Sometimes you read a book so good, that when you start to write the review, you not only discuss the book but the very nature of literature and the act of reading itself. I finished a book today that I thought would be a pleasant ramble through a regency setting, a retelling of a beloved classic through the eyes of the servants. I expected what I knew, just from a slightly different angle. And what I got was so much more. (It was Longbourn by Jo Baker, which I will review, when I am finished having feels.)
I read really widely. I’ve enjoyed classics since I was in junior high, I have gone through phases where I felt every genre was my thing – classics, horror, murder and mayhem (or mysteries and thrillers), gothic romance (still my jam), regency romance (still my jam), fantasy (still VERY MUCH my jam), paranormal, steampunk, science fiction, etc. etc. And I’ve decided my jam is a little bit of everything. I also believe in reading your vegetables. For me, reading has always been like my other favorite thing – Eating! It’s food for the soul. And in feeding my soul, I will read a book because it has obtained some sort of literary merit, one that the mysterious, upper echelon who went to school and must be smarter than me have decided is “quality”. I want to see if I get out of it what they say I should.
When that happens (ie: the smart folks call it “quality”) for a made-up story (ie: fiction), it is generally something in the vague and broad spectrum called “literary fiction.” The argument between literary and genre and the question of quality has raged for decades. Occasionally, something tinged with fantasy can be taken seriously if it’s called “magical realism”, like Life of Pi, The Alchymist, etc. And that always frosts my butt. I have been moved by genre equally as often as by more literary stuff.
Now there are times when you enjoy that crunchy bit of literary lettuce, and it’s not just vitamins and minerals. It’s not just fueling the front part of your brain with adventure or excitement, a great plot twist or a swooning romance. It’s more than a salad or a piece of meat, it’s a meal that is perfectly cooked, paired with herbs or flavorings that bring out and enhance the flavors, and there’s what the foodies call “mouth feel” that increases the psychological pleasure you get from eating the meal. It’s not a meal that you order from your car. There are those books that are more than a story with plot and character that is just a bit of time, just a way to spend the afternoon – they are a vehicle that fuels your emotions and makes you think, teaches you something about yourself or others, or makes you question what you thought you knew. In this instance, I was reading a book that I thought would be a little regency romance below stairs, and what I got felt more like classic. It was such an amazing read, and as soon as I am over my book hangover, I will be attempting to write a cognizant review.
Until then, Happy reading, everyone!