It’s been a while since I’ve lost myself in a book, ingested the writing style, and finished with the proud feeling of ‘this is what writing is all about’. Over the summer, I read three books that I fell in love with for the writing styles, the stories, and characters. Fiction writing isn’t as easy as most assume. One must understand language, create a plot and setting where the reader can join in the journey, and flawed characters that you either fall in love with or hate. In my opinion, these books achieved and went beyond the fundamentals of writing fiction.
First Recommendation (Literary Fiction)
The first book I read was The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Now this woman knows how to write. Mermaids, tarot card reader, contortionist, a mute, and many other odd characters spun into a magical story. First line: “Perched on the bluff’s edge, the house is in danger.”
About: The Book of Speculation is about a young man, Simon, who is lost to a past. His parents died and his sister, Enola, is on her own destructive journey. Simon struggles with the guilt of not being able to save his childhood home on Long Island Sound. His job is teetering on non-existent. One day he receives an old book from Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry & Son; sent because he cannot sell it due to damage, and thought the family of Verona Bonn could use it. The book turns out to be a journal of Hermelius Peabody, the head of a carnival. While researching the book, Simon learns about his history and the fate of the women in his family.
Writing: I loved Swyler’s writing style—distinct, avoiding the regular verbs and comparisons. I’d like to share a few sentences that I highlighted. These are surreal descriptions. A reader can feel the emotion from the first one, and visualize the others.
- Paperback, page 14
- Paperback, page 108
- Paperback, page 284
- Paperback, page 317
“Hunger, his enduring companion, was all that kept him certain that he lived.”
“She is frenzied motion, elbows flinging, hips shimmying, dancing and detonating.”
“The bald back of his head shone in the moonlight as the river coursed over it like a stone”
“The house is in silhouette, hanging off the cliff’s edge, tilting like an Irishman’s cap.”
But her style of writing wasn’t the only thing that captured my attention. Her story and characters were quirky, awkward, and weird, something you don’t find in many books. The past winds up colliding with the present, exploding secrets, bringing understanding and release to the characters so they could move on.
Second Recommendation (Young Adult)
My second book is Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. I’m not one for young adult books, but this one is an eye-catcher. It doesn’t have the immature feel or regular subject matter I often notice in young adult. Famous dead people, teenager, letter assignment weaves a story of loss and recovery. First line: “Dear Kurt Cobain, Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person.”
About: As the first line reveals, this is about a girl, Laurel, whose first assignment in a new school is to write a letter to a dead person. What was supposed to be a one-letter assignment, turns into a year of writing to dead people to help her overcome the loss of innocence, the death of her sister, and her mother moving away. Laurel speaks to the dead about her experiences, falling in love, grappling with her mother’s departure and her sister’s absence. In turn, her search into their lives answers some questions, and in the end, lets her forgive and heal.
Writing: Even though the story is told through a teenager, the style of writing is poignant. Of course, this might have affected me more than others since I recently lost my sister, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dellaira knows how to grasp a reader’s emotions. Here are a few descriptions I highlighted:
- Paperback, page 9
- Paperback, page 26
- Paperback, page 101
“You used your voice like glue to keep your family together.”
“Each word felt like its own stone, falling to the bottom of a lake.”
“…how there is something fragile like moths inside of him, something fluttering, Something trying desperately to crowd toward a light … Even if I am only Sky’s street lamp, I don’t mind. It’s enough to be what he moves toward.”
Dellaira delves into feelings as her character, Laurel, researches and tries to understand a famous dead person’s actions or words. It’s touching and therapeutic to know that others struggle with depression and hardships, and Laurel connects with the dead through her writings. The letters are her survival manual as she finally learns to stop blaming herself and begins to mend.
Third Recommendation (Literary Fiction / Humorous)
The third story is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I hadn’t even heard about this book when it was chosen by my book club. To date, not one of the book club choices heightened my love for words and writing. In fact, majority of the books we read were angry or depressing, so the opportunity to read something funny was refreshing. Books, baby, reading, infidelity, death, romance create this funny, eccentric story. First line: “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”
About: The title says it’s about the storied life of A.J. Fikry, but it’s so much more. A.J. Fikry owns a struggling bookstore on Alice Island. A lifelong curmudgeon, his misery increased after the loss of his wife. He lashes out at the community and publishers’ sales reps. Love of drink and little money, sarcastic A.J. has a priceless book stolen from him, and is given a small gift with ten fingers and toes. His interactions with Amelia, the new sales rep, and the baby girl left in his bookshop tilts his sorry world. A.J. acquires feelings for Amelia, a romantic, raises baby Mia, and soon finds that there is life beyond books.
Writing: Zevin has a way with humor. Her peculiar characters add zest to the story, and I found myself laughing aloud. Several secondary characters clash yet compliment A.J. Here are a few highlighted lines:
- Paperback, page 72
- Paperback, page 77
“…despite the fact that A.J. does not believe in God, he closes his eyes and thanks whomever, the higher power, with all his porcupine heart.”
“His breath smells like socks wet from snow.”
A.J. is not your typical bookworm. His pretentious, judgmental attitude doesn’t bode well with many. Recently losing his wife, thinking everyone is stupid, his circumstances are met with humor and hope. Behind A.J.’s disgruntled fits reveals a man with a big heart.
Reading and Engagement,