James Lee Burke

The novelist on the writers who taught him his craft.

James Lee Burke Novelist James Lee Burke has written novels and short stories set in his native Texas, but he’s particularly celebrated for his creation of New Iberia, Louisiana’s Detective Dave Robicheaux, the hero of a series that stretches to 18 novels with his latest tale of dark doings in bayou country, The Glass Rainbow. We asked the author to tell us about his three favorite books, and this is what he said.

Books by James Lee Burke

“As a young writer I discovered early on that it’s very important to read those who are the best at their craft and to avoid those who are not. If I had to confine my recommendations to three books and three authors, I would make the following suggestions:”

The Sound and the Fury

By William Faulkner

“In terms of style, point of view in the story’s narration, and literary experiment, this book, in my opinion, has no peer. I put it ahead of Joyce’s Ulysses. The crispness of the dialog, the tragic saga that we see through the eyes of a retarded man, the raw beauty of a dying world that is rendered in ways we never suspect, comprise a genuine masterpiece.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Ernest Hemingway

“I believe Hemingway was probably the greatest single influence on style in American literature, and I think this book was his greatest and most successful experiment. The translation of Spanish dialog into Elizabethan speech is wonderful. His portrayal of the Spanish Civil War, with all its cruelty, is even better than Orwell’s account of his life in the International Brigade. The love story between the American dynamiter and Maria is unforgettable.”

The Moon and Six Pence
(or any collection of short stories)

By Somerset Maugham

“I began writing short stories when I was nineteen and I was reading Maugham at the same time. Even at that age I realized what a great talent he had for dialog and description and for point of view. No one is better at telling a story within a story. Also no one is better at writing of the conflicts within the heart. I think his only peer is Joseph Conrad, who is a pretty good writer to learn from as well.”