My Ideal Book

I haven’t blogged much over the past few months because I have been struggling to find subjects I was comfortable blogging about. There does not seem much of a point for me to write a blog post about something when I could just have a conversation about it instead. More pertinently, I dislike being in a position where I may have to reference my blog in conversation, because the people I talk to may or may not have read said blog, and I never know which is which. It also feels very awkward for me to draw attention to my blog in that way, nor do I generally like for my blog to become a topic of conversation outside the blogosphere (not that anyone need to be at any great pains to take that as a hard and fast rule.)

What it comes down to is that most of what I have to blog about is all too relevant to the people around me. I don’t want to write about things that may seem to target specific individuals who I may see the next day. Either that, or what I have to say is too much in the think pool for most of my readers to find interesting. My challenge has been for me to find a topic which would provide me with a constant source of blogging material, be removed enough from the think pool to not be overly relevant, and yet close enough to home for my readers to find interesting. I settled eventually on books.

I realized a few weeks ago that I am in a unique situation with regard to literature consumption. My general circle of friends tend to be heavy readers, an under normal circumstances I would most likely fall behind them. But I have two jobs which provide me with the opportunity to spend upwards of 40 hours a week listening to audiobooks, all without any extra effort on my part (work hours are multitasked to include listening hours.) True, not all of what I listen to is worthwhile. I draw from my library’s audio resources, and the selection is limited. But the limited selection also means that I end up listening to a broader range of books than I might otherwise choose. And, yeah, generally I have a lot I’d like to say about them. So, for the last few months I have left before I start college, I plan to post my thoughts about the books I’ve been listening to. These will most likely meander into observations on what I think are the best ways to tell stories, all, of course, based on my own personal story preferences. As such, I thought I had better begin with a short (lol) post about what I like best to read in a story.

I like for there to be action. Danger. Excitement. And I love Dickens. Sure, most people don’t think of Dickens as being a thrilling read, but I assume this is because they are too easily bogged down by his wordiness. We are also probably working under separate understandings of what I mean by “action,” “danger,” and “excitement.” I do not generally go for your generic Tom Clancy “thriller” novel. What I mean is that I like for there to be a very real threat to my hero’s physical well-being. I have become bored with many a novel more modern than Dickens by the assurance that the main character stands no chance of being dramatically hit by a car.

I like for there to be romance. I am not interested in romance novels, per se, only I like for there to be a very real threat to my hero’s emotional well-being. Romantic tension is the most common, and my most perferred, way of bringing this about. That said, a book can be spoiled depending upon the quality of the romance. I am well aware that many authors do not share many of my own views on sex, most of which have religious foundations. As such, I am willing to make allowances. However, I dislike reading books when sex is treated as a matter of course, where two people have sex and then wonder about whether they love each other afterwards. I can find this interesting when it is treated as a novel’s serious dramatic theme (or at least one of them,) but I dislike when the two questions (am I going to have sex/am I in love with this person?) are treated as totally separate issues. [I listened to a book recently that involved a really awkward and poorly written moment where this hot Martian chick gets in bed with the protagonist from Earth, and uses one of those really awful “how do you Earthlings say it?” types of lines that really just made me wince. Later, when the protagonist dude does some heroic thing to save her, she’s all like “Oh, I wonder what this feeling is? I wonder if he loves me, lol!” and I was like “well, you were just f***ing, so doesn’t that mean something? but what bothered me was that the notion that they might be in love had no bearing on whether or not they were going to have sex. That is what seems backward to me.]

Still on romance, I like for both the main character and the romantic interest to be well-developed. Mostly, it seems to me like a main character is developed, and the romantic interest just floats around somewhere being cool and… romantic… and not much else. This problem is exacerbated by too many books being written in first person, which makes it all the more easier for the protagonist to be over-developed, and the romantic interest to be under-developed. You may wonder what I mean by “over-developed,” but I shall leave that point for another day. You may also wonder what I mean by “too many books being written in first person.” I shall deal with that briefly as my next point.

The First Person viewpoint is the easiest view to write from, and the hardest to get right. First Person is a highly intense, highly dramatic way to get in touch with your protagonist’s character, and offers several unique plot devices, few of which are ever used, and even rarely used effectively (see, for example the unreliable narrator.) First Person is at its highest when the narrator of the story has such a distinct voice that the story is hardly worth telling without that person in the driver’s seat (see “Catcher in the Rye.”) Instead, most authors use First Person in a way that puts their own voice above that of their character’s (see the Young Adult section at your local library.)

Moving onward, I like it when my books have an evil villain. Sure, yeah, I know, it is rare you ever come across anyone who is thoroughly evil to their very core, but I get tired of always having to feel sorry for the bad guy at some point. This is one of the things that made Harry Potter so appealing to a lot of people: Voldemort was evil incarnate, and you didn’t have to feel bad about hating him. And, if you wanted a character to feel conflicted about, you always had Snape.

I like fantasy and science fiction books, but this is mostly because it is hard to find equal measure of adventure and romance in other genres. At least, it is hard if you are also looking for quality writing, and if you have a particular aversion to Historical Fiction. My main objection to the latter is that most authors when writing their historical narrative cannot resist injecting their own smug, twenty-first century Enlightenment bias. In doing so, they break the suspension of disbelief. Naturally, the more far-fetched the premise of the story, the less these out-of-place elements bother me. For instance, compare the movies “Master and Commander” with “Pirates of the Caribbean,” both of which are set in similar time periods and were released within months of each other. The former does a beautiful job replicating the time period, while the latter is so far removed, by its very nature, that accuracy to the period matters significantly less. I love both movies, but if the former had tried to add a character like Elizabeth Swan, it would have been perfectly awful, while the latter only works with Elizabeth Swan because it also has pirate ghost-zombies.

Once all my criteria are taken into account, I find very few books qualify as my ideal, and the ones that do surprise me more often than not. For instance, how does “Crime and Punishment” fit the criteria when “The Chronicles of Narnia” does not? (there is a notable lack of romance in that series.) “The Lord of the Rings,” possibly my favorite book of all time, only barely fits (Faramir and Eowyn have the only qualifying romance, and theirs is a small side story.) Jane Austen is short in the action department, and Dickens tends to develop his female romantic interests very poorly. “Wind in the Willows” has no action, no romance, no arch enemy, and is nonetheless one of the most delightful books I have ever come across.

What I take away from this is that, strange to say, what I want most and what I like best are often very different. I dare say this is not an uncommon observation. I do hope, however, that it will reassure you when it comes to my views on books: I will never by wholly without biases, but good writing can go a long way toward overcoming many of them.

One thought on “My Ideal Book

  1. As you are well aware, my leanings are towards 19th century British literature, but I'd hate to ever say that those books are my ideal. The ideal for me is less tangible. Characters must be developed, problems must be real, settings must be awash with careful description and the plot development needs to be thorough, usually not simplistic, but also not so complex that you can't keep things sorted out. When I finish, if I have no fresh insights into history, human character or life in general, then it wasn't worth my time.


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