5 Books & What They Taught Me About Writing

Emily lists 6 Comments

Since most readers tend to also be writers (or people who aspire to write a book someday), I think we all know that wonderful, indescribable feeling of finishing a book that makes you think: Wow. I wish I could write something like that. For me, those are my favorite kind of books. Every reader has different tastes. I find historical fiction the most powerful genre and the genre that most encapsulates the essence of storytelling (wow, dramatic/poetic enough there, Emily? 😉 ), so every book on this list is historical.

#1: THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

Confession: I saw the movie before I read the book. (How very unbookworm of me, right?) I read The Help in January and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved it! Besides the fact that the main character is quirky and bookish and a writer (every character under that description is a kindred spirit to me), this book is a perfect example of how heavy emotion should meet comedy. A Joss Whedon quotes goes: “Make it dark. Make it grim. Make it tough. But then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Kathryn Stockett wrote a story that makes you really feel everything. Real life is never one sole feeling or mood, so why should a story be? Even where there is tragedy, there is always some humor. For fiction to be as authentic as possible, it’s important to relay that in stories.

Can we take a moment to appreciate that type writer and those glasses? (Side note: have any of you seen “La La Land” yet? I adore Emma Stone.)


A Corner of the Universe broke my heart. I’d like to start out by saying that no Newbery Honor book has ever failed me before. If a book I ever wrote received such an award I would DIE on the spot. That’s it. You would never see or hear from me again. Bye-bye, Emily, you have written something marvelously beautiful for the world and NEWBERY HONOR gave you a shiny book medal for it and now you’re dead from the excitement.

So. Keeping that in mind, you can only imagine my undisputed love for this book. I think that having written a middle grade book that deals with mental disorders/illness is SO impressive. It deserves a million and one awards. Writing any genre that approaches those topics well is impressive, don’t get me wrong, BUT approaching them from the perspective of a child is even more so. A Corner of the Universe reminded me that characters with mental disorders should never become their disorder. (It also further reminded me how INCREDIBLE Ann M. Martin is, and if the only one of her books you’ve read is from The Babysitter’s Club, you’re missing out.)


When I first read Interrupted, I was in that awkward in-between age, where most middle grade books weren’t satisfying me, but finding an appropriate young adult book was a challenge. (Thankfully, this was the birth of for the bookish, so I could find other readers with the same struggle. That worked! 🙂 ) Anyway, I found myself in the Christian Family Bookstore (which is now CLOSING DOWN, how sad!) staring at an array of books with such titles as My Amish Boyfriend. I was beyond frustrated because nothing looked appealing anymore. Miraculously, I picked up Interrupted, and thank goodness for that.

What most amazes me about Rachel’s books is her ability to so seamlessly work in elements of the Christian faith in a book for young adults. And none of it comes off as cheesy, preachy, forced, or boring! I don’t know about you, but I am forever doubting myself when I try to merge my fiction with my faith (I’ve been giving it a lot of thought this week especially, having read Jonathan’s post about it), and Interrupted does just that so beautifully.

#4: SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea follows four teenagers of different backgrounds, pasts, cultures, and personalities. Ruta Sepetys is a superb historical fiction writer, but what wowed me about Salt to the Sea is how each individual was so different. You could read one or two sentences from each chapter and know right off the bat which character was talking – even if you hadn’t read their names at the top of the page. Their voices were distinctive. When I’m writing, I often slip into a pattern of every character being too similar. Salt to the Sea gives such succinct voices and dialogue to each character. I love that!

#5: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

I know I’ve mentioned this numerous times on the blog, but Code Name Verity is one book that is METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED! Honestly, I’ve never read such a detailed historical fiction book before. This book felt accurate right down to the brand of socks a character might wear in the 1940s. (That was an example; I don’t recall any brand name socks being named, of course. But if there was, it was specific to the era!) Reading Code Name feels like you’re reading an autobiography rather than fiction, and I think that’s the ultimate goal in telling any story.

Which genre/book most inspires you to write? What have certain ones taught you about writing?


P.S. I’m so proud of the bookish photography in this post! Do me a favorite and pin it or tweet it or share it?? 🙂 (no shame self promo, oops.)

Comments 6

  1. What a wonderful post, Emily! And wonderful bookish photography, of course. 😉

    I found myself nodding fervently throughout the entire post. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this to look back on when I’m writing. Sadly I’ve only read ONE of the books on your list (Salt to the Sea). I can’t wait until
    I’m finally allowed to read The Help! Oh, I did see La La Land..Emma Stone was amazing!❤️It was a beautiful movie, but heart wrenching.

    I know I’ve seen the Ann M. Martin book before (love her!) but I don’t think I’ve read it. AND CODE NAME VERITY. Why haven’t I read it?!?

    Again, I loved reading this post and you can’t imagine my happiness when I got the notification for it. 🙂

  2. Salt to the Sea and Code Name Verity are definitely two of the best YA historical fiction books out there, and they definitely help showcase the importance of research and characterization. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous post! <3

  3. I’ve read and liked all of these books except Interrupted (which I haven’t read). Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray Journals (which you might like, btw! Pretty clean historical fiction with PRINCESSES) Laini Taylor taught me that writing can and should be beautiful, Garth Nix taught me that character must harmonise with the plot, and Rachel Hartman taught me that unexpected elements make a story worth reading (unexpected elements, that is, and dragons)

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  5. Omg. Just finished Between Shades of Gray. It was so despressing, hopeful, sad, disturbing, and rich all at the same time. Haven’t read a good book like this in a long time.

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