Sunday, September 25, 2011

Falling Into Fiction

I just finished a book I'd heard about for years--Up the Down Staircase--and it was pretty good. All of the quotes on the front of the old paperback book, though, made it sound like the funniest comedy ever. The premise? A newbie teacher who takes on inner city high school English courses. Perhaps it was a bit too close to home, but I found myself squirming through the first 2/3 of it instead of laughing. I'm not sure I laughed a single time, actually.

Funny how a single book can make me wonder whether I'm a very good reader...

But then I picked up Jenny B. Jones' There You'll Find Me, and all that self-doubt lifted away. Easy to read and far deeper than the traditional YA romance novel, this book began with a premise that seemed a bit too romantic (i.e. unrealistic): A rich young woman flying to Ireland meets a world famous heartthrob actor flying incognito. They both instantly dislike each other--and that's where I rolled my eyes--but it took no time at all for the romantic comedy movie premise to turn into a lovely, smoothly written fall-into-the-book page-turner that took over my weekend. I cared about so many of the characters by the end, and the location felt real to me, vivid, meaningful, and holy. It's been a very long time since I felt that way about a book.

Granted, the book was free. Thomas Nelson sent it to me, but I'm not required to gush about it, or even like it. That didn't matter. Finley's spiritual journey to recover from the loss of her beloved brother was beautiful, and the other souls helping her along the journey provided her with help, but often had pains of their own. Only a fraction of the characters were flat--and they were mainly the two-dimensional "villains" of the novel. The pattern was typically romantic, and that alone would not have pulled me in at all, but the book was about far more than just young love. It was about going on after loss, about figuring ourselves out, seeing ourselves in truth instead of only through other people's eyes. It's funny, too, that Finley Sinclair has to find her own way through life, but coming into contact with other searching souls is what helps her along, suggesting our path is both individual and communal. It's a lovely novel, hopeful and gently spiritual, and it's one I will keep and read again very soon.

I must have a fragile ego, if I can doubt myself so much after one book, and then be inspired so fully by another. Either that, or I have just experienced first-hand the power of books.

What books have you read lately? How have they affected you?


  1. I don't think Up the Down Staircase would remotely relate to your generation. It didn't even really connect to young adults in the mid-late 1960s; mostly just a response to To Sir With Love only white, female, American. But it was about too fleeting a time of transition, long gone, to mean anything decades later. I guess you could watch reruns of Welcome Back Kotter and learn more. :) Movie-wise, the late odd Sandy Dennis was interesting to watch bumbling through her short life. Thanks for the fuzzy memory.

  2. Definitely the power of books! Sometimes I read something everyone has been raving about and feel so out of the loop when I'm done. I think it's just how you connect. I recently finished Stephanie Perkins's *Anna and the French Kiss* and LOVED it; I've read about many, many others who also LOVED it, and a good few who were just happy to have read it. I think the fact that I visited Paris for a week when I was a little younger than Anna and studied abroad in high school gave me more of a connection to the story. Thank you for your post!

  3. You know, I haven't read a book (non-manga) that's had a profound impact on me in a while. I've read a few more novels by some favorite authors, but they were entertainment, not compelling or life-changing.

    I've got one you sent me, but I haven't gotten very far into it yet. I don't know, yet, if that's a time issue or an interest issue.

  4. Dickens -- Hard Times. I don't know about impact but I liked it. Same with The Idiot--Dostoyevsky.