Happiness is Rich Story

I can categorize my reading into roughly three types: wallbangers/DNFs, pleasant one-offs, and re-reads. I know why the first category happens, but it just this week occurred to me to wonder why there two other categories. If I finish a book, doesn’t that mean it was good? Isn’t that enough?

(Note: I am not one of those readers who feels obligated to finish a story. If the author wanted me to finish, they shouldn’t have betrayed/bored/infuriated me early on.)

Because those books I finished obviously all had good characters, good world building, good plots, or I’d have DNFed them. So of course character development matters, of course world building matters, of course pacing and plotting matter, but a book can have all of those and I still don’t re-read. In trying to track this down, I’ve been re-reading some of my multi-multi rereads (at least a dozen times or more) and I think the difference is richness. Richness of character, world, and plot, yes, but also a depth and originality that draws me back again and again. Stories written with heavy cream and peppercorns, layers of flavor and texture. I’m thinking of Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, Martha Wells’ Murderbots, Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, all stories with characters whose motivations are not assumed (not “she got dumped once so of course she’ll never love again”), worlds whose settings are not standard even when they’re a McDonalds and communities full of people with their own complex lives and motivations, and plot that take left turns that surprise even though later you realize those things were inevitable. And then beyond that, new in a way that enthralls me, layered in a way that makes each re-read a new read, and that ineffable something that keeps me from putting the book down and thinking about it long after I’m done.

Okay, those are all tough acts to pull off, especially all at once in a single story, but they all come together, you get story on steroids, story that stays with you a long time, story that demands that you come back and make that journey again.

So what made me happy this week, beside glorious weather and lush greenery all around me and a physical that led to my doctor saying, “You are in excellent health,” was rereading rich stories, and then thinking about them, trying to figure out how the authors achieved that richness. Because that’s the kind of story I want to write. (Set the bar high, Jenny.)

Enough about me. What made you happy this week?

29 thoughts on “Happiness is Rich Story

  1. You have already succeeded. 😊 I have reread ‘Bet Me’, ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Agnes and the Hitman’, and ‘The Cinderella Deal’ over and over and over again. Each is a true pleasure every time, and I turn to them when I need comfort, or just a sure thing. I actually read all of your books repeatedly, but those are my main go-tos. Thank you (and Bob) for writing them. 💜💜💜

  2. I have a fourth category, which is intense one-offs. These are books that made a big impression, that stick with me long afterwards, but that I’m not likely to reread. They definitely have a lot of richness or were thought-provoking, but for a reread I’m often looking for an old friend and they may not have that feeling. I’m thinking of books like The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, and Elevation by Stephen King, for example. Other people’s intense one-off books will be different.

    1. There are books that I’d highly recommend to others that I wouldn’t want to re-read. All the good stuff of character, world, plot but too heart wrenching, or scary in a too close to life way. The kind of thing where the better the writing, the more intense my reaction. Stephen King is far to good a writer for me to ever read again. I don’t even watch video that’s based on something he wrote.

      Re reading is, for me, often a self comforting action so I go back to books that lift my spirits or give me a world I might want to live in.

    2. Yes, this exactly. So glad I read it, never want to read it again. Pet Sematary by Stephen King was one of those for me. Felt I learned valuable life lesson without having to do the personal suffering, but ….. nope, never going back there!

  3. This week’s joys:
    1) My college-age daughter struggling less. (thank you all for your good vibes a few weeks ago).
    2) Seeing friends at their beach house and getting to drive the boat.
    3) A five star review on my first contemporary romance. 🙂

  4. Yes. I like the term “richness.” That is one reason I like to own books, the paper kind. Their physical presence is part of my memory of the story and its characters. I agree with Sue M., too. A story I did not like at all keeps coming back to me: The Garden of Evening Mists. It’s going to annoy me until I figure out something about it or about myself that needs to be resolved.

    I guess I’m saying that some stories are life long friends, others are provoking, and others stand as This Book Had To Be Written (Bet Me, Curse of Chalion, and Pride and Prejudice are 3 examples). (In music, I can’t believe that Let Me Entertain You from Sondheim’s Gypsy was written as recently as 1959; it seems 100s of years old, an archetype.)

  5. As one who is going through the hundreds of real paper books, deciding what to give away, keep, toss. That last one is OMG I’m throwing out a book. Only a very few, but, still.
    I skip to the end of DNFs and toss or delete. So disappointing if it started off with such promise.

  6. Actual happiness example: I got to go back to the Renaissance Faire yesterday, and got dressed up, and got a lot of stuff, and other than mask wearing it felt “back to normal” (outside, anyway).

    I also found another show to audition for next week, which would let me still do karaoke 🙂 I talked a friend of mine into also auditioning, so we’ll see.

