I’m pretty particular when it comes to criteria for what makes a “good” book, because, well, I read a lot of them. I’m not afraid to stop reading mid way through, or even ten pages in if it’s not keeping my interest. I’ve been known to read, at times, five different books all at once. I’ll even admit that one of the hardest things about moving across the country was the act of hauling 3/4 of my library to Powell’s because I simply couldn’t afford to ship it. That’s how much I love books.
That’s why I am so pleasantly surprised by the one I’ve just now finished. Part of my surprise comes from the fact that I didn’t pick this book up expecting it to be that good. I’m kind of ashamed actually of how discriminating I can be at times of what I consider “popular” fiction, or in other words, lit. that I assume exists more to turn a profit then tell a decent story. I’ve called them “airport gift shop books” before. This was exacerbated by the fact that this story is being turned into a movie, which both lessened my opinion of it even before I cracked the spine, and made me unavoidably drawn to the need to read it before the movie comes out (as I surely would never read it after). Plus, I’ve been in a rut lately in regard to finding a “good” book, so I figured what the hell, I’d give it a go.
So, I’d built it up to be a dud.
That being said, it’s also really hard to surprise me when it comes to a story. I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the early indications of a twist; the clues the author will leave along the way. They’re little trailblazers left in the form of a conversation not had, or a character not heard from, or a word not spoken, and if all goes as planned, the reader doesn’t recognize that any of this was there (or missing) until the end when they turn around and try to retrace their steps. In my opinion, the really really good books are the ones I don’t pick up the trail on. As I said earlier, I built this one up to be a disappointment, and as I read, even though it was well written, and the characters where sympathetic, and I even liked reading it, I ultimately figured I’d be right. I had predicted the big twist by the third chapter, and when I got to the point where it all actually happened, I got all smug and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back for being so ingeniously intuitive.
And then, just as a truly “good” book should, it knocked me over sideways and schooled me in my snobbishness. There was a second twist…more like a twister, wrecking everything the preceding four hundred pages had built, and left me with my mouth hung open, a tear in my eye, and the need to run to my computer and blog about it. I certainly didn’t see that coming, and it was tragic, and awful, and so wonderfully perfect for the story that I am truly shocked (and thrilled) that I didn’t see it coming. I did exactly what was expected of me. I read the last sentence, briefly closed the book, re-opened it moments later and retraced my steps back to the very first page, where I found exactly what I thought I would: that the answer had been there all along.
I can’t say it’s cracked the top ten list of all time favorite books, but it does deserve honorable mention for not committing the one crime that, in my opinion, most conventional popular fiction is guilty of. This author writes for the masses, tells stories that anyone can find a way to relate to, makes a lot of profit for it, and at the same time doesn’t water anything down. She still assumes that her readers are actually, dare I say it…*intelligent.* So to that end, I tip my hat to her as I waive the white flag. I surrender the torch, and any other over used metaphor you can think of to illustrate that I am now taking my previously smug self, with my tail between my legs, off to bed where I can quietly contemplate how next I can find myself surprised by a book I’ve already judged by it’s cover.
Note: I’m not going to give you the title of the book I just blogged about because I really don’t want to ruin it for any of you who might still want to read it. And I promise, it’s not “Angels & Demons,” sorry.