Learning From My Three Favorite Novels

the ones on the shelf instead of the floor

the ones on the shelf instead of stacked on the floor

The novel writing book I’m reading by Donald Maass asked for the reader to pick their three favorite novels and intuit or look for why they’re favorites. I chose “Silent In The Grave” by Deanna Raybourn, “The Year Of Pleasures” by Elizabeth Berg” and “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson.
The character in the Raybourn book is very likable and honest with herself. It’s the descriptive quality of her relationship with people and things around her that I enjoy. She’s wealthy and the story takes place in Victorian times. Many Victorian novels seem bleak to me and while this one isn’t fluffy or frivolous, it is lighter. I love the sense of place and descriptions of clothes, furniture, homes and gloriously, food. It felt good to read of Lady Julia Grey’s relationship with some of her servants, which could be humorous but not in an over-the-top way.
The Berg book (which darn it, I loaned out and will have to obtain a new copy for myself) is about a favorite theme of mine–a mature woman whose old life is gone and the steps she takes to find her way into a new one. It’s what I liked about the film “Under The Tuscan Sun”, a favorite of mine. The book isn’t about drama and angst and suffering. It is subtle and the descriptions of the place and things and the interior journey all blend well together in a way that’s soothing and sensual to me.
Bryson’s book is the funniest book I’ve ever read and I laugh out loud until I have tears. Even though he’s a guy I can relate to the process of setting an incredibly unrealistic goal, forging ahead without proper conditioning and preparation and then the ensuing inner conflict of realizing he’s in way over his head. Again, there is a lot of description of the Appalachian Trail and his relationship to it.
As I read a little further in Haass’s Writing The Breakout Novel, he mentions how 19th century novels treated the landscape as a character in the story. Of course! The outdoors and nature are very alive to me. Setting and landscape can feel more important to me than the action part of the story, although I resent being jerked around and manipulated by the action part and for personal reasons I don’t tolerate tragedy and unfortunate endings well. (I avoid Oprah’s book selections.)
I love the Britflick series Midsomer Murders and it isn’t for the story. It’s for the amazingly gorgeous settings and the relationships.
Relationships between people and things and surroundings are interesting to me as well as relationships between people. In at least one of my posts here, I’ve mentioned that I like stuff. When meeting new people as potential friends, not only do I notice how they treat others but also the way the relate to their cars, electronics, clothes and the environment among other things.
I’ve also mentioned I like the show “Burn Notice” and it certainly isn’t for the story, blowing things up, etc. It’s for the character’s integrity and their relationships to each other. I would never read books about those stories, I think, because it’s a visual thing and the actors do a great job. Although I can appreciate the written descriptions in Robert B. Parker’s novels.
Since I tend to over-analyze and think things to death (oh, you’ve noticed?) I usually stay away from books making intellectual points (although I love the novel Ishmael) and go for more sensual stories.
I avoid books about illness and suffering with the exception of Stephen White’s books. He has a character with MS and he does an awesome job of portraying her as a complex, whole, interesting person who is so much more than her illness.
Now there, I’ve learned a little something about myself and what I look for in a book. And one thing I know for sure–as I’m learning to write, this is the approach that will more likely bringing me an enjoyable experience. I’m well aware that the craft part, very little of which I remember from high school (nope, didn’t take any courses in college on that) and grammar and such–well, I have a lot to learn and refresh there. It isn’t the place to begin for me. So much of my introduction to various things in life have been more of a turn-off and discouragement instead of an inspiration. I’m going to approach it from a direction that might work a lot better for me.

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