Some Old FriendsPosted: January 15, 2013
Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
The Mediator, Meg Cabot
Given the mission to choose my five favorite books, I found my task impossible to complete. I own hundreds of books; once I have made the commitment of ownership, subdivisions of love become inconsequential. At least for me; at least consciously. Of course there are some books on my shelves that, given another chance, I would not buy again, but even factoring those out I’m left with at least a whole bookcase, not to mention those I’m always meaning to buy but haven’t found the funds or time for yet. So I had to frame this mission differently; not which books moved me the most, or which I thought about the most, because there are too many and I don’t remember the degree to which my soul shifted for each and every one. Rather, which books, when I’m sitting bored on my bed, do I reach out for, again and again, and consume voraciously?
|This is Suze. She’s sassy.|
That left me with the list you see here. I will admit without shame and indeed with relish that they are books for children or for young adults. Those are often the best kind, to my thinking. Where else can you find people who so and unpretentiously enjoy their own writing? Possibly many places, but I would say in the children’s section. Never should a focus on a young audience dissuade a person from enjoying a book. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.”
And so, Blogosphere, let me introduce you to my dear friends Ella, Sophie, Artemis, Coraline, and Suze. All of them, excepting our dear Artemis, are young women. They are independent, driven, and stubborn. Many of them are exceptionally talented in some way or another, from an ear for languages to a powerful magical ability to a straight up genius-level intelligence. But that’s not what I like about them. At the end of the day, I just like them as people, as children who want a bit more attention, as people who look out for the ones they love, who go after what they want with a stubborn, irrational practicality and aren’t afraid to tell you just how stupid or silly you really are if you push them.
Most of what is different about them are things that I struggle to notice. Only Suze and Ella will tell you their stories from their own mouths. Only Ella and Coraline managed to get theirs done in a single volume. Only Artemis is the antagonist of his own story. And only Coraline’s progresses in a somewhat less than linear, straightforward way. Two of their stories were penned by British authors, two by Americans, and one by an Irish man. Three take place in a world I would call ours, one in a fantasy world, and one in both.
|Coraline, also sassy. See the trend?|
All of these are also fantasies, in one way or another. I’d say that the Mediator is more supernatural than fantastic, but I’m sure we can all agree that that’s close enough. None of them are huge, epic, sweeping, high fantasies. I’ll tell you right now that I am not a big fan of high fantasy; I avoid Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones is proving unsuccessful at holding my attention for more than a couple hours at a time. I prefer the kind of stories represented in my list, which are close and small. Most of the action in Coraline, Artemis Fowl, and Howl’s Moving Castle occurs in a single building, amongst a fairly small main cast of not much more than ten. Ella Enchanted is a bit bigger, jumping amongst locations and characters, but each scene is close and private, and the Mediator is similar.
I admit that I’ll read almost anything. I knock on Twilight, but I’ll admit that I read it and enjoyed it while I did. I read humor, mystery, sci-fi, romance, anything that catches my eye. So when I narrowed down this list to these, the books I can read at any time, regardless of my mood (I’m a picky reader like I’m a picky eater—sometimes, I’m just not in the mood for Jane Austen), it was truly a challenge to figure out why. Why these? What is it, really, that lays me up for an entire day, like a 24-hour stomach bug, consuming one of these five books? Their more obvious similarities—their young audience, their feminist writers and characters, their fantasy settings—cannot really be the answer, because the obvious is present in many other books I own. So I don’t know. I like happy endings. I like magic. I like strong girls (and boys) who are smart and kind and stubborn, and for whom that’s enough to usher in success. It may not be what you’d call “literary,” but it does nicely for me.