TTT: Books with Characters who Read

TTTI kind of disliked the openness of this question. I already have to pick my 10 choices, now you’re making me decide on the subject matter, too? It was too wide open—it could be anything. That felt more than a little daunting, so I pulled it back in to the subject matter at hand: books.

Behold, a list of 10 books with characters who read…

The Book Thief. An obvious choice, perhaps, but an excellent one. Liesel’s passion for reading, for exploring worlds beyond the terrifyingly violent one she’s in, was the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place.

I Capture the Castle. Cassandra is well-versed in poetry and literature, and because of this comes across beautifully in her writing. She even politely reads Stephen’s plagiarised and terrible original poetry, and doesn’t hate a word of it.

The Girl with All the Gifts. Melanie is a very clever 10-year-old girl who enjoys learning. She particularly likes read Greek mythology, drawing parallels and blending them with her imagination and the world around her.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Technically not a character, as this is Lewis Buzbee’s memoir from a life spent working in bookshops and the publishing industry, but still. His bookish thoughts, observations and tales are wonderful.

The Book of Lost Things. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old David retreats into the world of books and stories, fantasy and imagination. Then his retreat manifests, trapping him in a world of fantasy. But does he want to get out?

Fahrenheit 451. Okay, so technically Guy doesn’t read the books he saves and secrets away, but it’s more the act and meaning behind his actions; the idea that books are powerful, that gets this book on the list.

The Art of Fielding. I guess both Owen and Guert count as characters who love books, but Guert is the only one of the two that I loved. He was perfect in his imperfection, flawless in his flawness. He loved books, his daughter, his lover, his school—all without reservation.

Breakfast of Champions. This is the book I am currently reading, It is witty and insightful and weird and I love it. Kilgore writes bizarre science fiction, the single copies of which he sends out in the hopes of getting published. The only place his stories end up are as filler for porn magazines, which he then buys in order to re-read his own work.

Walking on Glass. This is an odd, but very good, book. It focuses of three story lines, one centring around Steven, who believes he is trapped on Earth following his role in a galactic war. He reads science fiction in the hope of finding clues and messages.

Looking for Alaska. This book was a solid average for me: not bad, but not amazing. Alaska was a fascinating character, though. I can picture her room, piled with books, and it is wonderful. Of course, the fact that she never gets to read them all… less so.

The Art of Fielding

the-art-of-fieldingTitle: The Art of Fielding.

Author: Chad Harbach.

Summary: At Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for the big leagues until a routine throw goes disastrously off course. His error will upend the fates of five people.
Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz realises he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, all five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This was all about baseball without actually being about baseball at all. An American college was the setting, a baseball tournament the context and the characters themselves the plot.

I enjoyed it. I was interested, invested. I wanted to know what would happen to these people, if and how things worked out for them. And for the first two-thirds of the book, it was getting a solid four stars.

I didn’t like all of the characters, at least not all of the time, but they were real enough for me to be interested in them, to want to follow their lives for a little while.

Pella i was distinctly hot and cold on. I admired her for up and leaving a marriage which had offered her nothing without even packing a bag (and wanted to know a lot more about what went on there). I didn’t begrudge the fact that she was running back to another man who could look after her—her father. I did get a bit sick of her fickle indecisiveness and her admitted dependency on others—on men—but her unwillingness to really do anything about it.

Mike—Schwartz, as he was for me throughout—i did adore. Somehow selfless and selfish both at the same time, his feelings and motivations came through easily and believably for me. He almost wanted to be a tortured soul, as if he wasn’t that, he wouldn’t know what else to be.

Owen was a nice enough guy. I like the idea of his mellow, laid back personality. His quiet, obsessive need to read. But the Buddha thing got dull pretty quickly. This might have been different had the book ever shown things from his point of view—his integral role in the story was conspicuously lacking without one.

Guert… I think Guert intrigued me the most. And i mean generally, his all-round character. Not his starry-eyed love for a student. I think i enjoyed his mind the most. He was honest with himself. With what he wanted out of any given situation and what would be best. He made mistakes, but he didn’t try to fool himself into thinking he hadn’t made them.

Henry i was highly ambivalent towards. His perfect shortstopping was nice. His innocence and naïvety was nice. His dedication was nice. Just nice. Not that exciting, not that boring. When he throws his first off-ball, his story had the potential to get interesting. Instead, it drags on. With every game, with all his second-guessing and lack of acknowledgement of a problem, i got more bored. I wanted something to happen. It didn’t. Instead, he hid himself away and practically starved himself to death.

Regardless of my opinions of the characters and their lives, i was enjoying the book (i can enjoy characters i dislike, so long as they are well done—which they are here). I enjoyed it until Guert talked about that house he didn’t buy four years ago. Until he drove past that house the same day, and it’s conveniently for sale. Until it went on sale that day. Until Guert considers getting a dog. Until it turns out the current owners have a dog they want to leave behind. On what planet would any of that actually happen?

Ultimately, the end of the book was a let down to me. The first two-thirds, while enjoyable, were very long. It deserved a more satisfying, less rushed ending, or else it needed to be more heavily edited.

I enjoyed the writing and the characters, but not the construction, delivery and climax of the characters’ stories.