I’m on a committee (actually I’m on MANY committees, but we’ll just focus on one right now) charged with selecting a novel for next year’s community “read” program. Over the years, our little committee (comprised of community members and pubic library employees and, well, me) has developed a list of criteria including the following:
- story (aka plot)
- literary quality
- programming possibilities (basically, the author must be alive and lively)
- and, for this year, lighthearted is an additional criteria
Of course, as all of us familiar with assessment know, we still need to define these terms, but it’s a start.
Since our last year’s selection was considered a bit too “literary” and not quite as “approachable” for many of our community members who engage the most with our community-read events, we have decided to put a little more weight on that criteria for next year’s selection.
Unfortunately, I’m the “literary quality” person in the group, and though I certainly appreciate “approachability” as a criteria, particularly when choosing books for my classes, I fear that I naturally am suspicious of, nay bored by, novels that are “too” approachable.
But I’m working on that. My food fiction class one of the first contemporary novel classes I’ve taught, including books that some of my colleagues dismissed as too “light” (I assume they were referring to Like Water for Chocolate, though who knows). And next year I plan to offer an autobiography course that includes contemporary autobiography as well as bloggy life writing.
But I’m failing miserable as a committee member coming up with novels by living authors (who are affordable) that are “approachable”—a bit more lighthearted than our previous selections (which included The Kite Runner–about 6 months before the book became a best seller).
I just finished one possibility: Jonathan Coe’s The Rain Before It Falls–yet, although it is certainly an easy read, and even meets the literary criteria because of his Virginia Woolfian style and tone, it’s not exactly a “lighthearted” read (I do recommend it, however: the frame story is a bore, but the main storyline is told by a woman who is just about to die. She records her life’s story on six casette tapes, but the best part is that her story is focused on 20 photographs–she is telling the story to a blind girl so she describes each photograph in detail and each represents a moment in her own life, and ultimately in the blind girl’s life.)
I’m also in the midst of Gil Adamson’s The Outlander, a juicy 1903 story of a young woman who kills her husband (I don’t know why yet, though I can guess) and runs west, chased by her two red-headed brother in laws. Along the way she meets a various cast of odd characters, and falls in love with one of them. I see great movie potential with this work, and it just might meet the criteria of “approachability” as well as the unspoken criteria of “lighthearted” and even “literary quality” considering the cover blurbs by Michael Ondaajte , Ann Patchett, and Jim Harrison. But I’m not done yet, and I can’t quite tell how it will end.
Another possibility is The Art of Racing in the Rain, a book I wrote about here. It’s a fun, accessible book, also (narrated by a dog), but maybe a little too “lighthearted” (despite the impending death of the dog, and at least one other death).
So, does anyone have any other recommendations of novels that are approachable, while still well written? Lighthearted, but not innane? Written by a living author, who won’t charge us an arm and a leg to come to our town and who is lively, to boot?