editor’s note:

Five Books That Have Influenced My Writing

by hannah showalter

Writing is one of my biggest passions in life, but when I’m not writing, I’m working at a library, constantly surrounding myself with books. As writers, we are told that one way to become a better writer is to read more. For my first blog post, I thought I’d combine both my love of recommending literature and my love of writing, and recommended you the books I think have influenced my writing the most. Everything I have ever read absorbs itself into me, be it poetry, prose, or a beautifully written grocery list. Remembering these books is as easy as remembering my own name. Sometimes a book comes into your life and doesn’t leave. Some part of you is still trapped inside of it, always. I hope you enjoy these just as much as I do, and find that they inspire your own writing.

1. ) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.”

Ocean Vuong

I read this book in the summer of 2020 on the recommendation of a friend, and was blown away. I’m not sure if I’ll ever write a novel, but if I do, this is exactly the form I’d like it to take. This book challenged what I thought a novel could contain, and the shape of that form looks different to me now. On Earth is written as a series of letters from a son to his mother, writing about their lives as Vietnamese immigrants on the east coast of the United States, and covers topics such as queerness, masculinity, racism, and addiction. Ocean Vuong is primarily a poet, and that shines through in the style of this book.

2.) The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.”

Sandra Cisneros

I first encountered this book as a freshman in high school. I remember thinking it was unlike anything I’d read, in the best possible way. In this young adult novel, Cisneros writes about a young Latino girl growing up in Chicago. Through a series of vignettes, Cisneros tells a coming of age tale that will resonate with all ages.

3.) Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

My stuttering kneecaps clank like silver spoons held in strong arms with loose wrists. They ring in my ears like clumsy church bells, reminding me I am sleepwalking on an ocean of happiness I cannot baptize myself in.

Sabrina Benaim

It was a difficult task to find just one poetry book that I think affected my poetry writing the most, but as I searched my shelf, this collection by Sabrina Benaim seemed like the obvious choice. I began writing poetry seriously when I discovered the Youtube channel Button Poetry, and Benaim’s work is one of the poets that first taught me about a more modern style of poetry. Benaim writes openly and honestly about mental illness, and inspires me to do the same. Sometimes books can make you feel less alone, and this book has always done that for me.

4.) In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.”

Carmen Maria Machado

I picked up In The Dream House in a panic, when all my power was out because of the 2020 derecho. It was recommended to me by a friend because it takes place partly in the city I live in, but it was astounding regardless of my recognition of certain streets and diners. In The Dream House is a memoir that combines poetry, queer history, and prose as Machado to share her story of domestic abuse. In The Dream House is a powerful and important text, and unlike any other memoir I’ve read. For anyone looking to read more creative nonfiction or take their own hand at writing it themselves, this is a must read.

5.) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Leisel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she wring them out like rain”

Markus Zusak

Any recommendation list I ever make will probably include this book, as it’s my favorite book in the world. Not only is the story beautiful, but the writing in this book changed the course of my own writing. I think I’d been searching for prose like this since I started reading, and I didn’t know that this was what I was looking for until I found it. Zusak tells this story from the unique point of view of Death, and it follows a young girl named Liesel in World War II. Through lyrical and gorgeous prose, Zusak creates a story that is sure to stay with you long after you close the last page.


Hannah Showalter is the poetry editor of Violet Margin. She is graduating with her BA in English from UIS next year. She is excited to start her studies in library sciences soon after.

To read more from Hannah and the rest of our Violet Margin staff, follow our blog and socials. Stay tuned for our future publications.

By violetmargin

The literary journal of the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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