Thursday, July 19, 2007

Unputdownable Books

As several people who know me well have pointed out, my trip to California tomorrow has a hidden cost. While I'm hobnobbing with friends of Central Asia, the latest J.K. Rowling book will be delivered to my doorstep. I will not be there to open it. (Pictured here is the cover of one of the two British editions - not available in the U.S.)

I'm not the 'fan' type, really; I don't have favorite bands, or go see certain movies over and over. I don't 'collect' anything. But I do have a tendency to be somewhat compulsive.

And, since I was a kid, that's included a frequent inability or general unwillingness to put down a good book (and sometimes a not-so-good book!) You know that "just one more chapter... " feeling? I remember staying up all night to finish Gone with the Wind when I was 14 or 15. I've read it three or four times since.

Sometimes it's a great story or the author's skill in maintaining thrills or tension that makes a book 'unputdownable.'

Sometimes it's just the characters and the world they live in - you just don't want to leave.

Other books are appealing because of their associations. The characters remind you of someone you love, or of some part of your life that was particularly wonderful. Or even some other book, or character, or genre.

Many children's books have a whimsical touch that is much more appealing than reality. It wasn't until I was a grownup that I discovered Danny the Champion of the World, but it reminds me of Homer Price. Also as an adult I read Ella Enchanted, Holes, and Sarah Plain and Tall. Practically perfect stories! Right up there with Swallows and Amazons, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Emily of New Moon!

When you pick it up may matter. The actual situation in which you are reading may have some significant emotional stamp. I read Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven when I was avoiding an important writing deadline. (Reading someone else's book was irresistible when I was avoiding writing my own!) I read David Foster's Emergence on my first visit to Central Asia; it was such a perfect escape I actually read it twice on that trip - it's long, action-packed, well-written - and this is part of its appeal: told in first person by a character who is satisfying to identify with.

I'm not sure why I like the Harry Potter books. Or why they've been so popular, worldwide. But I do, and they are.

I may not be the best measure of these things, though. A book doesn't have to work that hard to hold me. I finish most of those I start. More of a gourmand than a gourmet. So sometimes I'll go to the library on a weekend afternoon and read /skim something on the lighter side in about two hours. Christian fiction, usually written at a seventh-grade reading level or so, can be consumed like that and may be best that way.

However, real life interferes with reading - and well it should. I won't get Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows until Sunday afternoon and will have just over a week in town before I fly off to Eastern Europe for two weeks - probably unaccompanied by Harry... Do you think I'll finish it before then?

These days when I go to the rec. center I'm riding the exercise bikes for half hour or so at a go, and bringing Orson Scott Card's Sarah which is about the biblical character of the same name. I love Card's science fiction; Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead are definitely unputdownable! He is a Mormon, though, and this book is published by an imprint of Deseret books. I wonder how much that affects its content? I know Genesis pretty well but I don't know how Mormons view or teach the patriarchs... I know what parts come out of the Bible but am not so sure what parts are from Card's imagination and what ones from Joseph Smith's. Anybody know? I may poke around and see what I can find about that.


Courtney said...

oh i think you'll manage to finish harry potter in a week :)
you mentioned lots of books i've never read...thanks for the recomendations!

I Was Just Thinking.... said...

Emma challenged me last week to read the HP books, because I was asking so many questions about what she thought would happen in this last upcoming book.
I'm on book 4 and now emma's decided to re-re-re-read (about her 13th time) the entire series to get ready for Saturday.
Unfortunately for her she will be traveling to church camp all day that day, leaving around 4am and so has no time to get the book. Her mother however, may just get to read this tome before her.
I like how you describe how books grab us. The HP books definitely fall in the category of loving the characters and the world they live in.

megan noel said...

you should finish it before you leave! i finished it in less than 24 hours!

my latest favorites now that harry is done; the hungry city chronicles by Phillip Reeve (Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, and uh, Infernal Machines I think. I am waiting for the library to send me the latest. they are very tom-swifty. also I am going to give the Charlie Bone books a try when the library gets them for me, I hear they are enjoyed by Potter fans.)
I love Ender's Game too.

Marti Smith said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Meg. Oh, and you guys are right: Life is picking up and I'm busier but I should have no problem finishing 'Deathly Hallows' in the next few days.

Marti Smith said...

I come by my book-aholism naturally... everyone in my family reads. Mom was famous for her 'just one more page' approach to life, even when she was young, and when I was talking to her today she told me she'd been thinking about summer reading programs, and the rows and rows of gold stars. When she started junior high school she was so excited about the library in her new school, and would check out two books every day after school, as she averaged 1.5/night. Was a great escape...

Betty said...

I just finished Speaker for the Dead and Ender's that order. I'd be interested to see which you favored. I think reading Speaker first may have been part of the reason I would say that is, by far, my favorite of the two. Am also wondering if you've read other great Sci fi books you could recommend and any additional Card books you particularly enjoyed. I'm going through your lists now for my book choices, just so you know.