Writing Tips

Which Books Inspire You to Write?

July 2, 2011
The Birth House

A few months ago, I read The Birth House by Ami McKay. I’d heard about this book for years, but it took some time to make its way into my “to-read” pile. Once I picked it up, there was no putting it down!

For those of you who haven’t read The Birth House, here’s the synopsis from Vintage Canada, the publisher:

The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.”

I’m not sure what it was about The Birth House that stuck with me. It might have been the narrator, Dora Rare, an unforgettable, loveable character. It might have been the desolate, haunting east coast setting. And it might have been the focus on women and early midwifery, a topic I’ve been interested in since I read The Red Tent several years ago. Perhaps (and most likely) it was a combination of all of these things that conspired to have such a profound effect on me; When I finished the book, I thought, “I’d like to be able to write a book like that.”

Now I’m not saying that I want to write a book exactly like The Birth House (Ami McKay did a pretty darn good job the first time!), but I’d like to be able to write a book that makes people feel the way I felt when reading The Birth House: totally involved, whisked away from the real world, immersed in another person’s life.

After I finished The Birth House and fit it carefully onto my “Books I Love and Someday Want to Read Again” shelf, I decided that I was going to write a novel. To me that’s one of the most powerful things a book can do: inspire another to write.

Have you ever read a book that affected you so much it inspired you to write your own, or to become a better writer? Which books have inspired you to write?

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  • The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife July 2, 2011 at 3:07 am

    Definitely going to check this book out. Your interest reminds me of the documentary “The Business of Being Born.” Have you seen it?

    • carrie m July 2, 2011 at 3:14 am

      I haven’t seen it, but now I’m going to have to check it out! Thanks for the reco!

      • Jess Witkins July 9, 2011 at 3:17 am

        The Business of Being Born is amazing! So is The Defenders. Great documentaries, the first being on home births and the second being on the history of birth control.

  • indialeigh July 2, 2011 at 6:40 am

    There have been many books, mostly which I cannot recall but the most recent that have inspired me are The Three Boys of my Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Remainder by Tom McCarthy & Last Night in Montreal by EMily St John Mandel. Carrie, I felt the same ecstacy in being utterly absorbed in these books as you wrote about feeling in the Birth House. I’ve not yet started writing my novel, I’ve been practising with my memoir and foodie blog but what I am my books to do is to make the reader long to be delving into the pages and be torn between hungrily wanting to uncover everything but at the same time not wanting it to end. I want it to make them feel and explore their emotions in a safe imaginary world.

    • carrie m July 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm

      Hello India Leigh!

      I too was inspired by Emily St John Madel’s Last Night in Montreal. I actually wrote about that book in my post here. What a fantastic book.

      I haven’t read the other two books you mention, but I’m definitely going to have to look them up (especially Remainder – I really like Tom McCarthy). The balance between “hungrily wanting to uncover everything” and “not wanting it to end” is EXACTLY how I feel about a great book. It’s almost like it’s a perfect piece of chocolate.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Carrie

  • jgavinallan July 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Carrie:
    There has never been one book that has inspired me, it is all books. It is hard to explain, but the idea of writing books is not something I thought possible. When I discovered the wonderful world of reading, it was as if a magic wand spread over my mind. I love to read anything—historic non-fiction to the sweetest romance novel…just seeing a book in B & N or even an old book store makes me want to create.
    Jaye
    PS: Hope not too confusing

    • carrie m July 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Jaye!

      Your comment wasn’t too confusing at all. I take regular trips to bookstores to “sniff the books”. What I really do while I’m there is walk around and look at ALL different genres of books, getting a feel for what’s being published, and generally immersing myself in bookishness. Books in themselves are inspiring – I agree!

  • notizbuchfragmente July 2, 2011 at 10:57 am

    That’s a great posting – nice idea writing about this! :D

    Right now, I’m reading Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austen Book Club” – it is beautifully written, has a nice, quiet style of storytelling and wonderful characters. And it always makes me pick up another Jane Austen novel afterwards. ;) The movie is also great!

    Other books I have for inspiration are T.C. Boyle’s “Drop City” (though it’s a long way for me until I’m as good) and Oliver Uschmann (a German writer I absolute adore – and I’ve been writing short stories in his style (not copying, of couse).

    But, usually, I get inspiration from films like “Amelie”, “The Jane Austen Book Club”, or Tim Burton’s work – depending on what I want to write next. And I always look for things I could also try out. :D

    Another GREAT book is Julia Cameron’s “The Right to Write” – if you don’t know it yet, give it a try. :D
    Nathalie Goldberg’s book was bad for me …

    • carrie m July 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      You bring up a great point Julia: movies can inspire people to write too! I can’t even tell you how many people have recommended “Amelie” to me. I’m going to have to add it to my goal list for the year.

      I loved Julie Cameron’s The Right to Write. As cheesy as it sounds, I think that book actually changed my life. I’m a devoted Morning Pages writer and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Artist’s Way.

  • Lisa Ahn July 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I’ll have to add this book to my list — it sounds great! I recently finished The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry and loved it. I’m always inspired by the writing of John Irving. I’m also a big fan of the magic and storytelling of Sarah Addison Allen. Basically, though, I think ever book I read can teach me something about writing — whether it’s cadence or plotting or characterization, or all three combined (when I’m lucky).

    • carrie m July 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      I agree Lisa – even the books that I haven’t 100% loved have taught me something about writing (mainly what I don’t want to write like).

      I’ll have to check out some of the authors you recommend above! I love John Irving, so we may have similar tastes. Thanks for stopping by!

      • jacquelincangro July 3, 2011 at 2:14 am

        Definitely! I always try to read with a writer’s eye and find a take-away to apply to my own work. You’re right – learning what NOT to do is just as valuable as learning what you want to emulate.

        One book I really admired was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I loved her techniques and hope I can bring some of of them into my own work (and do them justice!).

  • Jess Witkins July 9, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Ooh, fascinating book recommendation. The Red Tent is also on my to read list. Reading The Cider House Rules by John Irving changed the way I thought about abortion. Maybe it was the age I read it at, but that’s what I thought of when you talked about a book making you want to write a “feeling.”

    • carrie m July 10, 2011 at 1:42 am

      I haven’t read the Cider House Rules, although it’s been on my to-read list for ages! I’ll have to move it further up the list :) Thanks for stopping by, Jess!

  • thebirthmuse October 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Yes! I love this book!!! I also love “Tales From a Midwife” by Jennifer Worth, which I just finished this evening. It is “The Birth House” except in 1950s England with a whole new cast of amazing women. I recommend it!

    • carrie m October 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks for the reco! I’m defiitely going to check it out!

    • carrie m October 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks for the reco! I’m definitely going to check it out!