Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Two Best Books

So, given what we've been talking about this week, I'm curious:

What book have you read that displays the best writing technique?

What book have you read that displays the most emotion?

For me, the best technique can be found in Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I haven't read the entire novel, but I've read the first volume of it, and Proust just blows me away by how many new things he invents and executes well. His characters are all strong. His details are all deep. He captures a time and teaches me about very well.

The book with the most emotion for me is probably Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (although Foer's Everything is Illuminated is a close second). As I write this, I realize that the reason these books were so moving probably has a lot to do with my own personal situation when I was reading these books. So maybe for me the emotional connection is much more fluid.


  1. If we're looking not at classics but contemporary-ish writers, I've got to say that one of my favorite writing stylists is Tim O'Brien. I was totally blown away by "The Things They Carried" and how he took something that could have been really boring but wrote it in a way that had me spellbound. Amazing!

  2. I'll place THE ROAD in both categories. McCarthy's technique is a style of its own, immediately recognizable and unable to be duplicated without blatantly ripping it off. That is a crowning achievement, in my book.

    The emotional impact of the book definitely comes from my personal connection. I have a 9-year old son, and can't help but place myself and him in the context of the story as I read it.

  3. KM, Tim O'Brien is an excellent writer, I agree. I keep meaning to read that book again. It's right at eye level on my shelf, so I see it often!

    Rick, I agree, The Road is very emotional to me too, even though I'm not a father. Have you ever read any Faulkner? Light In August?

  4. Janet Fitch, White Oleander and most all of Wally Lambs works.

  5. Technique: I look for a good story simply told. I'd put Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" here, for the fine way he plays with the plot's timeline and for his ability to say so very much in so few but precise words.

    Emotion: Tove Jansson's book written for children, "Moominvalley in November" for its fantastical and moody evocation of the coming of Winter.

    -Alexandra MacKenzie

  6. Hm, "best" is tricky. I can't narrow it down to only two books. But I'll try.

    Technique: James Joyce's Ulysses, because it's got everything in it. It's a textbook on Modernism despite itself.

    Emotion: The most recent book that really got me--where the author was successful in making me feel--was Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. In every story there came a point where all the air seemed to be sucked out of the atmosphere. A Farewell to Arms does that pretty well, too, and Hemingway also had some important ideas about prose.

  7. Tana, did I tell you I got to go to Janet Fitch's home? She met with a small group of writers to hear about what we were writing and to give us advice. I remember being scared to meet her because her book was so dark. She turned out to be one of the nicest people I've ever met.

    Alex, I remember being deeply inspired by Slaughterhouse Five for a long time. It took me many months to stop trying to write like Vonnegut.

    Scott, that's interesting that Olive Kittridge moved you so much. Did I already know that? I was glad to see that book on bestseller lists for so long. I keep telling myself to read Ulysses, but I never do. I'm intimidated by it, and I guess I shouldn't be.

  8. Lately, I would have to say that "The Tiger's Wife" displays the best technique.

  9. Sun Singer,
    I'm curious about that book. Kakutani wrote so highly about it. Here's a second recommendation!

  10. Big D: The thing about Ulysses and books like it is that they're presented as Big, Important, Difficult Novels when in fact they aren't difficult. Just read it for fun. It's a lot of fun, and no more "difficult" than Virginia Woolf or Proust.

  11. Scott, I think my mistake was choosing Finnegan's Wake as my first taste of Joyce.

  12. That'd do it. This summer I'll give Finnegans Wake another try. I got through the first 100 or so pages around Christmas; I'm not at all sure what sort of book it is.

  13. I agree with Rick. The Road was amazing in both respects. But the first books I thought of before reading the comments were Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness for technique and The Time Traveler's Wife for emotion.

  14. One book fits both:

    Emma Donoghue's ROOM


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