Monday, November 1, 2010

Great Books

There are also books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words--the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers who won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.

That quote is from Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King. I'm not sure why I stopped reading Stephen King. Sometime in college, I just kind of moved on. Recently, though, I've picked up a few of his books at library book sales, and I'm having a bit of a Stephen King renaissance. Anyway, I stumbled across that quote and it got me thinking. I try to read broadly, but I tend to fall in the "read for the story" group. I can forgive, or ignore, bad writing for the most part, but bad story--forget it!

It's so personal, what makes that combination of great story and great writing. Here's my (I'm sure partial) list of some of the books I've read that were really a combination of outstanding prose and terrific storytelling:

Margaret Atwood is a wonderful writer...I'd say pretty much all her books are examples of great writing. But her stories that really resonate with me, that I truly love, are The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid's Tale.

Kurt Vonnegut is the only other writer I've read who was so consistently strong in his writing. Cat's Cradle is outstanding, and Blue Beard is my other favorite by Vonnegut.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon was another perfect book for me--great writing, great story. After I read that, I got every other book by Chabon. While I enjoyed many of the others, unfortunately none resonated with me the way Kavalier and Clay did. Oddly, I was just reading I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, which contains an essay titled "On Rapture". It opens with the lines:
I've just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture--with a book. I loved this book. I loved every second of it. I was transported into its world. I was reminded of all sorts of things in my own life. I was in anguish over the fate of its characters. I felt alive, and engaged, and positively brilliant, bursting with ideas, brimming with memories of other books I've loved.
She's talking about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and it was like she had peeked into my brain to write that.

Since it was a Stephen King quote that got me thinking of this, I'll throw in a Stephen King novel. When I read King, it's really usually a case where I'm reading for story. But, I think he is an author who is not given his due--he's not just a hack. Some of his books also have incredible writing (if you like a long drawn out, overly descriptive type of writing. Which I happen to. Drives TK crazy, though.) I'll put The Stand on my list. Really great story, great plotting, great writing.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Geez, I love that book. Perfect combination of good writing and great story. I've been pretty disappointed with Card's more recently published works, but I'll always love him for writing Ender's Game.

Well, I've run out of time and want to get this posted. The list could never really be done...I can always keep thinking of more, so here it is in its unfinished glory.

What are your examples of those amazing books that pair up wonderful writing and wonderful story?


Green tip of the day: Use your library! Buy used books, and donate your books you don't want to keep. I like to donate books to my library, because I know they'll sell them to raise money that goes right back into the library.

That said, I still buy a number of new books--hey, I also think it's important to support authors :)


LauraC said...

I just finished The Dome. Very The Stand -ish in terms of long book with great story and compelling writing. Let me know if you want me to mail you my paperback copy!

I'll have to get back to you on my list. Basically if it's an amazing book, I keep a copy, otherwise it's out the door. And since everything in my house is packed, can't even tell you the list!

Rhonda said...

Diana Gabaldon and her entire Outlander series. Yes, it has developed quite a cult like following, but she is a truly gifted writer and a fabulous story teller. Every single library patron to whom I recommended those books loved them. One eldarly lady came back the next day, marched up to the Reference Desk and told me she was going to kick me. When I asked her why, she told me she stayed up all night reading that damn book and I had better have the second one on the shelf. Now that's a sign of a good book. :)