I have been an avid reader and writer ever since I learned how to do both. By the age of 8, I was writing and illustrating my own stories, then reading them aloud to whoever would listen. I like to think I was always destined to be a writer, but there were definitely books along the way that fueled my passion. They weren’t just entertaining to read—they made me want to write as well. They made me want to study the English language and get better at my craft. These 5 books made me love writing. They inspired me to tell my own stories, and taught me how best to do it.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is, of course, an absolute classic. It is an all-around respected piece of writing in the literature and academic world. For me, it goes deeper than that. After reading this book, I knew I had to read everything else this man had written, and I did. I read all his novels, short stories, even his memoir The Crack-Up, which most people don’t even realize exists. Then I read his biography.
I loved his work so much, I even visited his grave in Maryland and left him flowers. I wanted to write stories as well as he did so someone else could someday want to read everything I had written. When I think back to what book started my desire to be an author, it was this one. I loved the tragedy, I loved the lessons, I loved the metaphors. I loved everything.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I read The Lovely Bones in 8th grade when I was 14, and I’m pretty sure it was the first “mature” book I read. I had some really heavy, dark elements I hadn’t really been exposed to yet. There was child rape, murder, adultery, sex—but it was all done so thoughtfully that I couldn’t help but admire the craft. This book received even more attention after the 2009 movie was released, and it was just as beautiful.
Looking back, I realize I connected with the book because I was also 14 years old at the time. I had so much sympathy for the narrator whose life was tragically cut short. Reading this book made me realize a 14-year-old narrator could have just as much depth and impact as an adult narrator, and it made me think differently about the genre. As a teenage girl myself, it inspired me to tell beautiful stories and prose proudly from my own perspective. I didn’t have to wait to be older.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was one of the very first memoirs I read and enjoyed. Until that point in my life, I always thought the nonfiction genre was boring. It was grounded in reality, there was no magic, there were no mythical beasts—it felt limited in wonder.
However, The Glass Castle read like any other fictional story I read. At times, I couldn’t even believe it was a real story. Without giving anything away, it made me realize that real life didn’t have to be boring. Walls had this incredible ability to turn seemingly normal human experiences into something thoughtful and perplexing, dripping with sentiment. I knew then that I someday wanted to write a memoir of my own. I wanted to tell my life’s story in a similarly captivating way.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Discovering Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried in high school completely changed my view on storytelling. Although the work is classified as fiction, O’Brien took many of the events and characters from his own time spent as a soldier in the Vietnam War.
What compelled me the most were two things: first, it’s actually a collection of linked short stories, which I had never seen before. It made me think about the structure of a novel much differently and opened up so many possibilities. Second, it plays around with the idea of how people can experience the same event and remember it differently. The novel asks: “What makes a story true?”
After realizing that my truth could be different from someone else’s truth, even if we shared the same experience, it made me think about journaling and memoirs so much differently. I got right to work, giving my own journal entries a fictional spin.
Nana by Ai Yazawa
Yes, I am throwing a graphic novel in here because this series was just as impactful to me as all the others on this list. The story of Nana by Ai Yazawa is one of my favorite stories ever and has influenced not only my writing style, but my expectations of people and my relationships.
Yazawa does a beautiful job of weaving nostalgia through her plotlines while also foreshadowing later events. Her volumes are absolute page-turners, filled with beautiful dialogue and monologues told from the perspective of two 20-year-old women. This graphic series inspired me to play around with the concept of nostalgia in my writing, which adds sentiment and relatability to the everyday lives of the characters.
These 5 books made me love writing, but what about you? Did any of your favorites make my list? I’d love to know!
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.