I will read pretty much anything. However, I do go through phases with my reading, like many people I know. I’ve had a sci-fi/fantasy phase, a historical fiction phase, and phases where I’ve had a marathon of reading all of the books a particular author has written or about a particular person, group, or period in history (during the historical fiction phase, most likely). But one thing that I’ve grown to really love and appreciate about any story is when it seems fresh (even if it’s an old classic; I mean any idea that’s new to me) or when it surprises me – for example, if a character does something I don’t expect, or an issue comes up that I didn’t even think about, or there’s a solution to a problem that I didn’t even know existed. Though I’m sure some people haven’t been caught by surprise with some things that I have been.
In Charlotte Howard’s Seven Dirty Words (and incidentally one of Rocking Horse Publishing’s books), the main character, Paige, seems fresh, not just any old character who I’ve met before, some clichéd boy-next-door or damsel in distress (though Paige does have her moments – not that I hold it against her, because everyone has their moments, even the strongest of people). I was also caught off guard by the choice she ends up making in the end.
Philippa Gregory surprised me with the way she depicted Anne Boleyn (for those of you who don’t know, Anne Boleyn was King Henry VIII’s second wife in a string of wives, thought first to be famously behead, and mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I) in The Other Boleyn Girl. And Robin Maxwell’s Anne Boleyn in The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn was completely different. It’s interesting how people’s perspectives and the way histories from various groups of people can be so different. Whether or not other people have been surprised doesn’t matter to me (though I hope people have been surprised by at least one story in the course of their lives, even if it’s by a movie or a TV show and not a book). It allowed me to experience different points of view and to read something unlike things I had read before.
Einstein’s Dreams revealed me different ways to think about time. Eoin Colfer’s The Wish List and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones presented new ways of looking at the afterlife. Author Jodi Picoult has presented some hot button topics in ways I had never thought of before and would never have crossed my mind had I not read some of her books.
Sometimes, when I talk with different people who see things in different ways, books I’ve read in the past or even books I’ve never read before seem new and fresh. When I took a course about banned books, I learned about some possibilities for the story of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I didn’t think even existed, even though I’d read the book before. I came to know about the irony of Fahrenheit 451 being itself banned from some school curriculums or various libraries. Some places had it available, but only a censored version (seriously, can you think of anything more ironic?).
It’s my personal opinion that one can always learn something from a book – any book. But isn’t it so much more enjoyable when that book goes above and beyond your expectations and surprises you? For all of you authors out there, I’d seriously consider thinking about striving towards this idea when you’re writing. For all of you readers out there, try to find stories that challenge you and surprise you! Those are the ones that will make you grow, those are the ones that will stay in your head long after you’ve finished – and, sometimes, they really are the most fun!