Friday, November 27, 2015

The Ghosts of Books Past

For some time now I've been thinking of my all-time favorite books and feel compelled to reread a number of them.

Thanks to Amazon it's easy to track down these old books that I've remembered for a lifetime. I still own a lot of them. My interest is more than a nostalgia kick, although I am a nostalgic person. This obsession was stirred up by my whimsical treacherous muse who pointed out that I needed to improve characterization.

The books I especially admire were mostly commercial successes, but that not why they stuck with me. I loved the central character in each one. But beyond that, these characters had a huge heart-wrenching problem worth wresting with.

For that matter, it seems to me the old writing books had a lot more information than the manuals I pick up today. I'm re-reading Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It's outstanding. It's tough reading and I don't think I understood some of her points until I had written several books.

Elwood insists that characters come from within. Spinning them from thin air doesn't work. You can give a man a quirky car, some semi-handsome physical attributes, a few snarly snappy lines and he will still seem like everyone else's cardboard cut-outs. Ditto for Too Stupid To Live Heroines. You know. The ones who never call for back-up. Or run around saying, "Oh I'll show him!"

Here is a just of a few of these old, old books I'll re-read and why:

Green Dolphin Street--Elizabeth Goudge.  It's my all-time favorite whose theme touches a spiritual chord within me. Goudge, has the  ability to make unlovable multi-dimensional characters profoundly lovable.

Love Let Me Not Hunger--Paul Gallico. This is a hauntingly beautiful insight into the cloistered world of the circus. Who knew that this society fostered it's own royalty? What I remembered forever and forever was Mr. Albert, the animal trainer. How did Gallico so vividly create such a noble humble old man whose personal story broke my heart?

A Distant Trumpet--by Paul Horgan. A historical novel telling about the Indian wars and the relentless campaign to hunt down the Apaches. And for years, whenever we moved to another town, another library, or even when I was visiting relations, I went to the their library to look up General Alexander Upton Quade. I couldn't believe he wasn't real. After forty years went by, I found out this character was based on the autobiography and writings of General George Crook. Horgan told the‎ story from the Indians' point of view as well as the soldiers'.

Not As a Stranger--Morton Thompson. One of the great all-time medical novels. Not only was it informative, I had such hopes for the protagonist. He was destined to be one of the all-time great doctors.

Five Smooth Stones--Ann Fairbairn. One of the great social novels and one of the few that delved into subtle Northern racism. This was published in 1966 when the Civil Rights Movement was roiling America.

Rebecca--Daphne du Maurier. Need I say more? One of the great classic mysteries, which was the forerunner of the gothic novels. At one time I couldn't get enough of them.

There are some common denominators to all the books I've mentioned. They all have great plots. Every single author is a masterful story-teller. And for some reason they are all l-o-n-g.

Will these books still resonate with me forty years later? Will I still have the same insight? Stay tuned.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

It's really interesting that you're doing this, Charlotte. I started out trying to weed out books from my shelves. But I've paused to read Solo Blues by Paula Gosling, a book that I loved the first time I read it and have dipped into occasionally since. This time I'm reading it as a writer to understand why it works so well.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hi Frankie,

Re-reading as a writer is a remarkable exercise. We see things we didn't notice before, but even as a reader some of this magic never goes away.

Donis Casey said...

A great list of books, Charlotte. Another that has stuck with me for half a century is Beau Geste, by P.C. Wren. I read that book multiple times when I was a teenager. I've always been a sucker for noble self-sacrifice.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis I'll add that one to my must read list--which keeps growing. See you at Left Coast Crime