The art of stealing: books I loved while writing mine


Since my book was published, I’ve been getting a lot of book-ish questions.

I was recently giving a talk to writing students and they asked me what I like to read, and what I think writers should be reading. I found myself saying, “I think it’s important to read great work and then steal it.”

I quickly backtracked – okay, I’m not encouraging you to ‘steal’ as in ‘plagiarize.’ I mean steal like…borrow another author’s voice and try it on. See what it looks like with your own spin. A voice is just like a dress, it’s not going to look the same on me as it does on Heidi Klum. But learning how writers we admire use words and tone, and then seeing what that looks like when reflected through our own unique lens, can be really beneficial.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. Inspiration about how to live well and work better is all around us – it can come from anywhere. We get to observe the world around us and decide what aspects we want (or really don’t want) in our own lives.

Here are some books that inspired me while I was writing my book.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I love to read anything and everything from this man. I attended his reading once, so it’s fantastic to hear his cadence in my head as I read his books and New Yorker articles. His attention to detail and ability to find side-stitching humor in mundane circumstances delights my soul. Because of this book, my book got funnier.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Hands down the best celebrity memoir I’ve ever read. He tells great stories and is honest and I loved it. I found it interesting that he was able to stay throughly engaged in the actor’s life – something I personally was not able to do. It’s the perfect example of people needing to pursue their bliss – whatever that is. Because of this book, my book got more candid.

A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

This one is a classic for me and I reread it often. The characters are what bring me back. They are developed and flawed and confusing. They are real to me. I wonder about how they are doing now. Because of this book, my book got more interesting characters.

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

This was my first Murakami book and I freaked out over it. It was so strange. I’ve always been worried about fitting in and being seen as “normal” and this book was wacky and totally okay with it. Such a fun, crazy read. Because of this book, my book got a little weirder.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I fell madly in love with this one. The detail of the narrative was exquisite and I felt every detail of that world in all five senses. It was all so vivid to me that I still miss that world, and I have an enduring literary crush on Theo, the main character. Because of this book, my book got more detailed.

Liz Gilbert – TED Talks

“Liz Gilbert is your spirit animal” – my husband.

When I was writing, I read The Signature of All Things, which was beautiful, but it was really her talks that got me. Her TED Talk on creativity broke my world open. I think every writer/artist/creative soul should watch Your elusive creative genius.

Still Writing – Dani Shapiro

A lovely little book about writing, meditation and presence. Some of my favorite things. My writing process got more easeful, as I remembered to breathe through the challenging parts and remember that it’s all part of the bigger picture. Because of this book, my book got more spiritually connected.

On Writing – Stephen King

One of my very favorite books about writing. Part practical instruction, part memoir, this book ignites my soul on those days when sitting down in front of the computer feels too painful to even contemplate. Because of this book, my book got done.

We are constantly evolving and changing as human beings, whether you are a writer or a painter or a dental hygienist. It’s a wonderful thing to keep reassessing what you want for yourself and your work – because that is always in flux. That’s the beautiful thing about life – we get to start over, every day, and decide who we want to be.

Books are an incredible way to explore your options, and the world…and you don’t even have to leave your couch.


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19 Replies to “The art of stealing: books I loved while writing mine”

  1. I’ve read four of the books on your list and I totally agree with your assessments. The writing style of “The Goldfinch” still resonates with me and David Sedaris will always crack me up. I’m a big fan of his. Stephen King tells it like it is, as does Rob Lowe. I will add the other titles to my reading list. Thank you for the insight.

  2. Hi i heard a Prayer for Owen Meany is a Great read as well, Yet I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. the premise of this book was based on a film that still tugs at my heart strings till this day called Simon Birch 1998. I also read the original Novel based on the FAilm where the Heart is.

  3. I loved The Goldfinch too. I only read it this year and kind of had a love/hate relationship with Theo…..but I did love the fact that it wasn’t necessarily a “happily ever after” story. It kind of felt “real”.
    I do love book recommendations! I’m going to note these and give some a go. I’m also going to buy and read yours! 🙂

  4. I haven’t read any of these books, but I always love a recommended read! I’m currently attempting some classics. I’ve recently downloaded Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland and Wuthering heights 🙂 I’ve really got back into reading after a bit of a lull over the last year and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Especially looking forward to reading your book once it has made it’s way over the big pond! Literally can’t wait 🙂

  5. Hi, First, I really enjoy you emails, and I love to read too! The books you mentioned I have not read however, thanks for the recommendations , I read all kinds of books and I love when a book grabs me. I love my nook cause I can carry my books with me everwhere and actually I still always have a few of my favorite hard cover books with me too. Of course ppl think I’m a geek but maybe they do not understand ☺..I rather read than watch TV but of course there are a few shows I enjoy. So again, thanks for the recommendations . Take care and keep your writing up

  6. This is a wonderful list. The Goldfinch and indeed The Secret History are two of my favourite books of all time, purely based on their intricate, interweaving nature. Every page is a piece of art in itself and the detail doesn’t slow it down in anyway. Sometimes I think it is better to get everything down at once and it can sometimes seem too worked when going back and adding the ‘detail.’ Would you say this is a challenge for novice writers (like myself), to feel it is no

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