Friday, June 26, 2009

Human's Writing about Humans

In a previous post, I talked about how all fiction is an exploration of the human experience, regardless of genre or plot. I realize this can feel like a stretch when we begin to look into the plot driven quick reads from writers like Clive Cussler, or maybe the endless Star Wars saga books (sorry, Steve!) - but even these require more than cardboard cutouts of human beings to make them readable. (I am not anti-action books, really I'm not!)

I've been thinking a great deal about my favorite books lately. The ones I re-read, the one's I won't lend out to friends (or buy more than one copy of so that when I lend it out I'll still have a copy around the house), the ones I think about and day dream about. I suppose it's because I'm on the edge of beginning a new book - one that is, frankly, taking more than a few chances in terms of structure. What I've discovered is that my absolute favorites are all strongly character driven books that simply zing with lyrical, beautiful writing. I'm not stunned by this, I mean, these are the sorts of books I strive to achieve, I hope to write. Still, I'm looking more deeply at what makes my heart melt when I think about certain books. Here are just a few examples:

The Time Traveler's Wife: I'm re-reading this before the movie comes out, August 14th. I read it about six years ago, a loaner from the library, but I bought a copy to live on my shelves. There are things about this book that should bother me - cursing bothers me even when it is "realistic". To me it is a red flag: Lazy writer, falling back on obscenity as a substitute for maturity! And while Niffenegger doesn't throw curses out like rose petals at a wedding, they are in there - jarringly so. Such rich characters don't need the crutch of foul language. But I can simply overlook this because Niffenegger's writing - sparse, clean, uncluttered, but some how beautiful - redeem any faults. A simple love story set in an extraordinary circumstance paired with smart, lovely prose and I'm so hooked on this story. The book is crammed with little moments that resonate. And I love how it is a story about loving no matter what. It's earned a place on my shelf.

Cold Sassy Tree: I've read this book several times, and I know I will read it again. It's a standout - a family memoir that cares more about the truth of the story (and therefore the reader) than it does anything else. Olive Ann Burns' exhaustive attention to details of dialect, setting, and era are so well done they blend into the background and allow the story to take center stage. Told from the POV of a young boy, the story is rich with characters who say and do the most amazing things - and the boy's sense of wonder, confusion, and young love is pitch perfect.

Redeeming Love: This is a book I read over a decade ago and I still find myself thinking about it the way one would think about an old friend. I've read it several times and I know I'll read it again. It's painfully good, unflinching, rich, and daring (for Christian fiction). What made this book so wonderful was Francine Rivers' writing style - descriptives that hit the mark, then left it alone and went on with the story, excellent pacing (trouble, more trouble, compounded with trouble - all within a few chapters), and a spiritual thread that wove itself into the story rather than sitting on top as a "sermon of the week" masquerading as a novel.

As a writer, I still enjoy jumping into a great novel and simply getting lost in the story, but I also need to read like a writer - researching what I love about specific books, the craft involved in creating the success, and then finding ways to incorporate those lessons into my own writing. I'd love it if you would share some of your favorite books that you read over and over again - and what aspects about them bring you back for more.

I bid you good writing.


Koala Bear Writer said...

You're so right about character-driven; even action movies need some good characters. I liked the character development and interplay in the recent Star Wars movies.

As for books I come back to... Redeeming Love for sure. Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen's books. I think Talking to the Dead is going to join that list. :)

Janet said...

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. A story about the intersection of faith, art, and family. I read it dry-eyed as a teenager (and loved it) but when I reread it now I weep for pages on end. A mother is caught between the conflicting passions of her son and her husband and Potok presents all of them with deep compassion. Find this book and read it. Get your own copy because you won't want to give it back.

Madman by Tracy Groot. (Seriously, you would love this woman. She would fit right in with the Novel Matters ladies.) A retelling of the story of the demoniac of Gerasene, done without melodrama in beautiful prose. I keep re-reading it to see what I can learn about craft, but the story sucks me in every single time and I forget to watch how she did it. This is the book that convinced me to start reading Christian fiction again, because it actually could be well-done. I had pretty much refused to touch it for years.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I own The Time Traveler's Wife, just not had an opportunity to read it!

I love character-driven stories as well. I've always loved Anne McCaffrey's books for this reason. They may be science-fiction, but they are all about character interaction.

I think one of my favorites will always be Watership Down. Now that is character interaction and social commentary at its finest!

L. Diane Wolfe

Bonnie Grove said...

Koala, You've hit on a few of my favs too! Wuthering Heights is one of those books I go to when I need to be dark and brooding - iy iy iy!!

Janet: Tracy Groot is on my read this next list. I've heard amazing things about her books and I'm excited to dig in to her stuff! Thanks for bring her up - it sounds like she needs WAY more attention than she's getting.

Diane: Ooo, Waterships Down! Awesome!! I read it as a kid and didn't understand a thing - but I love it now.