Books have shaped who I am in a lot of ways. Reading fuels creativity, imagination. Reading makes us empathetic. People who read are likely to be able to perceive the world through a multitude of lenses. But reading as a writer, I think there’s an added appreciation in being immersed in the craft of another writer. There’s awe. And jealousy. People say that you should write the book you want to read. But here are books that I’d wish I’d written. They have influenced and inspired me. They have taught me so much about my own writing and craft.
Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street
All of these books challenge tradition of form. (Disclaimer: I’ve been labeled an experimental poet). But House on Mango Street taught me that a book could be as much poetry as it could a narrative. The vignettes each stand alone like perfect little prose poems and I love the way that they are curated to tell Esperanza’s story. It catches me everytime I ponder the notion of what it means to belong to a community, find your path in spite of struggle, and to come back and somehow serve or save your community. The notion that success may mean absence but not abandonment.
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
I’m teaching this book to my English 202 class this semester and in rereading it - realize the true complexity of it. I had not prepared or set up my students for the ambiguous movement between perspective nor the narrative that flows between personal account and mythology. Many students agreed that it takes reading and then rereading to experience and I think we eventually found a way to navigate it together. The Woman Warrior is beautifully complicated, just like our own minds and I’m always fascinated to see that translated into text form.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
I have a soft spot I suppose for the “difficult to interpret”. Dictee was recommended/assigned to me by a mentor--and I think the premise was “I think you can handle it”. It’s a book that is severely underappreciated, yes and maybe a little experimental. But I wish as readers, the experimental didn’t have to mean unapproachable. A lot of my own work has sparked conversations around “accessibility” and I guess I struggle to understand what that really means. Dictee blends verse, imagery, prose, and white space in the most interesting way and I hope more people would give it a try.