I read like the proverbial kid in a candy store, and since Halloween candy has taken over much available freezer space in our house, candy, like good books, calls to me. Hmm, Snickers, Peanut M&Ms, Tootsie Roll? Nah, I’m full up on sugary stuff. But never full up on reading, never. So much to choose from and how to make those choices? Which to buy, which to borrow? My beloved local library and sale books determine this, but still, tasty books abound. What looks good lately?
Sweetest reads are those by authors with definite style, that hard to define quality that sets a writer apart as surely as the brand name on a candy wrapper. If it says dark Belgian chocolate, I’m in, deep. If a book cover says Laura Hillenbrand, same response. Her style grabs me every time. When I read Seabiscuit, I was in the saddle, in the race. And I know horses. I doubt that Ms. Hillenbrand has ridden in a horse race, but she got the details so right that the book is convincing. She’s done it again with Unbroken, the story of an Olympic runner who ended up as a Japanese prisoner of war. The author was not in that camp, not in the plane that went down in the Pacific or in the tiny life raft with sharks circling. But she puts us right there. So her style is to disappear herself and put the reader into the scene, whole hog, every imaginable detail.
Another non-fiction writer whose style is really sweet is Sam Kean. Mr. Kean writes about science, first in The Disappearing Spoon and then The Violinist’s Thumb. Notice first his tricky titles. Who could not pick these off the new book shelf in the library? Subtitles are vital. The first book is about the periodic table of elements and the second about the stories told by DNA. Dull? No! NO! Mr. Kean puts himself, his authorial persona, right in there with us, so this high-level science feels safe and mostly understandable. He educates us like a good friend telling anecdotes and explaining the difficult in everyday prose. I love it. Sweet. So style is a combination of ingredients–authorial presence, details, continuous narrative or anecdote, language and subject matter. There are other spicy bits in the recipe, but it seems to me that these are the main ingredients, like dark chocolate and almonds or coconut. Oops, did someone just open the freezer door? I’d better check. See ya later.