Three years ago, today, I decided to start writing my first book. On that April Fool’s Day, I thought I was writing a collection essays, but it turned out to be a memoir. Since then, I’ve written—and re-written—something that I believe finally adds up to a manuscript. Getting it published will be an entirely different story.

However, on this anniversary that I hold dear, I find myself looking back and cataloging the books that have literally altered the course of my life. Starting with the first book that inspired me to write back beyond the margins, here are a few of the books, listed in the year I read them, that beckoned me to the page in the hopes of adding to the cultural conversation of books.

1994: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

1995: Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel

Asking RWE why at 17

1996: Emerson’s Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

1997: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

1998: My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok


1999: Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson

1999: Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson

Starring Bill Bryson during Study Abroad

2000: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman

2001: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

2002: Middlesex, Jeffery Eugenides


2003: A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

2004: Journal, Annabel Clark and Lynn Redgrave

2005: Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres

Commiserating with Jesus Land

2005: Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres

2006: On Writing, Stephen King

2007: Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell

2008: Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris

2009: The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick

2010: Boys of My Youth, Jo Ann Beard

2011: The Commitment, Dan Savage

2012: Virgin, Hanne Blank

Learning from the historian, Hanne Blank

Learning from the historian, Hanne Blank

2013: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy

2014: Don’t Cry, Mary Gaitskill. Or, Cut me Loose, Leah Vincent. I’m in the middle of reading both right now and couldn’t possibly decide.


What’s the best book you’ve read this year?