I imagine it comes as a shock to no one that a bibliophile would get weak in the knees for book loving characters and authors. The thing is I don’t actually seek it out. I don’t Google search or look for Goodreads list or even ask my fellow bibliophiles for recommendations. It just happens that I’ll be reading a book and discover that one, or more, of the characters is excited to talk about books and it’s always quite wonderful. And coincidentally seems to always happen in books I end up loving because apparently the only thing I love more than books is more books inside of books.
Like in Saga Vol. 2 when Alana reads a novel and then pleads/begs/tries to bribe a coworker into reading it so she can have someone to discuss it with—we’ve all done that, right? I was already in love with this graphic novel thanks to the great story, fantastic characters, and awesome art, then came Alana’s passionate I-love-this-book scene which made me want to hug the comic. And I did. I won’t say more for those who haven’t read it (even though it isn’t a spoiler per say) but she does end up reading it to someone in another fantastic scene and the author of that novel might also be a future character.
In Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon we have Maddy who, instead of celebrating her 18th birthday with a party or wild night out with friends, is having a quiet night in with her mom because she hasn’t been outside her house since she was a baby due to an illness. Rather than being angry or depressed about her incredibly limited life, Maddy fills it with reading. What better way to experience the world you’re currently unable to explore? Along with the bonus of Maddy’s tiny book reviews throughout the book, one of her first conversations with Olly—the new boy next door—is a discussion over a recently read book. I can’t think of a better way to start any type of relationship! And if you’re curious about the books Maddy reads here’s a round-up.
In Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Gordy teaches Junior how to truly read by explaining that every time you read a book you’re taking away and learning different things. The conversation also leads Junior to understand that his sister’s love of romance novels is not frivolous and that “if every moment of a book should be taken seriously, then every moment of a life should be taken seriously as well.” It was already an exceptional book that ended up having the perfect bonus of characters discussing reading and Junior even reading, and later calling upon, Tolstoy. (Also really great on audiobook narrated by Sherman Alexie.)
You’d think that in Daniel Jose´ Older’s Shadowshaper Sierra would be too busy trying to keep the shadowshaper’s alive while trying to unravel the mystery behind what/who exactly are the shadowshapers and what/who is trying to harm them to be reading books–which she is, but one trip to the library (for research of course) has her quickly distracted by all the books she sees that she never even imagined existed: “Studies in Puerto Rican Literature said another. It’d never even occurred to her there was such a thing as Puerto Rican literature, let alone that it would be worthy of a thick volume in a Columbia University Library.” Sierra is such an awesome character that Older could write an entire book about her sitting in the library reading books and I’d be all over reading that. (Also fantastic in audiobook narrated by Anika Noni Rose.)
The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tuil, Sam Taylor (translator) has everything: the question of (religious) identity, betrayal, revenge, reinventing oneself, poverty to opulence, obsession, a love triangle… And for as terrible as some of the characters behave–I mean one sends his wife to try and seduce an old lover to prove he officially won her (and that’s just at the beginning before all the chaos really starts)–their saving moments to me were always their love of literature. Like Samuel’s memory of his father teaching him that “A man found fulfillment in reading and interpreting texts. A life without books was inconceivable.” Being that this was one of those suspenseful what-will-happen-next novels I won’t say anymore…
In the so-good-if-you-asked-if-you-should-pre-buy-I-would-emphatically-nod-my-head-YES category we have If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Also a book about identity but in a completely different way. Here we have Amanda at a new high school trying to navigate life as a teenage girl unsure of what will happen if/when anyone finds out she was born Andrew. Honestly, I couldn’t have loved Amanda (or this book) more than I already did so her bookish moments (a boy with a crush on her reads Sandman because she is, and a really important story she writes as a child begins inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth) were really just extra icing on an already perfectly iced cake. (May 3, Flatiron Books)
Another 2016 release is The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian in which one intended fun night (bachelor party) turns horribly wrong. My favorite part about the book–which grabs you from the very beginning–was that you got the perspective of everyone involved or affected from the event. While the stripper/hooker/sex slave having the alternating first point of view was great, since it’s usually told from the cops/lawyers/male’s perspective only, I loved that one of the character’s nine year old daughters had a voice as she tried to understand what was happening. And while I would never want to be in her shoes, I was super jealous about her obsession with funky tights which led her father to bring her back a pair from London that were covered in children’s book covers. Her discovery of British editions having different covers from U.S. was such a lovely moment to read and now I can’t stop thinking about those tights!
Equal to my love of fictional characters having bookish hearts are when authors discuss books in their nonfiction. Roxane Gay is not only a perfect author to follow for great book recommendations she also discusses books she’s read in Bad Feminist. Amongst her many essays (giving her voice to the current feminist debates and reminding us we’re allowed to be flawed feminist) she discusses a range of books from Sweet Valley High’s childhood impact all the way to her thoughts on the problematic white savior in The Help. Some of the other books discussed are Gone Girl, The Hunger Games, Dare Me… Here’s the list of all 30+ books discussed if like me you want to read them after (or before?) reading Bad Feminist.
In Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha takes us back to the mid ’90s when she ran away from home in the U.S to Canada in the hopes of leaving her problems behind. This was a beautiful memoir that I inhaled because the writing (almost poetic) and voice was so inviting and grabbing, her details so vivid I felt like I was on her journey with her. And of course you already know the bonus was her appetite for reading and how weaved into her stories were books, bookstores, and libraries that were significant during certain periods of her life.
Do bookish characters/authors tug on your heartstrings? Or do you not even notice?