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  • Writer's picturePJ Gardner Switzer

The Books That Made Me: Katherine Cowley

I'm so excited to introduce Katherine Cowley. She's a brilliant writer, blogger and teacher. She loves learning about the craft of writing and sharing it with others. She's a great reader and a great friend.


Love reading

I can’t remember ever not reading—my mom filled our home with books when I was young. When I was ten years old, I started keeping a reading log, and that’s why I know that Pride and Prejudice is one of the first books that I read twice. Other books that really grew my love of reading were Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series and Agatha Christie’s mystery novels.

Want to write

When I was in kindergarten, we watched a video and likely read an accompanying book about Icarus, and it disturbed. The boy just wanted to fly a little bit higher—and then he died! A few months later I wrote my own story, The Turtle That Got Too Close to the Sun (which you can read online). In that story, the turtle hops on a balloon which takes him too close to the sun. The balloon pops and he falls. Fortunately, he falls in the water, and because he’s a turtle, he can swim. The story ended quite profoundly: “Then the turtle was yellow. Then the turtle felt different.”

This was the moment that I realized that I could use stories to change my reality—that storytelling is powerful, and that my stories and my interpretation of life can make a difference. I’ve been telling stories ever since.

Excited to read right now

I’m just starting Rose Servitova’s completing of The Watsons. It’s a novel that Jane Austen started but never finished. Rose has such a grasp on Austen’s language and storytelling, and I love seeing where she takes the story.

Stay up all night

A few years ago I read Educated by Tara Westover. It’s a memoir about a woman who grew up home schooled—but not really schooled at all—and her quest to go to college and receive an education. I’ve gotten pretty good at self-control and not letting myself read past midnight, but my husband was out of town (so there were no rational adults to try to persuade me to be reasonable) and I stayed up reading the book until 3 or 4 in the morning.


I recently read The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow and the way that she handles characters and their desires and their relationships—so powerful. I cried at least three times in the book.


One book that I’ve come back to again and again is Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. It’s a fantasy novel with a woman who has been forced to be the food tester for the Commander—and thus she has a high risk of dying of poison. And I just love the romance between her and one of the other characters.

A lifelong fan

The Goose Girl turned me into a lifetime fan of Shannon Hale and Elantris got me hooked onto Brandon Sanderson. (Also, can I repeat Pride and Prejudice for Jane Austen? Because reading that book and then submersing myself into Jane Austen changed my life.)

Question what I thought I knew

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This is such a compelling novel that thoughtfully considers life and meaning and purpose and understanding, all with a handful of characters in a boat. And that ending—the ending that makes you think and rethink and consider how you want to interpret the story (and how you want to interpret life!)

Like a new genre

I don’t normally read horror, but I just read Kelly deVos’ Eat Your Heart Out. It’s a young adult horror novel that manages to be hilarious, horrifying, and a brutal commentary on some of the problems of our society.


Katherine Cowley is the author of The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet series and the award-winning blog, Jane Austen Writing Lessons. She read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. She loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she teaches writing classes at Western Michigan University.


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