Booking Through Thursday: Stories

August 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Here is my response to this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Actually, I do like to read for the character development and interaction, the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer, and especially the deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor.  Well put!

Not only do I not care as much about the story of a book, but I often can’t remember that much about it later on.  I have read books that permanently changed my life and the way I see the world, but if you asked me how it ended I’d just have to shrug.  He died?  They got married?  *Yawn* The part that stands out in my mind, the part I read for, is the spiritual ephipany.

I think the role of the artist is to show us things we can’t see on our own.  What I want out of a book is nothing less than a transformative experience.

I can stand in line, sit in a restaurant, or travel in a plane and hear all kinds of stories.  “Then he said… and then she said… and then the police came…”  Having worked in a homeless shelter and a drug rehab, my days have often been filled with stories.  Some are heartbreaking, some are moving or inspiring, but most are pretty humdrum and predictable, really.  The question is, does anyone learn anything from the press of events?

I loved Moby-Dick, but not because it was the story of a man chasing a whale.  I loved Pride and Prejudice, but not because it was the story of a man and a woman who get married.  (For that matter, Anna Karenina, The Awakening, and The Portrait of a Lady are also stories of men and women who get married, though not books you’d give to a new bride).  I think the best books are those in which the story is psychological.  The books with the most sensational events, unpredictable plot twists, and unmitigated drama tend to come across to me as so much soap opera.  I just want to say, “Okay, where are we going with this?”

On the other hand, here are some stories I thought had fantastic plots:

The Brothers K – David James Duncan

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

The 39 Steps – John Buchan

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Gustave Dore

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

Fire in the Blood – Irene Nemirovsky

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow (maybe my favorite book EVER)

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

The Princess Bride – William Goldman

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

And then probably anything by Douglas Coupland, Tom Robbins, or Chuck Palahniuk.



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  1. Hm. Can you tell me what’s great about Henderson the Rain King? I picked that one up the other day and was just tediously bored within five pages, but I had a sneaky feeling maybe it would get better later on…

  2. Trust your intuition! The point of the beginning is that Henderson has a totally mundane, boring life. That is, UNTIL…

    As a rule of thumb, I expect a book will take 30 pages to get rolling (or roughly 10% of the length, if it’s a longer book). It’s sort of like when you go to a great restaurant and then have to wait and wait and wait for your food.

  3. I love to read for those aha! moments that you can find in a really good story. The book I’m reading now, The Pink Forest by Dana Dorfman, is full of them. There are days when I want a story that lets me escape, and then there are days that I want one that makes me think, but overall when I read I want to feel something for the characters or the place.

  4. I like that restaurant analogy! Think I’ll try this one again, then.

  5. I agree about characters and place, too. In a book you can go to a place you may never see in real life, especially if it’s in the past. You can also rub elbows with people you’re unlikely to meet.

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