Why do we keep books after we read them? We liked the story and may want to read again someday? We liked the author's writing style? We liked the subject matter and want to keep as a reference? We liked the setting and mood? We liked the characters?


Rosemary Clement-Moore, a fine author of many YA novels and contributor to GENREALITY  blog, keeps books because she likes and/or can identify somehow with the characters...A good reason...and she says:

Keep it or kick it to the curb? Since I had surgery last week, I’ve been camped out in the guest room so I won’t have to climb the stairs. The guest room also happens to be the ‘library’ so I’ve been perusing my ‘keeper’ shelf while I’m recuperating.

There’s a trend to the books I keep. I mean, they look all over the map, but the unifying thing is character. A mystery can have an ingenious plot, a fantasy a rich alternate reality, but for me to love a book, I have to love the characters.

I just finished a book that I read in spite of really not warming to the main character early on. But the story problem was really interesting, and the world/magic system kind of cool, and I wanted to see where the author was going with it. It was a little like a mystery novel in that–sometimes with puzzlers, it’s the puzzle that draws you in. But the perennial mysteries have an interesting detective that elevate the work to immortality: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Sam Spade.

Anyway, I’m reading this book to see how the story problem plays out, and 50 pages from the end, the main character does something unutterably selfish–again–and I put down the book for a week and didn’t finish it until I was drugged up on post-op pain pills and thought, what the heck, I just want to see how it ends. But it was, at that point, and academic exercise.

Now, I’m not saying there was anything technically wrong with this book. But I couldn’t honestly enjoy what was right with it because by the end, there was not a single character that I liked. The only reason I was rooting for them was because I didn’t want the world to end and a lot of innocent people to die.

It occurs to me that I talk a lot here about characterization, and how to get the reader to root for your character.  Give them something vital at stake, justify they’re idiotic actions… But I guess it’s just that so much of a story’s emotional impact is tied up in my liking the characters. Even if they’re not likable, give me some point of connection.

Not every detective is going to be Sherlock Holmes, and not every fantasy swashbuckler will be Miles Vorkosigan.  But, you know, they should at least do something, at some point in the book, that makes me know they actually care about someone’s problems other than their own. They need to, at some point, “save the cat”… and not just because the cat keeps the mice out of their house.

I’m curious– What books are on your “keeper” shelf because of the characters? Do you have any on there strictly because of the plot, even though you didn’t care for the characters carrying on the action?