When we came across the bookshelfies tumblr, we were smitten.

Here’s our improv-related section. Like a good Harold, it’s got a bit of this and a bit of that, but somehow everything’s connected. (See below for links.) What’s on yours?


The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right – Al Franken

Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists – Steven Bach

Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy – Jay Sankey

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – Eckhart Tolle

On Writing– Stephen King

The Right to Write – Julia Cameron

The Actor’s Art and Craft – William Esper and Damon DiMarco

Comedy Writing Secrets – Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz

And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers – Mike Sacks

You’re Not Doing It Right– Michael Ian Black

American Theatre Book of Monologues for Men (Vol 1) – Stephanie Coen

Taking the Leap – Pema Chodron

The Glass Teat – Harlan Ellison

Magical Thinking – Augusten Burroughs

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Born Standing Up – Steve Martin

Truth in Comedy – Charna Halpern, Del Close and Kim Johnson

The Basketball Diaries – Jim Carroll

Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser – Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen

Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual– Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Ian Walsh

The Art And Craft Of Storytelling – Nancy Lamb

Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story – Jennifer Grisanti

The Art of Non-Conformity – Chris Guillebeau

Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out – Mick Napier

Play – Stuart Brown

Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great – William M. Akers

The Elements of Style – Strunk and White

The Office: The Scripts – Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The Zoo Story and The Sandbox – Edward Albee

Look Back in Anger – John Osborne

A Practical Handbook for the Actor – Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeline Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, Scott Zigler and David Mamet



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  1. February 3, 2014

    I’d love to hear the connections between these books- why did they get on the shelf, etc.

    • February 3, 2014

      Hi Jessica, thanks for reading/commenting! Here goes…

      • Cameron and I took Acting For Improvisers with the marvellous Shari Hollett at Second City. She recommended The Artist’s Way, and I was intrigued. I’d seen the book in stores, but always thought it was for “true” artists: people who made their living painting or sculpting or dancing. Shari explained it’s for everyone: improvisers, filmmakers, accountants, lawyers, quantity surveyors… We are all creative, and we all need to nurture our creativity. Reading it changed my life, and Cameron and I are now reading it together, seven years later.

      • Lies And The Lying Liars is just laugh-out-loud funny (well, I can laugh now that Dubya is no longer President). While Franken doesn’t have an improv background, his creative writing partner, Tom Davis, did.

      • Final Cut, about the making of Heaven’s Gate, is one of the greatest page-turners on the film industry I’ve read. Christopher Walken was in it, and he regularly improvises in films.

      • Zen and the Art of Stand-up Comedy has a lot of helpful info for newbie comics that also relates to improv.

      • A New Earth is the follow-up to The Power of Now. Both share a lot of tenets with improv (like, you guessed it, the power of being here now).

      • Oh boy. I am soooooooo not a Stephen King fan. But despite the fact that the man seems incapable of editing himself, On Writing is a really good book of basic principles for great writing. And great writing and great improv share a lot of common themes. Like, knowing when to stop.

      • The Right To Write is specifically for writers. Cameron and I both worked in advertising (I still freelance), and it’s important to give attention to your personal writing when you write for other people for a living. A lot of the exercises involve stream-of-consciousness stuff that’s reminiscent of an on-stage monologue.

      • The Actor’s Art and Craft was recommended by my first coach. Improvisers are actors, whether we think of ourselves that way or not, and learning acting skills is a great way to push yourself as a performer.

      • I wish I’d read Comedy Writing Secrets 20 years ago. It would’ve saved me a lot of time and struggle. It’s full of great info that serves improv, stand-up, sketch and just about any kind of writing you can think of.

      • And Here’s The Kicker has some very revealing insights into the real lives of comedians. Especially loved the chapters on Bob Odenkirk, George Meyer and Robert Smigel. Inspiring stuff.

      • MIB is another laugh-out-loud funny author. We’re huge Stella fans, and he, David Wain and Michael Showalter obviously improvised a lot of their material. (Wain’s work on Childrens Hospital is genius. And the cameos from well-known improvisers are fun to watch.)

      • Cameron bought the American Theatre Book of Monologues for Men when he auditioned for Conservatory at Second City.

      • Taking The Leap is similar to The Power of Now, but more focused on dealing with fear. (David Razowsky said once that he’s really just teaching Zen principles under the guise of improv.)

      • I’m a huge fan of Ellison’s non-fiction, and The Glass Teat is as scathingly funny today as when he wrote it in the late 60s. His writing reminds me of an improv monologue; just an outpouring of brilliant musings on our decaying society.

      • Like us, Augusten Burroughs was a copywriter for years. Then he smartened up and stopped wasting his life, and wrote funny stuff like this. Reading his short stories makes me grateful for improv and this blog as creative outlets.

      • As TJ says, “Improvisers are nerds.” Chances are if you improvise, you also like Neil Gaiman. I’m a big fan of The Sandman series. I haven’t read this one yet, but Cameron really enjoyed it.

      • Steve Martin’s autobiography is a very personal book from a guy who doesn’t normally talk about his personal life. A must-read for anyone into comedy.

      • Truth In Comedy, aka the Gideon’s Bible of improv.

      • Jim Carroll’s writing has a freshness and honesty that resonates long after you stop reading. The Basketball Diaries is a collection of his teenage journal entries. The connection to improv is…everything is improv.

      • Improvising Better is just a great, succinct read for anyone who wants to improve their craft.

      • We’re still reading UCB’s Manual, but suffice to say this is one thoroughly-tested and well-written tome.

      • The Art and Craft of Storytelling has a lot of gems that echo improv, like this one: “Never let the truth get in the way of your story,” which is similar to Del’s quote, “Just because it never happened doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

      • I’m still reading Story Line, but like improv, it encourages delving into your personal history and experience of life to create stories.

      • I bought The Art of Non-Conformity for Cameron shortly after he got fired from his last copywriting job. We’d already talked about him quitting the ad biz for several years, and this felt like the time to finally pursue his true passion full time. Inspired in part by this book, he developed the curriculum for Improv For Anxiety he now teaches at Second City.

      • Improvise is my number one, hands-down favourite improv book, and one of my favourite BOOKS of all time. Everyone should own a copy.

      • Play’s full title says it all. It’s basically a book about improvisation, only they don’t call it that.

      • If you’re going to write a screenplay (and a lot of improvisers do), this book is invaluable.

      • The Elements of Style, like King’s On Writing, doesn’t just help with writing; it spills over into every aspect of communication, including how you communicate on stage.

      • Reading The Office: The Scripts is both inspiring and intimidating, because the genius that is Gervais and Merchant just jumps off the pages. There’s no doubt they improvised stuff to get to the final product, but what makes the show timeless is the characters.

      • The Zoo Story was purchased when we took Acting For Improvisers. Cameron read the part of Jerry.

      • Cameron read the part of Jimmy from Look Back In Anger for his Conservatory audition.

      • A Practical Handbook For The Actor was another recommendation from AFI.

      And if you’re still reading at this point, thank you, and good night! : )

  2. February 3, 2014

    Wow, thank you! What a thorough answer! I loved reading it, thank you for sharing. Improvise is also one of my favorite books, I have loaned out two copies already and I’m sure eventually I’ll loan out the own I currently own. Required reading indeed!

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