We ask our fellow TPMers to share their own personal reading recommendations: the books they love or that have shaped their lives.
Comment below with some of your favorites! Additionally, you can still purchase any of the books by visiting our TPM Bookshop profile page.
Associate Editor Nicole Lafond is in place this month. Check out her list of five books that inspired her to become a writer.
Being a writer usually sucks.
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As is the case with this article and every other article I have published in the toxic abyss that is the internet over the years, nothing a writer writes is ever done, finished, complete or satisfactory. . There have been a few rare instances over the years — when I’ve covered an issue in the ground or said all I could muster with my sanity still intact — where a piece seems ready to go to bed. But this feeling tends to evaporate once the “publish” button is deployed and your words in their initial vulnerability are no longer yours, but rather an asset of the collective heritage of the internet, ready to be consumed and dissected and criticized. and, on good days, moderately appreciated.
That’s why this whole thing called having an editor is so awesome. I’m an editor and a writer now. My confidence in my abilities while playing both roles is firmly rooted in the fact that there are always two (or more) parties involved, two brains to bounce ideas off of, two vocabulary chests to tap into, two guts to check before work feels final.
My first experience with a publisher was a lesson in humility. I joined my school newspaper as a junior in high school. The first story I ever wrote centered on something mellow: the school district’s new contract with a green food service for school lunch. I was completely devastated by the edits.
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In my first attempt at journalism, I discovered that what I once thought was pure eloquence was, in fact, far too presumptuous for a painfully wordy, reported story. I was not going to the goal. I was stretching the facts. The intro to the story – which I eventually learned was called a “lede”; a nauseatingly rigid form of sentence structuring that not only has its own scientific formula for success, but also requires a great deal of humility to write correctly – was meandering and basic. There were no transitions. Trust shattered, I dug into the notes with my editor, who was then the high school newspaper adviser. He pulled out an outdated AP Stylebook and we ripped my piece some more together.
Manufacturing, dismantling, rebuilding and rewriting, we learn to continue in this profession. It’s the only protection against your own brain in this industry. Although an article may not read quite like an excerpt from the Dead Sea Scrolls at the time of publication, it is comforting to know that several parties found the work solid and complete before it was posted online. (Editor’s note from me: Stand firm in the knowledge that this feeling I am describing is a hyperbolic articulation of Nicole S. Lafond Mania – a form of inner, self-induced torture that is in no way a reflection of a rigid fact. obsession with verification and rigor that goes into writing, editing and publishing a report for the TPM).
But there’s a strange dichotomy here that I think most writers find themselves stuck in forever – a religious truth for those of us who, for God knows what reason, have chosen (reluctantly) to accept that this writing thing that we do is, in fact, the thing that we do. My work can always seem unfinished. But all others are scriptures, written in our collective consciousness by a being of higher authority who had been chosen to drop the inspired words of a deity onto a page.
It’s no secret that reading a lot, especially at a young age, encourages the development of all the neural pathways in the brain that need to be wired and nurtured for someone to not only make the infuriating decision of wanting to be a writer, but to be a decent at that. And the literary icons that speak to us the most do a lot of work to keep us humbled, to keep us inspired, but most of all, to keep us going.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
“Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It was only recently that I learned that LM Montgomery deliberately used his initials in order to disguise his gender. At the time, Montgomery was a trailblazer, writing about the female experience and cementing Anne Shirley’s status as an iconic literary figure at a time when stories about and for women represented little beyond the sexist tropes that still plague representations of the female experience to this day. . Anne is the epitome of a young woman who shamelessly takes up too much space, loudly dismantling the peace of the stubborn adults and kindred spirits she encounters along her enchanting journey to Green Gables.
And Montgomery articulated his import beautifully, speaking eloquently of his flaws, immortalizing his physical flaws in poetry. Although perhaps a little linguistically flourishing, Montgomery has a knack for saying a lot to say a lot. She vocalized it the most iconic here:
It always seemed to me, from my early childhood, in the midst of all the commonplaces of life, that I was very close to a realm of ideal beauty. Between her and me hung only a thin veil. I could never quite put it aside, but sometimes a wind blew it up and I glimpsed the enchanting realms beyond – only a glimpse – but those glimpses always made life interesting.
“Awakening” by Kate Chopin‘
While Montgomery’s work may be an over-the-top romantic adventure, Chopin’s writing is an abrupt companion. With biting precision in his brevity, Chopin darkly illustrates the nihilistic repercussions of a fictionalized reality. The combination of the two taught me the value of both meandering prose and sharp descriptors. Variation in sentence length! A seemingly simple concept, but one that adds unparalleled complexity to writing.
“The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad sight to see the weak bruised, exhausted, fluttering to the ground.
“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘
I read this philosophical children’s book for the first time in French – in my French 3 Honors class in high school to be exact (thanks to you, Madame Duppen). It was one of those fundamental aggravating experiences that anyone learning a second, third or fourth language goes through at some point, recognizing the value of the untranslatable, of the je ne sais quoi. But for the purposes of this article, “The Little Prince” exposed me to a quality of good writing that carries fundamental weight in journalism: the art of articulating a perspective outside of your own. Saint-Exupéry does it masterfully – conveying philosophical lessons about the pillars of humanity through the eyes of a child.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see correctly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
“A Heartbreaking Work of Stunning Genius” by Dave Eggers‘
These last two books have influenced me on a mental health level which I always crave to discuss, so if you’re a fan please email me. On a literary level, Eggers has a flow of knowing gifts that even Jack Kerouac would admit The Beats couldn’t see come to fruition. And it’s funny, like cracking ribs, LOL-ing in the face of disaster, funny. Eggers taught me not to take my writing (or myself, for that matter) so seriously – that sometimes throwing everything on the page as a starting point, and revising, or not revising, later is just as essential to bringing a story to life as the art of thoughtful clarity.
“I straighten the carpet in the hall. I find the broom and sweep. I open the fridge and throw in a heavy bag of blue oranges. And baby carrots, now brown and tender. I go up to my room, I open the shutters. Across the street at the nursing home, an elderly woman is outside on the porch, moving slowly, watering her plants. I go back to the kitchen and pick up the phone. Who to call? I put it down. I turn on the computer. Get up, turn on the oven. What to cook? We have no food. I sit down, look at the computer and turn it off and get up, looking out the door. I lean my head against the molding near the window. What if my head hung on the wall? I could be half of a pair of conjoined twins, tied at the head, the other half was actually this wall. I could be half man half wall. Would I die if I wasn’t separated? No, I could survive.
This passage says as much about human experience as “Jesus wept.”
“On Earth, We Are Briefly Magnificent” by Ocean Vuong‘
Vuong’s writing is unmatched in modern American literature. He spills prose off a page as though it were an accident, yet effortlessly embodies the kind of prolific thought that has earned him the distinction of being the voice of an entire generation. I’m a fan if you can’t tell and his gift runs deeper and wider than what I’ll say here. While not necessarily a journalistic writer, “On Earth” is a memoir, Vuong’s work is a masterclass in the subtle depth of good dialogue; the power of a sharp quote.
“What were you before you met me?”
“I think I was drowning”
“And what are you now?”