We have an idea in our heads – it’s the small seed of a bigger concept. Maybe it starts with an event in our lives, or a picture we’ve seen. Someone tells us a story and it sets off a firestorm of ideas. Maybe it’s even a moment of reading someone else’s work that spawns the idea. It takes root; it grows muscle and flesh over bone. A book is born.
And then we proceed to shred it to bits. We give it to people who we trust to be harsh enough to nitpick at it – to tell us to cut off entire limbs or worse yet, bury the whole body. Then we start hacking away at it, back to the bones, sprouting new ones, molding new flesh. We end with a creature we almost don’t recognize. And then sometimes we begin again.
It becomes impossible to finish – we want to tweak and tweak and tweak until we’ve tweaked the poor thing near death. Maybe we make it better. Maybe we make it worse. At some point, the disease spreads to our reading. Does it tell instead of show? How’s the grammar? Too much exposition? Is it original or a me too novel? Suddenly, it becomes almost impossible to just read and enjoy.
I just finished reading “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. I closed the book and wanted to start re-reading it right away. It was perfect.” I don’t mean this to be a book review (obviously, if I say it’s perfect, I’m recommending it pretty highly). But it made me wonder why – why was it perfect? What is the perfect novel?
The perfect novel is not one size fits all. We’ve all read something we thought was amazing only to find out that someone (crazy nut) didn’t agree (except for the original Harry Potter – never ever heard someone say they didn’t adore it). Take “The Fault in our Stars.” Perfect! I practically swoon(ed) over Green’s novel about, of all things, cancer kids. But honestly, I read it twice in a row and begged my book club to read it. (Yes, it’s a YA novel. I know it’s the second one I’ve recommended in as many months, but trust me!) Only to find out that someone (insane, obviously) in the group didn’t love it at all. I will read a third time. I will see the movie. I will find it impossible for the actors or the movie script to live up to who I imagined Augustus Waters to be (because if you don’t fall madly in love with Augustus Waters, then you have no heart). I will always love that book and its characters as if I know them. I honestly can’t for the life of me fathom how anyone could disagree. But she did.
So what is the perfect novel, especially for a writer?
The perfect novel allows us to get so lost in the world of its creator that we don’t analyze it – we just enjoy it like we used to enjoy reading…like a normal person. Before we became crazy, obsessed writers. I got all the way through Night Circus wondering not why did she do this, but how? First, the ideas were so creative and innovative – how did she think of this? And this? And this! I cared about the characters and never did the characters break character. The book was mysterious without being frustrating. It was complicated without being confusing. In short, I just read it and loved it. I want someone else to read it and love it so we can talk about it. I want to write about it. I am writing about it!
In her thanks at the end of the novel, Morgenstern talks about how difficult the book was to write – how much work and feedback and editing it took. You’d never know it if she didn’t tell you. The product is seamless. Reading it, I didn’t feel like a single word needed to change. I wonder if Morgenstern, as the writer, can just enjoy reading it too, or does she continue to wish she’d changed this or that before publishing? Regardless, it was hard to believe that this was a first novel, it’s so intricately wrought – and that’s why it was perfect. Because I didn’t see any of the missteps along the way that brought the novel to perfection.
So, what is the perfect novel? It takes us away from reality. We get pulled into the world of the book and forget about whether the writer is talking about the possible or impossible. We care about the characters. We can’t wait to find out what happens to them next. We become a part of the story. We stop worrying about whether every sentence is perfect or whether the execution is flawless. Maybe we even love the world for its flaws. In short, the perfect novel allows us to be in the somewhere else of the pages and not part of this world. Even if it’s just for a short while.
Some of my perfect books in the last few years (in addition to The Fault in Our Stars and Night Circus) were The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (I started in my late teens reading his graphic novels and he just keeps getting better), The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Honestly, I could add a whole lot to mix, but these should get you started with my eclectic little mix of favorites.
I’m (working on) making a commitment to post on Wednesdays, so stay tuned each week and feel free to suggest topics!
What’s your perfect book?
- 78 Book Reviews in 78 Words (www.sarenastraus.com/blog)
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (and a little bit of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern). (lucycatten.wordpress.com)
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (onechaptermore.com)