even without him, it might help you some.

How to Read a Novel

Gordon, Caroline.

I think you would find it valuable, it’s really more for writers than readers, and it is uneven I think, but you would still find it valuable

The Craft of Fiction

Lubbock, Percy.

I think would help you in your writing, this sounds like a how-to-do-it book but it is not; it’s a very profound study of point of view.

The American Novel and Its Tradition

Chase, Richard.

A book on the romance-novel which is very good…I wish you would take a look at it if you haven’t seen it.

The House of Fiction

Tate, Allen and Gordon, Catherine.

Textbook with writing advice.

The Novel in France

Turnell, Martin.


Check back next week for the works of fiction Flannery O’Connor reads and recommends.

Leave a Reply