Spring Reading: 5 Books that Remind Me of Who I Hope To Be

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Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

We all have books that have shaped us as a person. And given the arrival of spring—a season known for starting fresh—I find myself returning to the books that have touched me most: the important books I reread to both remember the person I was when I first read them and to inspire the person I want to be now. These are books with lines so poignant I’ve written them on paper and taped them to the walls that surround the room where I write.

The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

Crack this book open on a Friday night, clear your weekend, stock your freezer with cookie dough ice cream, and have tissues on hand. This beautiful New York Times bestseller tells the story of Hazel Grace, a cancer patient who meets her great love, an amputee named Augustus Waters, at a cancer support group she reluctantly attends. With the author John Green’s signature fusion of compassion and wit, this novel fundamentally changed the Young Adult genre, spreading its readership along an entire spectrum of ages. Addressing the beautiful and crippling dynamics of what it means to suffer, you will finish this book a different person.

Gilead

by Marilynne Robinson

Though not a long novel, my initial reading of Gilead took an entire month. The writing felt strongly important—I read paragraphs over and over again before moving on. Penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson, this novel details the fictional legacy of a minister who, close to death, records his life so that his young son can someday read about it. Rarely have I seen a more loving depiction of how carefully to shape one’s own life. The book leaves you feeling blessed that you have more time on earth to love and pay attention to the people around you.

Letters to a Young Poet

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Given its genius, the less I comment on this book, is probably the better. In a collection of correspondence between the renowned poet Rainer Maria Rilke and an aspiring writer, Rilke discusses the difficulty of writing, and in doing so, addresses the necessary bravery of the human heart, the patience required for eventual self-discovery, and the sometimes small but important ways one shows love to another person.

Speedboat

by Renata Adler

While I was working as an intern at the New York Review of Books (a publishing house that resurrects novels that have long been out of print) I was lucky to have had a part in bringing this book back into the world. In the 1970s, before authors such as Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kahling published collections of personal essays, Renata Adler paved the way. This book tells her stories of living among New York’s social elite and her hilarious, piercing insights about life at that time.

My Antonia

by Willa Cather

This 1918 classic, one of the most beautifully rendered books I have ever read, is a novel I first picked up in seventh grade. I sat in my family’s living room devouring it with a highlighter, embodying the typical cliché of a girl who voluntarily reads novels about prairie life for fun, home at night on the weekend, dressed in pajamas and socks. But each time I return to its pages—to its arduous story of immigration and the struggles of pioneering circumstances—I learn something new about their way of life that I hope will keep informing my own.