Photo: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

Books Made Me: Mouth Off
When I was in second grade, my teacher would pause for what felt like an eternity between words of the weekly spelling quiz. She'd read a word, I'd write the answer...and then, while I was waiting for my classmates to finish, I'd sneak my copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out of my desk, slip it onto my lap and read it. Needless to say, I was discovered and accused of cheating. I explained I wasn't cheating, just reading, because of the interminable (I think I actually used that word—or tried to) pauses between the words, and that if my teacher would just hurry it up, I wouldn't be so bored.

She called me obnoxious. I called her tyrannical. She called my parents. They called the principal...and the upshot was, instead of coming back for a second year with the same teacher in a blended second-and-third-grade class, I got moved to the fourth grade, thus ensuring my complete and total lack of friends until sophomore year of high school. The good news is, no friends means lots of time to read books...and I'm convinced that being a lonely kid was part of what made me a writer.

— Jennifer Weiner, author of All Fall Down

All Fall Down

Photo: Alessandra Rizzo

Books Made Me: Lie (Badly)
In college, I needed a summer job and applied to a highbrow bookstore, on whose premises I aimed to remedy the varied gaps in my literary knowledge. During the job interview, I fibbed wildly to appear cultured and worldly, being neither. The store manager, to my dismay, responded with an impromptu exam, conducted in front of staff and gathered customers: he tossed out book titles and I had to name the authors, then remark wisely on each. After all my boasting, I misidentified every single book, including the few I'd read. "Oh but I actually know this one!" I pleaded, as the manager gazed coldly toward the exit. Out I trudged (I worked in a bar that summer), and made a point of reading every volume I'd bungled, while vowing to never (well, hardly ever) pretend I'd read that which I hadn't.

—Tom Rachman, author of The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

Photo: Chloe Aftel

Books Made Me: Fall Flat on My Face
I have a trick to make sure I read well, which is to collect the books I want to read and put them in big ugly piles around the house. That way, when I want to read something good, I just have to remember where it was that I last tripped over one of those piles. (The ones I most enjoyed this summer—while sprawled on the carpet—were Joshua Ferris' To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and Brooks Haxton's insightful, humorous story about his son, Fading Hearts on the River.

— George Saunders, author of Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Books Made Me: Imitate a Health Professional
While I was writing To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, I used this handy little reference text called The Oxford Book of Clinical Dentistry. One day, I brought it along with me to breakfast. An old guy at the coffee shop happened to see it and asked me if I was a dentist. I said, "Not really," which was true enough. Nevertheless, he told me about a pain he was having in his molar and I told him what I thought it might be: a cavity. A month or two later I saw him again and he told me he'd been to the dentist. "You got it all wrong," he said. I was not surprised. His teeth, he explained (in more detail than I enjoyed), had begun to move around on him.

— Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Photo: Michael Lionstar

Books Made Me: Snoop Around
When I was a kid, I used to slip under the table at big family dinners and listen in on everyone's conversations. I got the idea from one of my all-time favorite novels, Harriet the Spy. Later, I'd go home and write stories that were always in some way about my family, and trying to make sense of the things I'd heard beneath the table. Eavesdropping is still my favorite pastime, if only because I often meet people who say that nothing surprises them—and I never want to stop being surprised.

—J. Courtney Sullivan, author of The Engagements

The Engagements

corrie pikul

Photo: Mark Czajkowski

Books Made Me: Duke it Out with Big Burly Bartenders
My great love for Nevil Shute's novel, A Town Like Alice, forced me to take charge of my family's all too brief trip to Australia a few years back and insist that we forgo Melbourne in favor of a trip to Alice Springs, a town in the center of the Australian continent (which, despite its importance to the title plays only a very small role in the novel). Nevertheless, I was thrilled to be there, and I walked the few dusty streets of this unlovely burg. When we stopped for lunch at a saloon, the bartender asked what had brought us to Alice. I said that I had always wanted to see Alice Springs because of A Town Like Alice, and had he read the book? He looked at me as if I were mad and snarled that he wouldn't be caught dead reading a "chick book like that." Before I knew it, I'd gone on a rampage: A Town Like Alice wasn't a chick book! It was a war novel! It was the great novel of the Australian Outback! It had also brought me from the other side of the planet to his average-at-best restaurant in the middle of nowhere—what about a little respect? Well, I didn't say that last part, but it ought to have been obvious. Clearly, the guy thought I was ridiculous, but you know what? A Town Like Alice is still one of the best novels I've ever read. (And one of the very few that, upon rereading, I thought was even better the second time.) And if I have to take on every cowboy between Canberra and Perth to defend its honor, I'm ready. As for Alice Springs itself, however—once was enough. Next time I make it all the way to Australia, I'm totally going to Melbourne.

— Jean Hanff Korelitz, author of You Should Have Known

You Should Have Known

lisa see

Photo: Patricia Williams

Books Made Me: Ruin Perfectly Good TV Shows
I always read the last sentence of a book first. Then I go back and read the first chapter, followed by the last chapter. Then the second chapter, followed by the penultimate chapter. I can't stand the suspense! I need to know who the killer is, what the conspiracy is, will the boy get the girl and if the sick child will live, or else I can't sleep, eat, take care of my kids or do much of anything else. If I get impatient with a story, or it doesn't totally captivate me...well...I still know how it ends. My special way of reading a novel has given me a particular life skill. I can watch the first few minutes of just about any television show or film and guess quite accurately how it's going to end. (My husband begs me to keep this information to myself!)

— Lisa See, author of China Girls

China Dolls