Decorating the house for autumn last night also served another purpose. This evening I’m having a small get together to discuss a favorite author, Deborah Harkness, and her latest book, The Book of Life. This is the third in her All Souls Trilogy, which actually started, way back in book one, on the day before Autumn Equionox. I didn’t plan it this way, honestly!
Now, I think it goes without saying, but I will anyway, reading books and discussing them is every bit as necessary to a writer as writing, itself. In fact, I see it as getting back to my writerly roots. I started writing because of the books I loved, the books I had read. I continue to write because someday I hope to create a world that someone out there will enjoy as much as I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve found in my favorite books. Certainly, I write to answer larger life questions and contribute to the greater conversation on humanity…I believe that is a byproduct of good writing, regardless of the genre or plot…but I intentionally write for the same reason I read: to escape. That said, I also read to learn more about my craft. In the case of Deborah Harkness and her cast of vampires and witches, academic and / or literary types might ask, “what can you learn from that?” Well, my snobby friends, Harkness creates a complex world of creatures with an even more complex cast of characters dealing with questions of identity and origin, spanning centuries. Top it off with a dialogue that feels real, pertinent, and keeps me flipping the pages, and I would be thrilled to call this book my own. And I enjoy the company of vampires and witches.
Another question I get, this time from non-English major types, is, “how can you possibly sit around talking about make-believe characters like they’re real people who matter?” Ouch!…stab me in the heart! After I recover, I respond rather acidly, “well, what is real?” After you’ve spent hours with a well-written character, they can feel as genuine as any flesh and blood friend, mentor, lover…and what makes the feelings we readers have for fictional characters any less valid than the ones we have for flesh and blood people? Likewise, what makes these characters’ life stories, played out on paper and in our heads, any less valid than, for example, the life story of a “real” person in a biography or the annals of history? There are moving and chilling stories, I won’t go into here, of how fictional characters have affected “real” life, as if they had been “real” people.
The boundary between “real” and fiction should blur when reading a good book. There have been many times when I’ve recalled something that happened the day before or something someone said, and then suddenly remember, “Oh wait, that didn’t happen to me but in the book I’m reading!” But it almost didn’t matter anymore, because I had the memory of it and even the correlate emotions, as if it had happened to me. And when a book ends, as many readers will agree, it can be heart-rending. You’ve made these friends, you’ve lived in this other world, and suddenly the door closes on you. And that’s another reason we get together and talk about books. So we don’t have to leave them…so we can spend a little more time with the characters and their world…until we read (or write) the next.
If you’re interested in Deborah Harkness and her books, including reviews (good and bad), check out her website below. They’re fun books…but be forewarned: you have to like vampires, witches, libraries…a lot.