Fiction I (Still) Love

Some books I read, love, put away, and forget. I remember that I loved them, but when pressed, I can’t give the plot line, or more than the most basic description of the main story problem. Often I can’t even remember the characters’ names.

But I loved those books! What happened? Why do I remember Gone with the Wind, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Exodus, The Count of Monte Cristo, 1984, Watership Down, The Lord of the Flies? Not that I can name the characters in each of those, but the story comes back to me at once.

In most instances, I’d say the book disturbed me in some way. Gone with the Wind is the strongest example of this. When I first finished the book, I was home from school, recovering from some illness. I remember closing the book, falling asleep, and dreaming new endings of the story because the one Margaret Mitchell wrote was just so WRONG! 😮

Some of the “disturbing” was of the good kind. The Scarlet Pimpernel was touching—joyous when all around was anarchic, encouraging despite bleak events, hopeful regardless of untrustworthy characters. It was the worst of times, but one character rose above them to show the best of his character. That “disturbed” me to be better than I am and to long for the better in others.

Needless to say, The Lord of the Flies was disturbing. More so because I believe what it showed of human nature is true. In a sense it is a very Biblical novel. It seems to agree that Man is fallen and apart from God there is no good thing in us. Of course it stops there, which gives the book that hopeless feel that makes it so disturbing.

I recently read in Description by Monica Wood that the real goal for the author is not to make the reader laugh or cry but to make the reader remember.

That resonated with me. I’ve cried over many a book and even more movies, but I can’t name very many of them. They didn’t disturb me.

Where the Red Fern Grows made me cry, but I don’t remember much. I know I cried when I read The Yearling, yet the story is vague in my mind. Old Yeller? That one was disturbing.

As I think about it, I can identify some elements that may contribute to a story disturbing me. Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head short list:

  • Surprise. I wasn’t expecting the ending.
  • Truthful. The story makes me think in a new way about something.
  • Despairing. The story offers no hope.
  • Incomplete. The story resolution leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

What do you think? Do you remember the stories you laughed over? Cried over? Or do the books that disturb you stay with you the longest? And if so, what disturbs you in stories?

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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