An avid reader growing up, I accumulated a sizable collection of books over the years. Beloved novels from middle school, chose your own adventure books, poetry anthologies, books for college, and many others that left an impression on me as I read and cherished them.
Looking at my bookshelf, one could easily see what my favorite genre used to be. Horror books—Stephen King mostly—crowd out the others. Believe it or not, I don’t have glowing reviews for Stephen King—or really for most of the horror writers I’ve read so far. For some reason, I find that the writing of Shirley Jackson (in The Haunting of Hill House, at least), Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box), and even Robert Bloch (yes, I’m talking about Psycho) is just not that good. But perhaps this is because anything would pale in comparison to this one book I will never forget. I had not heard of its author until my cousin—a lover of books herself—insisted that I read it. That book is Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
Night Film is a mystery book that follows journalist Scott McGrath on an investigation to illuminate the strange death of Ashley Cordova, the gifted daughter of the illustrious and terrifying horror film director, Stanislas Cordova. As a horror writer myself, Stan Cordova thrilled me, a true enigma, someone too perfect, passionate, and horrifying to exist outside the written page. Through my own work, I wished I could become fraction of what this man represented.
Filled with unforgettable imagery, vivid characters, and heart-stopping scenarios, Night Film is a book I read many times and will not soon grow bored of. Unlike some of the other books that have touched me, Night Film appeals to me more as a writer. It is an excellently constructed novel with unique characters, and, back when I was more active in my own writing, I would continually refer to Pessl’s descriptions to inspire my craft. I even used a quote from this book—“it’s easy to be yourself in the dark”—as my senior quote in my high school’s year book.
However, other books in my collection have taught me the true power of connecting with a story on an emotional level. On The Road by Jack Kerouac—my copy well-loved and worn out at this point—is my all-time favorite book and a constant feature on my shelf, desk, bed, or anywhere else I go. I make sure to never be without this book. I take it home with me, to my apartment at school with me, even on vacation with me; where I go, it goes.
On The Road articulates all the thoughts in my heart that I could never describe myself. This book and its protagonist Sal Paradise serve as model for how I want to live my life: freely, artistically, and preferably on a journey between states with jazz blasting along the way. Of all the books I’ve read, this one is the most special to me because it represents characters I relate to deeply, more so than any person I’ve met in my life. This book has made me feel less alone, and, in that way, it’s given me a strange sense of belonging.
I think most people might struggle to understand my love for On The Road, or, at least, to connect with it as I have. However, John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire serves as a close second in my eyes and is probably more attainable to a broad audience. The Hotel New Hampshire follows the Berry family through the narration of the middle child, John, from his young childhood to his middle adulthood, through the ownership of three family hotels, across two countries, and around many tragedies and hardships, all told in Irving’s distinctly hilarious style.
If given the opportunity, I would write this novel into a list of books everyone must read before turning 50. I always look to this book when I’m going through a hard time, as the Berry family shows me not only how to overcome hardship, but how to smile in its midst. This book has become so near and dear to me that I actually decorated my high school graduation cap with a reference to it.
My cap reads auf wiedersehen—German for “goodbye”— in glittering gold, a phrase the Berry family would use as a farewell to people they would never see again. To me, it seemed fitting to look to Berry family for the best way to say goodbye to the first phase of my life and all the people I’d met along the way.
Of course, my love for books began with young adult books, many of which I no longer have or are tucked away in storage somewhere. One book, though, I could not part with is Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. I remember also adoring Hiaasen’s novel Flush, but, for some reason, nothing compared to the characters and story line of Hoot. Hoot is about a group of kids fighting to save endangered owls in a construction zone. I identified with the characters’ love of nature and was inspired by their ability to stand up for what they thought was right. It really is one of the first books I ever loved, fueling a lifetime of writing and reading, learning and creating, and, in that way, I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful for all the books that guided my life because I wouldn’t be writing or studying English in college without them to inspire me and encourage me along the way.