I thought maybe this week as we head into the release of the 7th Harry Potter movie, that it might be fun to look at what makes a book REALLY MEMORABLE.
The Harry Potter books obviously succeed on MANY levels... not least because they urge me to read them again and again, and repetition increases recall, but what OTHER books have you read that really stuck with you... you know... FOREVER.... And perhaps more importantly... WHY? So here are some of the truly memorable reads I've had... (chronologically, because that is how my brain is organized).
The Shining, Stephen King: I loved the paranormal piece of this... a hotel as an entity, causing people (and ghosts) to do things... the evil underneath... This book was really the single work that made me a READER. I mean... I could read, obviously, but the kind of girl who carried her book along with what was needed between classes and rushed in and opened my book while everyone was getting sorted...
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens: I struggled through this—it was required reading when I was a freshman in high school, but this book has the best beginning lines and the best ending lines in literature, and in reality, the story itself is quite elegant. I think Dickens takes a little sophistication, language-wise—but it is simply a matter of how language has changed and it takes a little while to fall into it. I've fallen in love with other Dickens' tales over the years, most notably David Copperfield (a character who, oddly enough, was Daniel Radcliffe's first acting role, but I digress).
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas: OH, this is a good tale! Betrayal, revenge, intrigue... I think this is the best example I can think of of a REALLY elegant PLOT.
I remember Five Smooth Stones and The Fountainhead holding important places for me here, but barely remember the plot for either—they were more philosophical prods than memorable books...
All of the above books I read before I finished high school. There are a lot of great books since then, but I think the power may be definable at this point. The books that stuck with me from childhood—more than 30 years in some cases, were all written by people who have lasted as household names. In fact, only Stephen King is contemporary, but even with King, one can hardly argue people don't know who he is. He is the leading man of a certain genre and probably will not be dethroned in his lifetime, or even after.
I have fallen in love with other classics: War and Peace, Les Miserables, Don Quixote... and other nearer contemporaries... Lolita, The Poisonwood Bible, The Drifters, Jitterbug Perfume... I think, though, it is of note that among my list is no author who was a one-shot wonder... I suspect there is a deep resonance of voice that has caused me to truly love—that unique sound that tells us who is speaking, and begs us to continue... As a writer that is encouraging and discouraging at once... in the positive, it seems that if we are true to ourselves, we are more likely to have that voice that continues to come through, but in the negative... think how many hundreds of books I've read that didn't quite stick...
So who are the voices who ring true to you?
Little Women Permission
Tom Sawyer Permission
Don Quixote Permission