I just finished Veronica Roth’s stellar debut, Divergent, about a young girl who shocks her family and herself when she becomes part of a societal faction that emphasizes bravery and action above all other traits. The plot is a breakneck succession of twists, turns, thrills, reversals, and near misses. You don’t linger in this book; you plow through it breathlessly trying to reach the end. That’s not to say it doesn’t have an emotional arc or that it doesn’t have something serious to say about society—it absolutely has both. But reading it is kind of like white water rafting—you don’t experience it so much as crash wildly through it. You are constantly on your guard, pulse pounding as you wait for the next life-or-death decision, the next training sequence, the next dangerous person hovering around the corner. Like a rafting excursion, it’s exhilarating, unpredictable, and oh so entertaining. And when it’s over, you can’t quite remember how you reached the end, only that it was an amazing ride.
Then there are the slow meandering stories, full of languorous scenes that don’t seem to know where they’re going but move along so very prettily. This reading experience is more like tubing—you lean back and let your face feel the sun, dip your feet and hands in the water which feels like silk, study the river bank to see what kinds of trees are growing there, and look ahead for the little tumbles of water that will somehow manage to thrill. Sometimes it seems as though you’re not moving forward at all or that nothing’s really happening, and yet the whole experience is so pleasurable you don’t really care. Think Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells or Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. These books lull and seduce us to the end, whispering, we’ll get there when we get there; just enjoy the ride.
As a reader, I thoroughly enjoy both kinds of books, bouncing back and forth between the two as my mood and schedule dictate. The first kind of book lasts only a night. A wild, passionate one-night stand. The second kind I like to make last, spreading it out over a week or more so I can linger in its world. A long, beautiful picnic of a date that ends with moonlit kisses and secrets divulged under the stars. As a writer, I’m constantly trying to figure out what kind of books I want to write. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be an either-or; perhaps I can write the same way I read, seeking out adventure and danger in scenes as brisk and intoxicating as the river rapids, then retreating to the comfort of passages as slow and sultry as a summer afternoon.
In your book choices, are you a thrill-seeker or a basker? Any great reading suggestions for either?