There is nothing I love more than reading, and the collection of books I keep close to my heart is an eclectic mix of memoir, fiction, and literature. My bookshelf is electronic, as I download all of my books from an accessible platform and read them in Braille. The advantage of this is that I never run out of space, so I have a collection that spans years and experiences.
Through high school, young adult novels captured my attention. I love the realistic portrayals of high school and the world of a teenager like I was. Books such as What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy by Jenny Han, and anything by Nicholas Sparks inspired me to try to write stories with teenagers at their core. As I grew out of high school and was introduced to literary fiction, I found that there was a place on my bookshelf for everything from William Shakespeare’s King Lear to Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.
It was not until I was introduced to creative nonfiction that I began to actively seek out memoir to complete my bookshelf; now, I would say that most of my reading is comprised of memoirs and essay collections. Whenever I need to return to my roots as a writer, I always go back to Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t to experience the way she plays with form on the page. Aesthetically, I am inspired by memoirs that turn in unexpected directions, whether in terms of form or storyline. Emotionally, I gravitate toward stories that make me laugh, cry, and fully delve into the experiences of the writer—especially it is different from my own. Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, JoAnn Beard’s The Boys of My Youth, and Tara Westover’s Educated are examples: these three writers come from different backgrounds and experiences and lay their lives bare on the page. Generally, memoirs written by celebrities have to be compelling enough to capture my interest, but I will always have a soft spot for Jessica Simpson’s Open Book because of the honesty she portrays about every facet of her life.
In closing, books inspire me to be a better writer, but more than that, they inspire me to empathize, sympathize, and fall in love with the written word every time I add a new one to my collection. Each book I have read has walked me through a unique time in my life—whether it be my introduction to high school, my senior year of college, or the middle of a global pandemic. I am constantly searching for the story that I have never encountered, and each book on my shelf was, at one point or another, that story. As I write my own, I use books to study craft; when I am relaxing, I get to dive fully into the practice of reading as fulfillment.
Nikki Lyssy is an MFA candidate at the University of South Florida, where she is pursuing a degree in Creative Nonfiction. She has essays published in Hobart, Essay Daily, and Sweet: A Literary Convection.