Monday, June 27, 2011

My Favorite Book

What is my favorite book? Why don’t you ask me which one of my nieces and nephews is my favorite? That would be easier. I have read thousands of books, literally thousands. My literary tastes are wide ranging, I love Harry Potter and I love The Killer Angles. I love the Black Dagger Brotherhood and I love The Count of Monte Cristo. If you put me on the rack and forced me to give you answer, I couldn’t.

There are a few things I look for in a book. I have to have characters I can root for and villains that will make me want to shoot off fireworks when they die. Those characters have to be put in an extraordinary situation that I will never experience in real life. A book, no matter how serious the subject matter, needs humor. And for me, the most important thing is the happily ever after or the happily right now. Think back, have you ever liked a book that didn’t have these qualities? Unless you’re reading Goth poetry some sad depressed teenager wrote in her dark basement, I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, you haven’t.

Characters are everything in a book. If you don’t have good characters, it doesn’t matter what you’re writing, no one is going to read it if they don’t like the characters. For me, I don’t have to relate to the characters. Seriously, how am I supposed to relate to a vampire warrior looking for love in small town New York? I can't, I just need to want that vampire to find love while slaying soul sucking demons intent on enslaving the entire human race. Villains are just as important as heroes. You can’t have a good hero without a good villain. Villains give characters their purpose. Without Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker would just be a whiny moisture farming nobody stuck on Tatooine completely jealous that Biggs Darklighter got to go become an Imperial pilot and he didn’t.

The characters have to be put in extraordinary situations. I live in real life and real life sucks! I am not going to take a book to the bubble bath that’s about a woman who wakes up every day, checks her bank account, eats breakfast, goes to work, comes home, watches the news and goes to bed. Give me excitement, passion, sorrow, something, anything that isn’t the humdrum of daily life. Books are escapist fantasies; don’t try to make them real.

Every book needs comic relief. I’m not saying every book needs to be a barrel of laughs, but every book needs those moments that lift the reader out of all the seriousness. The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak is the perfect example. The Book Thief is the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany before and during WWII told from the perspective of Death. I know, it sounds like a book that would have you reaching for the razor blades and Prozac, but it’s not. In one scene a young boy, Rudy, desperately wants to be an Olympic gold medalist like Jesse Owens. Rudy assumes he must have dark skin to win the Olympics. "He smeared the charcoal on, nice and thick, till he was covered in black. Even his hair received a once-over." When his father catches him he says, "Son, you can't go around painting yourself black, you hear?" Zusak’s description of Death is also different in a funny way. Death is always perceived as a tall, dark, gloomy, scary guy, but Zusak makes Death out to be a bright, emotionally complex character who grieves for the dead’s surviving loved ones. The last line in the book sums up this new view of Death quite nicely. Death says, “I am haunted by humans”.

Finally, a book needs a happily ever after. These characters you’ve been rooting for and laughing with for the last three hundred pages need to be happy in the end. I know, literature is riddled with tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, Brideshead Revisited, The Great Gatsby all end with the characters either dead or unhappy and alone, but I don’t read these books. I have a rule, I don’t read books or watch movies that could potentially make me a better human being. When I reach for entertainment I don’t want to learn a life lesson. Life is perfectly capable of teaching you how crappy the world can be all on her own, thank you very much. Simply put, a book needs to make me feel happy in the end. I want the fantasy. I want to be madly in love, win the lottery and defeat the bad guy in one afternoon. Since all that would require an act I don’t think even God is capable of, I choose to live vicariously through imaginary people.

So, what is my favorite book? I guess you could say my favorite book is the one I’m reading. The one I’m escaping into. The one that has managed to hook me in less than ten pages. The one that can hold my attention and the one that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy in the end. I don’t need complexity or words no one who hasn’t read the latest version of the Oxford English Dictionary would know. I just need a book that takes me on a daily vacation to somewhere other than where I am with people I will never know to experience a life I can only dream of. 

1 comment: