I haven't had any fake people tap me on the shoulder recently, which gives me an odd sense but also allows me time to juggle the other 1,001 things going on in my life. Round Robins are sort of my only source of literary release because otherwise I'm chipping away at being an art history research assistant (the type of writing and editing that really, really hurts your head but it super interesting), and working at the bookstore, so I always perk up when Rhobin sends us a new theme for the month:
Topic for July: What makes a novel memorable?
Duh, right? I mean, of course. But I have to point this out. I've read plots that are superdy-duper amazing, but the trope of the "I'm not like the other girls" girl who's borderline mean and don't need no man really turns me off. That's just one of a handful, for example. The characters carry the story. If they suck or irk you, no matter how five-star that plot it, you're going to drop it like a hot potato.
Take Sir Percy Blakeney ("Sink meh!" [oh, you've never seen the 1980 film with Anthony Andrews and Sir Ian McKellen, either?] It's okay, I only saw it two days ago and it's not as amazing as the book) from The Scarlet Pimpernel, for example. (What, say you? You've never read this? Get your hands on a copy, now, say I!) I really adored his character; and not just because Batman and 007 are apparently based off him. One, yes, he's this suave, golden-hearted Brit who dons ridiculous disguises to save aristocrats from the French Revolution. But two, he also plays himself off as an idiotic simpering fop, so much so that a French agent catches him at a rendezvous point for the Scarlet Pimpernel and doesn't suspect him for even half a millisecond. Also, his secret symbol/signature is a little red pimpernel (a wildflower, seen above).
Characters can catch me because
I relate to them (Lady Jane in My Lady Jane, Clay in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore)
I am afraid of them (Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel, that horrifying monk guy or any of the antagonists in The da Vinci Code series)
I want to be friends with them (Razo, Finn, Enna and Ani/Isi in the Books of Bayern series, literally everyone from Harry Potter)
or they're so cool I'm just really impressed with them (Magnus Bane in the Mortal Instruments books) etc., etc., etc.
I'm such a fan when plot twists surprise me; when the writing is so ingenious and imaginative that my eyes rush to follow along. I'm thinking of The Night Circus and its fetes of magical tents and experiences, or even Water for Elephants because, whoa, August was terrifying and I really wasn't sure how all that was going to end up. If I can tell what happens next, it gets kind of hard to finish the book. Complex story lines are also really exciting.
Did I snort, roll my eyes, or actually laugh out loud? Did I weep and my face get so puffy that my college room mate had to ask if I was alright? Did I get so nervous that I may or may not've skipped to the end of the chapter to see if the main character was okay--and then my heart jumped because they weren't? I don't think I've ever done all of these for any one novel, but eliciting a physical response out of someone looking at a piece of paper is always impressive.
Sometimes I simply moon over the writing style. I just started Everyone Brave is Forgiven and I got a little heady. Chris Cleave, the author, could be describing a bag of chips and I'd probably have to fight a swoon. The same with All the Light We Cannot See (hint: I'm a sucker for WWII books). I don't know why certain combinations of words have such a more profound effect on me than others. But when an author uses similes I've never dared dream of, or describes something so clearly that yes, I am in that London garret in 1939 holding that freshly cooked jar of jam while one of the characters says something I've always felt but never had articulated into words....I'm blindsided by the beauty of it.
Dr. Bob Rich