When I was a youngster, I fell in love with White Fang and The Call of the Wild. This was a flashlight-under-the-covers-after-lights-were-supposed-to-be-off type of love. It wasn’t a love of literature, but one of high adventure, intense suffering, mislaid justice, and victory by sheer grit. It was the ice and the snow, and honor, dignity, resolve, and inner strength, all in a place that I had never imagined. And it had dogs.
Jack London brought me a world I repeatedly fell headlong into, and I read both books several times.
Later, it was the Hardy Boys mysteries. Even when I knew the clues and the solutions to the mysteries, I read the books again and again.
In high school and early college, it was Tolkein. Such words! Such imagery! The scale of the Dwarf halls of the Lonely Mountain and the size of Minas Tirith were mind-boggling. I read the trilogy at least once a year for several years.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Old Man and the Boy (Robert Ruark) The Green Hills of Africa (Hemingway), Lonesome Dove (McMurtry), Treasure Island (Stevenson, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth), A Separate Peace (John Knowles), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle), and others. I read these books multiple times and they never grew old.
There are also movies that I watch on a regular basis, or at least every time they’re on TV – To Kill a Mockingbird (Gregory Peck), You’ve Got Mail (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan), One Dark Thirty (Jessica Chastain), Forest Gump (Tom Hanks), Alone in the Wilderness (Dick Proenneke), and others.
What is it that makes some stories, books, and movies so repeatedly enjoyable? Characters? Plot? Adventure, Mystery, Danger? Or is it the change in the characters, the sense of victory, the defeat of evil, or a change in the reader, perhaps? Perhaps they’re all echoes of the life I wish I had led.
I don’t know. I’m sure it’s a combination of things, including those classical story structures like the hero model and the character arc. Could it be poignancy? Could it just be the way that the words are put together?
Again, I don’t know.
I’m asking my blog readers: what is it about some stories, books, or movies that keep pulling you back in? Why are there favorite books versus books that are read once and then forgotten?
Feel free to respond; I’m interested in what people think.
I could say that, whatever it is, it’s what I strive to do in my books, but it wouldn’t be true. I’m working hard just to get my books read once.
On a personal note, this week included the death of the father of an intimate friend. It was not unexpected, but it was still a reminder of how fragile life is and how short a time we have each other. Be careful out there.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.