I Love (Fictional) People

Original illustration by Penelope Dullaghan. Of all the times to come to a realization about one’s own reading and writing preferences, today it was a Facebook meme that just stumbled me.

You know the one going around, about the nine books you’ve read that’ve just stuck with you for whatever reason. They’re not necessarily books you’d recommend for the Pulitzer or the Nebula or the Newberry, but they might be. Mostly they’re the stories that work their way into your bloodstream and your muscles and your bones. No matter how many Great Works of Literature you’ve read, these books are the books that really flipped your switch, as my pal Patrick Donovan would say.

In thinking on my nine, I recalled a book my best friend and I each acquired at a school book fair. (How those were the greatest thing in the universe, next perhaps to the school days where we got to wear our pajamas and read in the library all day, is another blog post.) The book was Sherryl Jordan’s Winter of Fire. It consumed us. We read it multiple times that year and the year after, and at least once a year every year until we’d graduated high school, I’d wager. Now I’m wondering how it is that twelve, thirteen, fourteen years have gone by and I haven’t read it again, and how in thinking on what it was I loved so much about it, I’m realizing something about the other books I’ve chosen to love, the sorts of books I’ve chosen to write.

Despite being a science fiction/fantasy novel, Winter of Fire was character-driven. The protagonists’ feelings, her relationships with the other characters in the novel, these are the things that I remember. The scenes that are most vivid in my mind are the quiet, contemplative ones, where Jordan isn’t exploring the curious world she’s created but instead the curiouser world of the human heart.

I love unicorns and magic and the surreal, spectacular realms created by many a beloved speculative fiction writer, but what really keeps me in these worlds are the people who populate them. This is why I struggled with The Lord of the Rings and can’t read most books with overtly complicated space travel mechanisms. Unless you’re Mrs. Whatsit I probably don’t care as much about how you get from point A to point B in your starship as I do about the crew, the captain, the conflict. I want the thrill of familiar emotions in an unfamiliar environment. I want those places to be believable and rich, mind, but they’re not the whole of why I’m reading.

What about you?