Monday, January 16, 2012

How it Feels: Guest Post by Ariel Allison Lawhon of She Reads

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“…in the end we will only just remember how it feels…”

– Rob Thomas, Little Wonders

There is a bookcase at one end of my living room. I refer to as my “keeper shelf” and were you to visit me (I hope you do!) you would find a motley assortment of novels. I keep my Harry Potter collection beside The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re not so different after all, full of magic and wonder and whimsy. I have Ann Patchett and L.M. Montgomery and Neil Gaiman. Kate DiCamillo. Marilyn Robinson. Leif Enger. Somehow The Book Thief and The Glass Castle ended up on the same shelf as a five-book collection by P.G. Wodehouse (bought, I might add, at a rambling bookstore owned by Larry McMurtry). A dusty and tattered edition of The Princess and the Goblin is held together by a rubber band and sits on the shelf farthest away from my curious toddler. It’s the copy my mother read to me as a child and I’d sooner give birth to a hippo than part with it. The Thirteenth Tale. Water for Elephants. The Night Circus. The Kite Runner. The Hunger Games. The Help. Watership Down. I own almost every novel written by Dick Francis and George MacDonald.


This collection of stories evokes something in me that I find difficult to express. It’s not uncommon for me to pass my bookshelf, run my fingers along the spines, and close my eyes. I summon the emotions I felt the first time I read them. Sometimes I even pull one from its spot and read a passage. I did this yesterday with The Time Travelers Wife:

The curve of her shoulders, the stiffness in her posture say here is someone who is very tired, and I am very tired, myself. I shift my weight from one foot to the other and the floor creaks; the woman turns and sees me and her face is remade into joy; I am suddenly amazed; this is Clare, Clare old! And she is coming to me, so slowly, and I take her into my arms.”
Three years later and I don’t remember much of the plot, but I do remember how I wept my way through the last 50 pages. Audrey Niffenegger broke my heart and then patched it together with that last scene. My devotion for her novel is irrational.
For me, redemption is synonymous with The Kite Runner. I was quiet when I finished Khaled Hosseini’s stunning debut. I sat, book laid open in my lap, and felt something akin to worship—not for the author, but for the pure joy of seeing that kite lift into the air, and for what it meant:
It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.

Every book on that shelf moved me. Sometimes to laughter. Sometimes to tears. I have felt rage and empathy and grief. I’ve even fallen in love a time or two. Yet I’d be hard pressed to synopsize any of my favorite novels. Character and Plot and Setting and Theme slip away with time. But I can pull any book from that shelf, dust off the cover, flip to a favorite passage and tell you exactly how it made me feel. And really, that’s all that matters in the end.

Question for you: what is it that you hope your reader’s feel when they’ve finished your novel? Can you describe, in a word, what the last novel you read made you feel?


Heather Marsten said...

When people read my memoir, I am praying that they come away with a few things. I want people who have been abused or have been pulled in to the occult to realize that I've been there, and understand. I want those who haven't been abused or haven't ben in the occult to get an ideal of those areas, so they have knowledge to counsel others. And I pray that all come away realizing that Jesus is a healer. That He can heal anything, nothing is too difficult for Him. I want people to know that real healing is possible no matter the depth of pain.

BK said...

Hope. Because I want each reader to feel like they can make a difference in this life because my novels are about showing the importance of how every decision we make has consequences, often in a wider ripple than we imagine.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

What an excellent question! I've been thinking a lot about freedom today for obvious reasons and on my blog I asked what makes you feel free.

I've contemplated this question often with my novels. I hope women feel moved to conversation and connection after they read my books. I hope they feel as though they've known my characters for a long time and will wonder about them once the last page is read.

~ Wendy

Bonnie Grove said...

Hmmm..... Not an easy question in some ways.

I usually begin a novel with theme rather than with plot or even character, so each one has its own emotional seat. I don't know if there is a word that would connect them as far as a reader experience goes.

If I can bend the rules, I would like the come-away feeling to be something like, "I lived this story."

Melissa said...

I'm halfway through The Night Circus, and every time I pick it back up I feel transported. Ariel, I totally relate--that intangible, magical feeling that is unique to each book, that makes you want to clutch it to your heart before thrusting it toward a friend and say, "You HAVE to read this." I often come up short trying to summarize a plot, but I can summon reams of descriptive words to tell you the feeling it evoked. Now--gotta go--The Night Circus is waiting.

Nicole said...

My novels? Feel the passion. Please. Feel that which jabs at the heart and says Yes! I get it.

The last novel I read (Nick of Time) made me feel hope (after disappointment) that two very lonely and unique people can eventually get it right.

Nicole said...

(And, Heather, just from your brief description of your memoir: No doubt they'll get your message. Thank you. It's so needed. Bless you for your courage.)

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Heather: writing a memoir is likely the hardest literary endeavor. You're a brave woman!

BK: hope is one of the greatest gifts we can give a reader. And you're right, every choice has a consequence (for good or bad)

Wendy: I love novels that make me feel as though I've made a new friend! I first experienced that with Anne of Green Gables.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Bonnie: you little rule bender! It's my favorite thing about you. Oh to live a story! That's the thing that binds writers and readers. The chance to live more than one life.

Melissa: I LOVED the Night Circus. It didn't exactly follow the rules of Plot or Structure or anything else for that matter. And I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. But the imagery was so vivid. And the premise! *sigh* (Random fact: the film right sold a month after the book. You'll be seeing it on the big screen in the near future)

Nicole: Roger Rosenblatt wrote a wonderful book called UNLESS IT MOVES THE HUMAN HEART. Every novelist should read it. Fiction that doesn't make us feel something hasn't accomplished it's purpose.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My work is about coming alive after having all emotive power stripped away; my personal experience. Permission to feel anything, the chaos of feeling without restraint or logic or label. Learning to cope with other people reacting to my emotion.
Unable to feel, I dare not prescribe feelings for my readers. I hope for satisfaction; that the story and characters exemplified humanity, complex, unpredictable and yearning; that the tangled web ached its way toward expression.

Glenda Parker Fiction Writer said...

I keep many old friends that I can return to over and over. I pray I am able to write books that touch peoples lives.

Glenda Parker