There is so much about reading and books that I love.
To begin with I love the promise that a new book holds. The opportunity for me to be somehow touched by another person’s thoughts. I love the feel of a brand new book. The look and the smell of it.
There are some books that I have read that cause me to love a character or a situation. The thing that moved me the most in The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was the very idea that given the opportunity to travel through time we would not choose to visit great moments in history but that we would visit our own past and key people in our lives again and again. In Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese I loved the exploration of relationships and the character of Dr. Ghosh stole my heart. I love the concept of redemption and rebirth in Silas Marner.
If I were asked if there was any one character in literature who defined for me what great fiction is I would have to say that would be Jean Valjean the hero of Les Miserables. I know that this is no brainstorm as he is without doubt a phenomenal character. This in and of itself can be an issue for me. Sometimes when I am reading a book and a remarkable character has been created I only feel indifference. The fact that the character is fictionalized is all too evident to me. The character needs to have a flaw so that he/she can seem possible, like Rochester in Jane Eyre for example. Or the character should be someone who we would like to be a real person like Atticus Finch – we can only hope that there are lawyers out there who display such integrity.
Beyond the characters and the situation sometimes I can read a book and there will be a single sentence or a paragraph in it that makes me think, ‘This is why I read’. The line can be humorous, poignant or meaningful it just has to be something that makes me stop for a moment and think, this is it. I’ve collected a few to share with you and not one of them is, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” So here goes I hope that they will be meaningful when standing alone;
“Maybe everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of”
I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
“I had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I”
How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
“A decent person knows where he belongs now.”
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok
“All I wanted to do was look at her. She was Mr. Potato Head beautiful. Nothing fit right. But somehow this girl in yellow socks, with the small nose and the big ears and the gap-toothed smile, achieved a certain harmony, a beauty greater than the sum of its parts.”
All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
“Watching Roger date was like watching a toddler in traffic.”
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruisie
(spoiler alert: this book is very racy and not for every one)
“My dad is in a comma and waiting for me to open his eyes. I sent him a second email: I meant coma.”
Come Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
(worth the read for the word play alone)
“Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days – after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide.”
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
“Bela, Bella: Once I was lost in a forest. I was so afraid. My blood pounded in my chest and I knew my heart’s strength would soon be exhausted. I saved myself without thinking. I grasped the two syllables closest to me, and replaced my heartbeat with your name.”
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
My last quote I cannot let stand alone. John Irving is one of my favourite authors. No one does weird and wonderful like he does. Also, no one else writes endings like he does. A Prayer For Owen Meany may well be my favourite contemporary novel, neck and neck with A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Owen Meany is a story of a friendship as beautiful as that of King David and Jonathan (I actually teared up in a biblical grammar hebrew class, we were dissecting the grammar in the first book of Samuel and we were at the part where Jonathan and David were saying good bye to each other, who can think of grammar when there is such beauty in a story? But I digress.) At the risk of spoiling the book, which I don’t really think I will, you have to know that Owen is not alive at this point:
“I imagined how Dan would discover my body on the dirt floor at the foot of the stairs – when a small, strong hand (or something like a small, strong hand) guided my own hand to the light switch; a small, strong hand, or something like it, pulled me forward from where I teetered on the top step of the stairs. And his voice – it was unmistakably Owen’s voice – said: “DON’T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU.”
Every time I open a book it’s with the hope that maybe, just maybe I’ll be swept off my feet and find a gem like one of these.