Books That Stay With Us
December 30, 2011
I missed posting here during November because I was in the thick of re-thinking my novel, using strategies from Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass (mentioned in my September 2011 post.)
Maass says (on page 37) to list three
of your favorite novels as quickly as you can.
So I chose:
1. Lost Horizon, by James Hilton
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Maass points out that books that stay with us have common elements. Which elements made me choose the books on my list?
My lasting impressions of Lost Horizon were the setting of Shangri La, the characters Perrault the aged one and Conway the protagonist, and Conway’s experience of hearing an unknown piece by Chopin. The book’s message and emotional appeal comes from the mystery of living upwards of 150 years and the detail which makes the fantastic seem believable. (I hadn’t read Lost Horizon in a long time, so I re-read it and watched the B/W movie, then read Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips and watched the movie. All were excellent.)
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird left me with an image of Scout, Atticus’s young daughter, dressed in her ham costume as she scurried along a path on Halloween night, and an image of a tension-filled courtroom. Atticus shows us the risk of taking a stand against injustice. I feel like cheering when he does what is right.
When I think of The Lathe of Heaven, I immediately see a cunning psychiatrist in his office, where his troubled client tells him of “effective dreams”, i.e., they come true. What would happen if all of our dreams came true? Le Guin’s answer is that our innate selfishness, if given free rein, would lead to chaos. Perhaps that’s why we don’t get everything we pray for.
I learned it takes me hours and hours of brainstorming to come up with ideas that have a chance of making my settings, characters, their experiences, and themes at all memorable, and I’m still not confident they will be. Nonetheless, I’m itching to work the changes into the manuscript.
Thanks for reading my blog this year. I hope some of your writing dreams come true in 2012!