Friday 5 September 2014

Book Mania

EDGE Author Sara Grant Ponders Why Certain Books Become Obsessions

Every reader has a list of books that they adore. But certain books become part of your life story. When I was young, these were the books I read over and over. I lost count of the number of times I read The Boxcar Children and The Secret Garden when I was in elementary school.
I have these types of book obsessions from nearly every part of my life. It’s sort of my life history in literature. (I wonder how a book psychologist would analyse this list – or maybe better not!)
I was speaking to a group of teen readers at Balham library recently. We shared our 'must reads' for the summer, but we also discussed what shifts a book from good to favourite. It wasn’t easy for us to articulate exactly why a book got under our skin.
When I returned home, I began to analyse the books that I’ve LOVED in the past few years to understand why they became obsessions. It wasn’t like dissecting a gadget to see how it works. I isolated well-written characters, but that wasn’t enough. Plots with twists and turns always capture my attention, but they weren’t necessarily favourites. My book obsessions seemed to hook my head and my heart.
I came up with five reasons why I love the books I love. I’ve tried to limit myself to only one example to illustrate each reason, but there are more and some books fit in more than one category.

I identify with the flawed main character.
A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
I care deeply what happens to the main character – usually because I see myself reflected on the page. I desperately want her to achieve her goal – whatever it is. Her struggle becomes my struggle. Her victory, my victory.

The book challenges my thinking and changes the way I look at the world.
Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin
These books illuminate an issue and demand I examine what I believe. When I read the final line of this type of book, I usually sit, book in hand, for ages. I also lament that I’m not doing enough to change the world, which usually sparks action and life changes.

I’m awed by a wildly original story.
Every Day by David Levithan and Nothing by Janne Teller
Just when you think you’ve read it all…along comes a book that blows your bobby socks clean off. Every Day challenges your ideas of life and love while Nothing is this disturbing modern fairy tale that questions the meaning of life.

Books that give me hope – personally or globally.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
When I was a teenager, these were books about finding love or how geeks would inherit the Earth. Reading Beauty Queens would have comforted my teen self. It’s a quirky story that celebrates what it means to be a girl – not a stereotypical girl but a real, live girl with secrets, hopes, dreams and fears. Too bad it was published about thirty years too late.

A masterfully plotted book infused with heart and surprise.

We Were Liars by E Lockhart
I love a good page-turner with carefully planned twists, turns and surprises. When reading, I usually can’t turn off the author part of my brain. I don’t mean to, but I’m always guessing what happens next. I see a gun in the desk drawer and I wonder who will pull the trigger. A character is terrified of snakes and I start looking for the rattler under every rock. I love books that are intricate puzzles that show you all the pieces and yet you are shocked and awed at how perfectly they all fit together in the end.

A book can meet one or more of the above criteria, but if it doesn’t have a satisfying ending, it won’t make the list. I don’t necessary want a happy ending but I want an ending that remains true to the story and demands that I consider it for days and years to come. I want an ending that sparks and lingers.
I just finished a book that I immediately added to my list of all-time favourites. I picked it up when I was on vacation in Canada. I read the first half of the novel in one gulp on the plane then I stopped reading. I was devouring the book too quickly. I wanted to savour it. When I returned home, it beckoned from my nightstand for a few days until I broke down and read the rest of the novel. I loved it from the first page to the last. It was one of those rare books that you are desperate to find out how it ends and yet you never want to finish reading it.
The book?
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (In the UK, I believe the title is The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry. I prefer the Canadian title.) This book sums up perfectly why we love the books we love:
“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.”

What are your book obsessions and why?

For more about Sara and her books, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @AuthorSara Grant


  1. My current obsession is Cornwall as I've just spent a week there and fell in love with it. So I'm re-reading the Poldark saga - I'm on Warleggan and I also have Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore which is about DH Lawrence living there in WW1. Great post Sara.

  2. I love your post, Sara, and you're so right - it is hard to analyse exactly why a book goes from being a good read to an absolute favourite. A Gathering Light is one of those books for me too. I'm reading We Were Liars at the moment, and The Collected Works of AJ Fikry is on my must-read list. One of my all time obsessions has been A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry beacuse it's just such an amazingly, rich story beautifully told, with characters who pull at your heart strings. Thanks for sharing yours, Sara !

  3. It's not YA, and it's not the plot or characters . . . it's simply the atmosphere, especially in that quiet, reflective section, in Wind in the Willows. Milky, gentle light, a curl of mist on the water, the lapping of waves against the boat: I close my eyes and I can feel it close round me to chase whatever's bad or scary away.

  4. Fabulous, thought-provoking post, Sara, and my wish-list of new reading now even longer. Re influence of childhood favourites, having written contemporary YA twice, I was shocked to discover I loved historical while developing a WWI short story. Then I remembered exactly what I read as a teen. Endlessly. Yup. Historical.
    PS totally agree about Canadian title. 'Collected works' awfully stuffy.

  5. Like Miriam I loved Poldark and have recently started re reading but my obsession is The Mayor of Casterbridge which I re read every few years. The reason is character - complicate, misunderstood, flawed but at heart good characters with whom the reader and sometimes only the reader can empathise.
    Thanks Sara - great thought provoking post.

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