Time for another special edition of Wednesday Wonderings by yours truly, Friendly Bookworm! Unlike my other posts which consist of talking about specific books, here, I like to discuss and focus on different elements of literature and reading in general. So let’s get started!
In my youth I was terribly obsessed with horses and animals more generally. I used to read The Saddle Club religiously, devouring all the available books in that series from my local library. One time, I even recall getting the poor librarian to ship one of the books in the series from a library across the province (I grew up in Canada where we have provinces, instead of “states” or “counties”).
At the beginning of my literary adventure/career, all that mattered to me were the plot lines (must be something to do with horses), the interesting adventures that characters went on (usually with their horses). As I grew older, however, my interest gravitated from plot lines towards the characters themselves. Why do they react the way they do? What are the different personalities that permeate each book? How do the characters themselves influence plot?
It was around this time that I did well in my English classes and actually took interest in the books we were were reading for them. Eventually, I learned to contain my obsession with horses and expand my book reading genre – which I am sure helped me a lot. It was so interesting to learn about different characters in different areas of the world. I loved reading about the American south, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, or learning about the Cold War through the allegorical novella Animal Farm by George Orwell. I realised that there were so many more elements in books beyond plot lines that would books so much more satisfying then just on the surface plot lines.
Now, a new book or a series could be in a make-it-or-break-it situation if I’m to a fan of the characters. Take for example (and my boyfriend is going to be so upset when I write about this) The Wheel of Time series. The plots are extremely lengthy but all the characters are the same, especially the women. They all have the same characteristics which I don’t feel like I can connect to. The author, Robert Jordan, does a slightly better job with the men in the series, but it still doesn’t go far enough for me, or doesn’t offer a large enough range. I think this is something that George R.R. Martin does a lot better in his Game of Thrones series, as he does provide some variety.
Reading back through what I just read it might sound that if I can’t relate to a character then I dislike the book. Although that’s how I felt for a period in my life, take the Harry Potter series for example, my favourite character was Hermoine and sometimes learning about how she reacts in situations was more interesting for me than what was happening in the book or how the main character was reacting. Obviously she was fictional character but she possessed attributes that I could relate to and strove towards.
Now, I’m more interested to see the author using different characters to explore the human psyche. I think that’s why I loved East of Eden as much as I did. The plot line was sub-par but that wasn’t the purpose of the novel. The sense I got was that the whole point of the novel was for the author to explore how nature and nurture battled it out in the characters from their birth and analysed their behaviours and reactions to different scenarios. I thought this was so cool – it’s like people watching but knowing how they actually think or feel in the situations instead of just assuming or making up what they might feel.
Mind you this doesn’t mean that I gave up on plot all together. A book definitely needs at least something to push me along, but I’d just learned plot/adventure isn’t integral for me. Rest assured, if a novel has both then it’s absolute magic!
Q: Do you have any preferences when reading a new book? What’s most important for you?