Rosie for lunch over the weekend where we chatted about life, going to RWA this summer (Squee!) and, of course, books. One thing that came up in our conversation is my belief that what makes a book a keeper has as much to do with the time and place the reader is currently occupying, as it does with good writing, characterization and plotting. Yes, the author can have all the "mechanics" of writing a good story down cold, but so much of what makes for an exquisite read is how that book hits the reader on an emotional level. And as readers? None of us live cookie-cutter lives. We all come from different backgrounds, different experiences, and we all have our own "baggage" to lug around with us. We bring all of that with us when we crack open a book.
Unless there are paranormal abilities involved, no author can predict any of this. The best they can shoot for is to hit on some sort of "truth" through their characters. One of the reasons that some of Megan Hart's books have worked so well for me is because she gives me some "truth" through the eyes of her characters. At a recent So. Cal. Blogger gathering, Lori, Renee and I were talking about just that and I mentioned the reason Dirty worked so well for me was because I knew that heroine. I'm pretty damn sure I went to college with her. Maybe not as emotionally eff-ed up as Elle, but I knew women who could wield sex like a weapon. Why they chose to do this certainly had everything to do with their own personal "baggage" - but yeah. I could "relate" to Hart's character on that level. It hit me in the gut.
One of the things I like to do when grading the books I read is to ask myself the question, "Do I want to drop everything and reread this right now?" If the answer is yes, then the book gets an A. Period. End of story. Despite the fact that I rarely reread thanks to crushing TBR Guilt. However, it begs the question - can a book that hits you on that sort of level have the same impact the second, third, fourth etc. time around?
Some say no, I say yes. As long as the reader is willing to "drop the veil." The veil that takes you back in time to where you were when you read the story for the first time. What your life was like. Who the people in your life were. What sort of emotional state you may have been in.
I seem to be able to "drop the veil" and this allows me to read books with a different set of expectations. Right or wrong, if I pull out an old bodice ripper from the TBR, I'm probably not going to read it the same way as a book published last month. Why? Well, in a bodice ripper I expect purple prose out the ying-yang and "forced seduction." I expect the heroine to be half flogged to death by the author as she heaps more and more abuse on her. To a certain extent, I expect some absurd over-the-top-ness. In a more contemporary release? Yeah, all that gets on my last good nerve. Give me purple prose and "forced seduction" in a current release and I'm likely to start frothing at the mouth. Hypocritical? OK, sure. But it is what it is. I'm not the same girl I was at 16, thank the good Lord above. Likewise, in another 10 years, where will I be?