I’ve said time and time again that I prefer novels to “literature” because novels tend to contain plot, whereas much literature focuses on language. That’s true, and I stand behind that. However, many classics and literary fiction, I’m finding, also contain ideas. I love ideas and thought exercises. In looking at the books I most enjoy, they blend plot and character with ideas. The books aren’t just about Jane Doe who does something and interacts with Jack and Jill and does some stuff. The books I love most are about concepts.
The Fault in Our Stars, for example, was laced with existentialism. I read complaints that teenagers don’t really talk the way August and Hazel do, but I disagree. As a teenager, I was an amateur philosopher, discussing grand ideas with my friends. As two teens intimately acquainted with dying, I can believe that August and Hazel would look to symbolism and philosophy to find their place in the world.
I’ve realized recently that many of the books I read most are not the ones I actually enjoy the most. I really like reading romance novels. They’re easy to get through, fun to read, and fast. But on the enjoyment scale, most of them hit around a 3 out of 5, meaning I liked them but didn’t love them. Same with many YA novels. In contrast, books like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Martian by Andy Weir, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel are among the books I enjoyed most last year, because they’re about concepts and ideas as well as plot and character. They’re about racism, loneliness, isolation, the characters’ places in the world while being narrated by an engaging person in an interesting plot.
One of the things I like best about my book club is that the other women pick books I’d probably never choose to read on my own. Some of those books have ended up being favorites of mine. Or if not favorites, have made me think.
Now, how does this post relate to the title? Well, French fries are my favorite food. I could eat them all day, every day, except that they’re not actually that good for me. I love salad, but it never seems as appealing to eat as French fries do. Yet, sometimes when I dig into a salad and taste all those fresh flavors, I’m reminded of why I love them so.
Books are kind of like that. While there’s nothing wrong with junk food novels, when I fill up on them, I don’t have any room left over for the good stuff. Yeah, sometimes those other books end up being bland and flat, but every once in awhile, I find one that’s so fresh, full of invigorating ideas, that it causes me to look at the world differently.
I live for those books.
Great post, Doree. I loved Bleeding Heart by Marilyn French, and it was existentialism. Processing life through grief. It’s the book responsible for me being a writer. I’m #39 on the IWSG list. I see you forgot, but I started reading and couldn’t stop. Good, eh?
That is the sign of a great book, isn’t it? When it changes your perspective or opens your mind. I read a lot of what you’d probably call “junk novels,” but I love to escape! It’s my one indulgence in life. Well, that and chocolate!