You know that feeling when a book is so good you hesitate to finish it? And then when you do finish, you want to start it all over again, but as if it’s the first time?
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I came to writing from my love of reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and so many books inform, inspire, and invigorate my writing. And I think we all have that list of books that impacted us so profoundly, we wish for a way to replicate the feeling of having read it for the first time over and over again.
Below is a list of books I wish I could read for the first time again, and how they helped my writing.
1. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
A brief and beautiful story about friendship, Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn is told in few words, but the emotional impact is immense. This was my first Jacqueline Woodson book and it catapulted me into a deep-dive of her work. The moment I finished, I knew this was going to be a book that I carried with me everywhere for whenever I needed a burst of inspiration.
What it taught me: Stories about friendship aren’t just for kids, and looking back on formative relationships can make for emotionally rich storytelling for adults.
2. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
An epic and ambitious story of one couple throughout the entire course of their lives, both together and individually, is what I consider to have had the greatest impact on my writing. Lauren Groff's prose in Fates and Furies are so beautiful and poetic, nothing prepared me for it. Every day I wish I could read this for the first time again.
What it taught me: To think of my writing as the layers of an onion, and to keep peeling to find the words that most inspire me.
3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin is one of the greatest literary figures throughout all of history, and Giovanni's Room is more than simply a novel that was ahead of its time. It's a subtle, sumptuous, and beautiful story about a love that cannot be. Baldwin's triumph is in his confidence and honesty, and I found myself in no hurry to get to the final page.
What it taught me: To not be afraid to write what feels important to me, even if it’s unpopular.
4. Front Desk by Kelly Yang
One of the best middle grade books of the last decade, Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a story about a family looking for a place to call home when the odds are stacked against them. Yang balances the trials and tribulations of being a child and the immigrant experience with a mix of humor, sincerity, and ultimately hopefulness. Thankfully Front Desk is the first in a series of books, so in one way, I am able to keep reading these characters for the first time again and again!
What it taught me: That there’s always something to learn from a child’s perspective.
5. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The Pulitzer prize-winning novel that you just want to hug. Less is nothing less (see what I did there?) than hilarious, humble, and honest. Arthur Less is a character you can't help but root for, a romance you wish for, and a narrative reveal that is surprising and satisfying, and will leave you flipping back to page one the moment it's over.
What it taught me: That you can be profound without sacrificing humor.
6. The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
The slow-burn story of a mother in the midst of a breakdown, Lydia Kiesling's debut novel is my favorite debut novel ever. With sentences that stretch as long as the days themselves, every moment captured in the novel's 10-day time-frame evokes all the senses, fully immersing you in the world of the fictional Altavista, California.
What it taught me: That what is mundane isn’t boring, and details can add dimension, emotion, and truth.