Looking For A Storybook Story

"I Love Books" by Weeping Willow (flickr)

Disclaimer: This post is going to read like a rant because that’s exactly what it is. I mean it without pretention or conceit, but purely out of frustration. There are beautiful, quality books out there, and I’m so very eager to read them.

For the past few months, every time I walk into Barnes and Noble hoping to find the Next Great Read, I walk out feeling dejected and a little bit pissed off. There are thousands upon thousands of books on those hardwood shelves — wonderful authors with original visions and poetry in their words, a book just waiting to be devoured, and me, searching eagerly, waiting to immerse myself in that other world, the world of story.

Only, I can’t seem to find it.

In the past, I would walk into a B&N hesitantly, knowing that I would walk out with an armload of books and a lot less cash in my pocket. Now, however, my arms are empty, my bank account intact.

Today, I picked up book after book, intrigued by the title or cover art, only to read the copy on the back of the book and return it to its rightful spot on the shelf. Sometimes, the copy did leave me intrigued, and I paused in my search to open the cover and read the first few paragraphs. And frustration would rise in me again. I would give it a second chance, flipping through the rest of the book, skimming lines here or there, hoping that maybe, just maybe, there would be some word or phrase to catch my attention, something that would make me reconsider, something that would tell me that it would only get better. But then I would return it, too, back to its place and continue on.

Dan Brown copycats, sex and shopping confessionals, Mr. Darcy sagas, historical fiction galore. These are the books that line the shelves, tempting their customers with tantalizing titles and appealing covers. I was once in that grouping; I used to savor every book I could get my hands on, but now I feel like every book has been read, that nothing is new, that the book I’ve been waiting for just doesn’t exist.

And the thought is disappointing, and, admittedly, a bit melodramatic. Still, though, I had never met a book I didn’t like before, so this frustration and despondency feels a bit unnerving, if not somewhat blasphemous. And I can’t help but wonder at the cause.

Once upon a time, I would have been perfectly content to curl up in bed, letting time and the outside world slip away from me as I delved into an imaginary world and met thrilling and heroic, if not somewhat neurotic, characters. But now, I feel as if I consume information too fast to let my mind rest, to settle, to find satisfaction with the length and buildup of a novel. I read dozens of blog posts a day, engage in conversation almost hourly via twitter, catch up on the news with the simple action of a few clicks that allow me to peruse headlines and skim articles. I can’t turn off, and, what’s more, I feel I can’t settle on a quality book that allows me to do just that.

I’ll be the first to recognize that I have high expectations for the books that I read. I was an English major in college, spending most of my time analyzing text and writing critical essays, so it’s quite possible that I apply that same standard to all of the books that I read. However, I’m also a writer/editor, so I can be hyper-critical as I seek out originality and good, quality writing. I’m aware of these flaws in myself, in choosing books, and while I relish the historical fiction and Jane Austen-esque saga on occasion, the topics seem to have grown stale for me. I’m seeking something more: I want The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I want to fall in love with a book, to remember how I felt when reading it, to feel satisfied when my world comes back into focus and I finally set it down.

I walked down the aisle, passing my favorites and looking longingly at their covers: 100 Years of Solitude, Dubliners, Frankenstein, Water for Elephants, Stardust, Lamb…These were the books I wanted to read, those familiar friends that line the walls of my bookshelf at home, the ones that I can read time and time again and still forget the world around me as I am overcome by imagery and prose. The ones that affect me, that make me cry and make me laugh and make me wonder. These, among many others, are my Great Reads. When I walk into a bookstore, this is what I’m searching for.

As I wandered the aisles in the bookstore today, hope sprung as I picked up a book, disappointment grew as I set it back down, but not all seemed lost. For the first time in months, I came home with two books in hand: one, a Da Vinci Code copycat. The other, a sex and shopping confessional.

Keep that in mind when I say that recommendations are so very, very welcome.

Update: Thanks to everyone on Twitter for all of the wonderful book recommendations! With your recs, I’m creating a list that could warm any cynical reader’s soul. What other favorites do you have?

5 thoughts on “Looking For A Storybook Story”

  1. Susan,
    Here are a couple of my favorite titles; hopefully you’ll like them too :).
    Anything by Paul Auster–especially New York Trilogy
    Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith (give it a chance–everyone who’s read it loved it).
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Hopefully those will help–and let me know if you read them!

    Anna — I had completely forgotten about Paul Auster, though I remember you mentioning him once before. I’m very excited to go check him out (and am crossing my fingers that you’ve introduced me to a new favorite!) I’ve put your other two suggestions on my to-read list as well…Thanks again for your input! Best wishes, Susan

  2. Hi, I wandered from Tania’s blog to yours and I am not sure if you have read any Indian authors, so probably you could try your luck with these –
    1. The Mammaries of the Welfare State – Upamanyu Chatterjee ( A caveat – this is a book that lies heavily on Indian bureaucracy and civil service for the story so, you might have some trouble in getting the nuances/humour. Anyways, I still feel one should try it out)
    2. Salt and Sawdust – R.K. Narayan ( You probably have tried it)

    Do let me know if you read them. Have fun.

    Bee Bee: Thanks for reading, and thanks for the suggestions! Although I haven’t read the books you’ve suggested, I’m always intrigued by other cultures and can’t wait to give these a try. I especially love that these suggestions seem so different from the mainstream lit I had been finding. Looking forward to reading; thanks again! Best, Susan

  3. Amen, sister. I feel the exact same way. B&N disappoints me more often than not. I usually buy books that seem mildly intriguing and give them a good 100 pages chance before I write them off as a waste.

    Sarah: That’s been my problem; I feel like, presently, at least, I have little patience for books. I’ve gotten some fantastic suggestions, which makes me so excited to sit down and read again. Hopefully, I’ll be back to reading everything and anything I can get my hands on 😉 – Susan

  4. Two words for you lady: public library. Go there. Save your coin. Talk to the librarians. They really do know stuff. Your friend, BenjaminBunny

    BenjaminBunny – Touche! I rather enjoy the atmosphere of my local Barnes and Noble, and I have to admit, I like filling my shelves with great books, but the library is always, always a special place, and the best place to find new and exciting books. Thanks! – Susan

  5. Only one book recommendation I was ever given blew my mind away: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I think you will find it inspiring.

    Mathieu – Thanks to your recommendation awhile back, I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. I love how she manages to blend a story with philosophy and universal questions. I can’t wait to delve further into it. Thanks! Always, Susan

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