The Books That Shape Us

Nick WilsonBooks, Inside WITS

I recently moved. The new place is a bit larger, which means proper book storage is possible. The bookshelf has been built, and it’s mostly empty. I don’t own many physical books due to previous space limitations and convenience. I had to make a decision—how was going to fill my shelves? After watching some YouTube videos by book lovers about their collecting habits, I felt like surrounding myself with the books that I loved was the way to go. This got me thinking about some of the books that greatly impacted me over the years, and thus, wanted to share.

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

Every time I think about this book, I want to scream, “The interiority!” Jones explores the inner lives of enslaved people in a way that I hadn’t previously experienced. I want to reach my hands into the pages to shake the characters and remind them to be more gentle with each other. Maintaining interpersonal relationships is nigh impossible when your personhood is denied. I see many rereads in my future.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This book made me ugly cry. Something about the way Yoon weaves this story of first love and the loss of that love had me reminiscing about that time in my life. I loved the sections exploring some tertiary characters and concepts. There may have been some emo poetry written inspired by this read.

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

I read this book so many times the spine cracked, the pages fell out, and the plastic separated from the paper on the cover. I received a gift of a hardcover copy in the hopes that it would hold up better. Wurtzel’s story made me feel understood and less alone in my early adult years.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

I felt truly represented in a book for the first time. It took me by surprise because I was nearly thirty and thought I was past the age where that would matter. I was glad the ideas of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors were being explored more for the younger generation. While Whitehead’s Black nerdy boy protagonist hit me hard, the familiar language absolutely delighted me.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.” This quote is emblematic of the connection I felt to this book. I was a boy like that, like Ari, the protagonist. Alire Sáenz is a poet, and it is reflected in the beauty of his prose.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

I had such a book hangover after reading this. It was days before I could even think about reading something else. There is something so moving about the way Callender writes about exploring gender identity and how it can be ongoing. The characters are queer and messy. They make mistakes and learn from them.

What are the books that shaped you?