I guess I could preface this recommendation with a short essay on whether or not a person can learn to be a writer. I guess I could.
I won’t, though. Not now. Not in the mood.
I don’t, though, have a lot of interest in books on how to write. Not usually. Not many. Gardner’s book, sure. Some of Kundera’s essays. Some of Nabokov’s lectures. Borges’. Barthelme’s. Calvino’s.
And one more: Charles Baxter. Both Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext have been invaluable to me. Not in that his books offer blueprints, or prescriptive advice. Baxter just thinks about his writing, and the writing of others, in really interesting ways. And reading an essay that he has written about one aspect of, say, Chekhov’s writing, invariably does the triple duty of not simply making you see an element in Chekhov’s writing in a new way, or getting you to find similar tactics in the writing of others, but his work rearranges the way you read, rearranges your brain, and you start finding new and interesting things that have nothing to do with Baxter’s essays whenever you read.
That’s what I’ve noticed, anyway.
He’s editing a series called The Art of…for Graywolf Press. His book is pretty damn good.