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.