Reading,  Writing

Books That Linger

Recently, I was thinking about books I read as a kid. I remember so many of them so clearly… In first grade, I discovered the Oz books. Then Nancy Drew, then Bobbsey Twins. In third grade, the Little House books, and the Orpheline series. Fourth grade was Zilpha Keatley Snyder, the Mushroom Planet books, the Alvin Fernald books, the Three Investigators. (My older brother definitely influenced my reading.)

By sixth grade, there was Lord of the Rings, and Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, Edward Eager, Mary Norton, Louisa May Alcott, and Noel Streatfeild. I never stopped loving and reading “children’s books,” so by the end of high school I had added Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Doris Orgel, Edward Ormondroyd, Ruth Nichols, Paula Danziger, and E. Nesbit.

My first college roommate turned out to be another fan of children’s & young adult fantasy fiction, and she introduced me to Robin McKinley and (more recently) Vivian Vande Velde. (She also gave me my first Regency — truly an influential roommate!)

All these authors and their books linger in my memory, even those I haven’t read anything by in years. I know that this is largely because I was young when I read them: I had less in my brain, and knew less about the world, so these stories took up root because I felt they were all so important, so new, so wonderful….and my limited brain capacity was still mostly unfilled. But perhaps…perhaps there was more to it than that. Some of these books surely linger for other reasons as well.

So…is there anything we writers of adult books can do to make our books linger in the memory? To make them take up root in people’s brains?

Writers: Do you do anything in particular to try to make your books lingering books? To make them last in the memory?

Readers (which is all of us): Have you read any books as an adult that made a big impression on you, that stayed with you long after the last page was read? What books were those? Do you know why they made such an impression on you?

All opinions welcome!

Cara King — MY LADY GAMESTER, out now!

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16 years ago

Just like you, for me many of the books that have made the most lasting impression were ones I read as a child: Watership Down, The Lord of the Rings, and Alice in Wonderland to name three. But there are quite a few books that have made a lasting impression on me as an adult, too, both fiction and nonfiction. A few (very random) examples:

Fiction: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, What the Lady Wants by Jennifer Crusie, The Moor by Laurie R. King, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks.

Nonfiction: Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, Consilience by E.O. Wilson.

These books are all completely different from each other. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden gave me nightmares, while I couldn’t stop laughing through What the Lady Wants. But I think what they all have in common–for me, anyway–is that they capture something that I recognize or believe, and hold it up in a way that I never thought of before. I go away from them feeling like I understand something new.

That, of course, is a lot to ask from a book! But it is an extra something that, for me, can lift a good book to the level of greatness.


Jacqueline Barbour
16 years ago

I think the book that has lingered longest with me has to be Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. It was just a beautiful, magical book.

It took me a long time to get over Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, too. I think that one stuck with me more because the premise was so interesting than anything else. And I can’t help hoping she’ll write a sequel that stars the daughter, just so we can see how SHE navigates the world as a time traveler (hopefully better than her father did).

Elena Greene
16 years ago

When I’m writing, I try not to consciously think about how readers will react, including whether my story will linger with them. There are just too many different sorts of readers out there; trying to figure out how best to please them can be crazy-making. Once a book is published, of course I hope it will linger in readers’ minds.

As a reader, the books that linger are those with characters I’d love to meet, that I wish were real. Well, they are real in a way. A secondary benefit is when the setting is a place I’d like to go. Regency England and Middle Earth both do it for me!


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