BOOK & BLOG
November 20, 2005
These are a few of my favorite things . . .
I often get asked about my favorite books. I thought Id tell you about a few of them. Probably most of you have read one, or all, of these, but Ill tell you why theyre significant to me. So, in no particular order, and please bear in mind that this is NOT a complete list . . .
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Jane Austen) is pretty nearly a perfect book. If you think the movies convey a tenth of the wonders of this delicately written novel of details, you are wrong.
JANE EYRE (Charlotte Bronte) has it all rugged hero, downtrodden heroine, madness, a real bitch, and a big fire. JANE has been the template for thousands of books since, but this is the real deal.
PASSAGES (Connie Willis) is a book about a group of scientists and their attempt to prove or disprove the existence of life after death. Boring, you say? Not so. Anything Connie Willis writes is great I could have put two other books by Willis on this list but PASSAGES is deep, scary, and mystifying.
THE HAUNTING (Shirley Jackson) will scare your socks off. Jackson was a truly great writer who died too early. Her short stories are masterpieces, and her full-length books are right on the edge of being so. THE HAUNTING is the scariest book ever written, at least to me.
THE FOURTH WALL. Barbara Paul, a long-time friend of mine, wrote this book many years ago, and it affected me deeply, as a writer and as a woman. I got an inkling of how to write women as people, rather than stereotypes. I got an idea about how desperate people can become when subjected to intolerable strain. I just love this very hard-to-find book.
And, oddly enough
JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton. Okay, hes not a great writer. But JURASSIC PARK is high concept carried to a perfect level. Dinosaurs + modern man + isolated island = Big Fear. I loved this book, and its one of the few Ive finished and said, I sure wish Id thought of that.
This has been fun for me. Maybe Ill do it again in the future, with more of my favorites.
If I titled my blogs, this one would be called The Unpredictability Factor.
I was shopping Thursday; my best friend and I decided to kick off our Christmas shopping season, because she had a rare free day and I decided to declare that I had one, too, though it was far from the truth. Anyway, we went to the Big City mall to shop. I was in Buckle, my daughters favorite store, buying blue jeans and tee shirts for her, when a certified nut job walked in. In this case, the NJ was a poorly dressed young man with a whole lot of odd questions to ask the staff. When I was giving my name to the salesperson ringing up my order, he turned to me and said, Well, HELLO, Char-leen. I know I flinched.
Had he threatened me? No. Did NJ have a visible weapon, or had he uttered threats? No. But because he was unpredictable, he was frightening. (NJ left the store shortly thereafter, without having caused any trouble besides making the staff and this customer a bit anxious.)
That same night, our dog Rocky had a seizure. This had never happened before, and I hope it never happens again. His whole body became rigid and arched, his legs stiffened, and he couldnt move. His head trembled. My daughter and I went over to his perch on the couch and hovered around him like demented birds, because we had no idea what to do. It struck me later that we were scared of him. Rocky is the mildest of dogs, so placid he seems brainless, but because he was behaving in an atypical way, he had become unpredictable, and we thought he might bite or snap at us because he was so stressed. (Gradually, this rigidity wore off, and he returned to absolutely normal behavior. In the days since, he has been just fine. Our vet has no explanation.)
Theres a particular elderly lady in our church; when any member of my family sees her name on the caller i.d., they wait until I pick up the phone. If I dont get it, her call goes unanswered. Shes a pathetic woman in almost every way, one of those people who is her own worst enemy. Even those who try to help her become targets of her rage and malice. On any given day, you dont know if shes going to be asking a favor, just wanting to talk because she has no one else to talk to, or if shes going to tell you God cant stand you because you crossed her. Shes extremely unpredictable.
I dont know why it seemed so interesting to me to realize that this unpredictability is the most frightening of factors. Id just never reasoned it through, before. Thats what makes a scary movie scary, or a frightening book frightening. Im sure this is a given in any art form. Something to think about when I write my next book . . . Its a simple fact that the frightening thing about a door is what MIGHT be behind it.
® 2010 Charlaine Harris