Remember the summer days of awkward pre-teen years? When you would stumble down to the local library all knock-kneed and glazed eyes from watching hours of Jack and Jennifer on the run? Those days when crank calling all the boys from your class started to grow tiresome and you were looking for something more to do? And then when you arrived at the beautifully air conditioned library, full of all those BOOKS and STORIES and QUIET , you almost started crying because you finally felt like home?
Well, maybe a tad dramatic but that kind of sums up my introduction to the love of the story. Not just books, mind you, but the story. I spent many an afternoon engulfed in good books, like A Wrinkle In Time and The Railway Children and Half Magic. Aside from the Sweet Valley High books I was reading (and god help me, I can’t deny I also read those), the books that sucked me in were the ones with a good story. A little suspense, maybe some fantasy and mystery here and there. Give me a group of kids in a quandary, most likely poor and from England, and I was set for the afternoon.
I find myself missing these type of stories in adulthood. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy or sci-fi now, and although I do sometimes like a good crime novel, for the most part I find myself reading books that are lacking the sense of adventure that used to captivate me all afternoon.
Recently, though, I was lucky enough to find two books that spoke to that hungry reader in me. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Keep by Jennifer Egan are both excellent examples of these types of book: they give good story. They give GREAT story actually, the kind you can’t get out of your head. The Thirteenth Tale reminds me of a very old-fashioned mystery tale, where you curl up in front of the fire while the rain pounds the window pane (oh god, I’m off on that British-children-fantasy again). The Keep, also a mystery of sorts, is a less linear story with bits of a gothic environment and strange characters thrown in. These two books reek of the story-within-a-story technique, which speaks to the closet literary theorist in me (damn you, metatext!) I’m not too proud to admit that I ignored my preschooler while wrapped up in both books (oh relax, you finger-pointers you, it’s not like she was alone! The television was on, thank you very much)
Both books are definitely books for readers. You could argue that all books are, of course, for readers. But some of you might know what I mean – it’s those books that called to you when you were 12 years old in the library those many years ago. The stories that sucked you in and wouldn’t let you go. I wish there was more of that around me these days.