Prose: What I’ve Been Reading
Believe me, I get that prose–without plot, without characters, without setting and dialogue–isn’t enough. I’ve read enough books and manuscripts where the words flow pretty darned well, but everything underneath those words is thin–right. No scaffolding, no story.
But…I am also a sucker for beautiful prose, for the phrase or sentence that just nails it, that makes you suck in your breath, reread it, and then read it again–out loud to whoever is in the room, whether they really want to listen or not. The prose that makes them realize they really did.
It’s been a couple of weeks of reading authors who can wield words with beauty, like Van Gogh with his sunflowers, like Thor with his hammer, like B.B. King with Lucille. Authors who, yes of course they have all the other elements down pat, but who draw you along with the power of that prose. You absorb the story and the characters through osmosis, but you breathe in the words like the sweetest, purest oxygen.
If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you’ve heard me rave about the authors I’ve been breathing recently, but I’ll mention them here again.
- Jandy Nelson. I remember really liking The Sky is Everywhere, so I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun. It knocked my socks off. Yes, story out the wazoo, but omg the beauty of the words, the way she mixes everybody’s special magic in with the less magic world they move through, the way they turn that world into magic for themselves and the reader. And two points of view, people…TWO.
- Jan Karon. On a recommendation from a Facebook friend, I started Karon’s At Home in Mitford. I loved it. Sort of like Barbara Pym, except somewhere in the South instead of England, and without the depression. Without any depression. I put Book 2, A Light in the Window on hold at the library, but only Book 2, because you know…sometimes that first perfect book and then the rest not so perfect. Let’s just say that 50 pages into A Light in the Window, I zipped over to my library website and added Books 3 and 4 to my hold list. The books read like a river, one you’re safely and slowly traveling down–in the warm sunshine and not a drop of seasickness, with a pitcher of lemonade and a pot of tea waiting for you somewhere along the way. Even when Winter comes, you’re on that river, bundled up a little more against the cold, but still traveling happily, knowing its just the season and it will roll along into Spring and Summer.
- Joshilyn Jackson. Years ago, I read Between, Georgia, which falls into that small bubble of books that may qualify as the single best book I’ve ever read. I’ve loved every one of Jackson’s books that I’ve read, but Between…it’s 17 stars out of 4. It goes on your must-read list NOW. And then pick up Someone Else’s Love Story, which I’ve been reading all morning and which is looking to be Jackson’s best one since. Kind of like Jandy Nelson, except entirely different, Jackson uses her power over words to place her character’s perceptions on the page and make them real. Again, two points of view here, and amazing, amazing, amazing. Different words, different phrasing for each of them–one kind of musical and light even when the darkness curls up at the edges, and the other a boulder just starting to shift on the slope of a mountain…just threatening to roll and pick up steam or maybe settle back down again and stay solid. With a few tiny sun-sparkles off the quartz embedded in its surface.
There are dozens of other writers who get me with their words–Steve Kluger with My Most Excellent Year, Kristin Cashore with Bitterblue are a couple that come to mind quickly. How about you. Who makes you almost not care that their storytelling and characterization is wonderful, because you’re so happy just to lose yourself in the prose? Leave some more suggestions in the comments!
Beth Kephart, for one.
I think you will often find this skill in prose writers who are also, or started out as, poets.
Interesting. I hadn’t thought of that, Jenn. And thanks for the rec!