A Character Study
By Eve Cockrill
The genre of books that I read has changed drastically over time, but my reason for choosing the books that I read has not. In high school I was a huge Stephen King fan and defended his books to critical teachers and condescending friends. In retrospect, it wasn't the horrific or sci-fi nature of his writing that attracted me so much as the fact that King was the first author I had read that really seemed to portray his characters in a realistic fashion. His characters seemed like real people, so placing them in eccentric or unbelievable situations (such as fending off a cat of the living-dead or watching a psychotic clown rise out of a sink drain) really interested me at the time.
These days I'm still most fascinated by an author's portrayal of the characters in a book, more so than by action driven plot lines or suspenseful thrillers. I still enjoy an element of eccentricity in the novels that I read, but I usually find that within the characters rather than within the plot. When I use the word eccentric I'm referring to some element of a character that makes him or her different from the other characters- usually some type of outsider- and usually I prefer this to be expressed with an element of humor or sarcasm. Thus, some of my favorite books are memoirs or personal (often coming-of-age) stories in which the speaker casts a cynical eye upon those around him and/or himself. Thus, David Sedaris's humorous memoirs of his dysfunctional life, Plath's The Bell Jar, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, and John Irving's books are some of my favorites. In reading these types of books, I also lean towards southern authors such as Dorothy Allison, Jill McCorkle, and Brad Watson; being from South Carolina, I enjoy both the slow pace of the writing and the extremely descriptive nature of these authors. I'm not entirely certain why I prefer these books but there is definitely a pattern that I follow with my reading. I like to read a book and become engrossed in a character even more than the story; I feel that if a writer or character can look at themselves in a humorous, even self-deprecating manner, it produces a very honest style of writing and allows me to really connect with a book.
I rarely choose to read a book if I've never heard anything about the book itself or the author. I read a lot of books that are recommended to me by certain friends that share my taste in novels; however, once a book hits mania level and everyone is pushing me to read it, I no longer have any desire to read it. At that point I feel like I already know so much about the book, and everyone around me has already established that it's a great read; I'd rather go out and find a great book for myself that not many people have read yet. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've read several books because they were on Oprah's book list. Some of my favorite books have come from Oprah's book club, but at the same time the subject of many of her book club books is repetitive- I read one too many books about down-trodden housewives on Oprah's recommendation. Recently I've been choosing books that I've read about in various book reviews; this way, it's not a book that everyone I know has already read, but I have some reason to believe it will be entertaining.
I do most of my pleasure reading over the summer and Christmas break; I usually read a few books during the semester, but it's frustrating to try to read something for pleasure when I have so much reading to do for classes. I like to read in bed at night, after I feel like I've done a sufficient amount of schoolwork for the day; this way, I can let myself get into a book without any feelings of guilt. Ultimately, I always wind up reading a book that has quirky characters and an honest, humorous style of writing.
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