Summer Reads for a Narrative State of Mind

College Application Essays

Fun Reads to Inspire your Storytelling Skills

 

Nothing helps you channel the style and voice of narrative writing than reading it. Writers, dosage like Cupcake Brown, check are masters of telling true stories in a fictionalized style. This is what you want to do in your college application essay–tell your stories. As you read any of these recommendations, notice how they bring everyday moments to life using sensory details, strong verbs, scene-setting descriptions and dialogue. Listen to their voices, and see how they write like they talk.

Here are some of my favorites. Most are on the lighter side (except A Piece of Cake and The Glass Castle) so they are also great for the beach, poolside or any lazy summer day:

 Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.
If you want to write about an adventure, nature or grief.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
If you want to write about your crazy family.

 

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
If you want to write about a personal flaw (eg., a lisp), dogs, the French, almost anything.

 

 

Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl
If you want to write about cooking or following a passion.

 

 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling
If you want to write about your fears, opinions, romance or pop culture.

Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand
If you want to write about animals, racing, training or gambling.

  

Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs
If you want to write about health or a personal goal.

Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer
If you want to write about religion or family pressures.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey
If you want to write about coming of age, feminism or personal hang-ups.

 

Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
If you want to write about gender, sexuality or a unique town, city or place.

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Erhenrrich
If you want to write about a job, working or life struggle.

 

 

If you are interested in some other excellent non-fiction books, here are a few narrative masterpieces that are on the heavier side:

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Hiroshima, by John Hersey

The Best and The Brightest, by David Halberstam

The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean

Almost anything by John McPhee, Joan Dideon, Anne Lammott, Tracy Kidder and Tom Wolfe.

If are you ready to tell your story, check out my Jumpstart Guide and posts about how to find a great topic, tell a story and write an anecdote.

For a step-by-step guide to writing a college admissions essay, check out my new ebook, Escape Essay Hell!

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College Essays Are Like Mini-Memoirs

I just read a memoir where the author shared a piece of writing advice that Toby Wolff gave her.  Wolff wrote “This Boy’s Life,” one of the best memoirs out there. Anyway, memoirs are books written about yourself. In a way, college essays are like mini-memoirs. They could easily be a chapter in your own memoir, especially if you share a story in your essay.

All that said, here’s the little nugget of advice Toby Wolff gave the author, Mary Karr. (He sure looks believable to me!) It’s almost too simple to appreciate, until you try writing about yourself:

Don’t approach your history as something to be shaken for its cautionary fruit…Tell your stories, and your story will be revealed…Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity. Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth.

(A quote from Toby Wolff in the memoir entitled, “lit,” by Mary Karr.)

To me, the little secret in this advice is to just tell your story in a straightforward, honest way and a lot of your message or meaning or lesson will be naturally revealed. In other words, don’t try too hard to teach or preach your message.

Hope that’s not too heady. Like a lot of simple-sounding advice, it’s harder to do than you think. But worth trying.

I just found this link to a wonderful blog on college admissions sponsored by the New York Times, called “The Choice.” Here’s a post from another writer talking about how these essays are really like  memoirs!

http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/essay-as-memoir/#comment-58117