    Regarding the books: I think for me it’s memorability. When I’m writing book reviews on my blog, three stars is usually the “this was pleasant enough, but I’m not really going to remember this book later.” I feel like a lot of books coming out these days are “pleasant” but don’t have much plot going on, the characters don’t really stand out, etc. I don’t think I want to read too many books that are too similar to people going about their boring real lives, “sweet” romances where there’s not much conflict (I’ve gone on here before about how Sarina Bowen used to do some awesome romances with big life conflicts, and now everything is pleasant and chill and all about the food in Vermont) and I just don’t care that much.

    I feel like a lot of the BookBub book discounts are of the “sweet” variety. I’ve bought a lot of them and then don’t finish them. Or get very far with them. Yesterday while I was standing in line for food for a half hour, I finished the book I liked reading. I tried another book I’d gotten from the library and disliked it so much I quit reading it. Then I started digging through my ebook pile on my phone, and man, there are just too many “sweet” romances in there I just don’t care about reading! Boring boring boring! If I’d picked them up in a store and flipped through it, I would have put them back.

    Give me the dramatic conflicts and snark of oh, Red White and Royal Blue any day, thanks. More like that, please.

    1. I had the same reaction to Bowen. I thought the first two hockey romance were really good, the one about disabilities and then the one about secrets, but the Vermont books just didn’t have the edge the others had. No, edge isn’t right, because the hockey books weren’t edgy; I think it’s depth, the idea that these people had real physical problems that they had to navigate not only on their own but with each other.

      1. Her first three books also are good that way—particularly the first two, Coming in from the cold and Falling from the sky. And The Accidentals is wonderful. But the new books mostly don’t work for me . And she’s done this weird marketing thing of getting lots of people to write one book each in her world. I don’t understand how she can even do that emotionally.

  7. Yay for the doctor’s encouraging words!
    Today I’m happy for last night’s homemade-pizza-dinner date with a pair of our oldest friends, who I hadn’t seen in the flesh since, oh, February 2020?
    And for a morning lazily watching RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 with the husband (three episodes plus an episode of ‘Untucked’).

    Re: books, I’d agree on what makes for a book I’ll re-read, though I think my bar may be set a bit lower. 🙂 I’m easily entertained, and I like the restful quality of a re-read, i.e. I know what happens, I’m just here to be reminded and to have my mind taken off real life. Occasionally, with authors I truly admire *as writers* – people I consider to have real craft that I can learn from – I’ll re-read intentionally with ‘how did ze do that’ running as a subroutine.

    With romance, so much of the appeal is the familiarity. Plus the guaranteed happy ending. If something about the setting or characters is particularly appealing, I may re-read even if nothing about the plot is especially inventive. I do tend to like the slice of life story (what I usually write) more than the Major Problem To Be Solved kind of story. Maybe because a lot of those Major Problems are so artificial if you imagine those people in actual real life. Most of the successful couples I know have had no Major Problems – they simply had the usual kind of obstacles, typically revolving around jobs or money or a health challenge or inter-familial conflicts. They aren’t Big Secrets or Big Lies or Big Misunderstandings Because Stupid Assumptions. Even if I like a book, the wrong Major Problem can knock it down from ‘four-star would-reread’ to ‘three-star once-and-done.’ (I rarely rate anything 2 stars, would have to be seriously disappointed or enraged by it, and a DNF I don’t rate at all.)

    At the pace of nearly a book a day, if I didn’t re-read I’d go broke. 🙂

  8. I noticed a difference in tv series between the ones I’ll happily rewatch multiple times and the ones I’ll enjoy watching once but have no interest in watching again — it’s that I enjoy hanging out with the characters. (Yeah, kind of a duh moment.) For me, it was the difference between rewatching Leverage or Burn Notice (yes, infinite times, in order, out of order, the whole thing, just one, whatever) and rewatching Elementary. I just didn’t really LIKE any of the characters on Elementary (they’re fascinating, but I didn’t LIKE them particularly) — once I knew whodunnit, what tricky explanation there was for solving the murder, I had no interest in going back and hanging out with them.

    Of course, that’s very subjective — I know there are big Elementary fans here, who presumably did like the characters — but it reminded me that creating a community of people I like (and hope readers will too) is one of the reasons why I feel at home in writing cozy mysteries. I’d been considering whether I wanted to try a different, darker genre, and ultimately decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do, because I didn’t want to hang out with too many fictional people I dislike without the leavening of a core community that I do like.

    Oh, and for rereading books, since I’m doing a lot of it via audio, so much of it depends on the narrator. I think I’d enjoy rereading the Imperial Radtch series, but I really loathed the narrator of the first audiobook, and gave up after about two pages.

  9. Today I’m happy after a satisfactory conference this afternoon about THE LARAN GAMBIT — everyone’s extremely happy with the progress, and the editor’s input is thought to be especially helpful (and she volunteered to edit the next one, too). Her input is felt to have added depth to the current revision and definitely made it a much better book. We have someone who’s about to start in on layout who actually has a Master’s in the subject. We have the name of a publicist, which is really satisfactory as this is something that Big Publishers do on a scale that a small trust is unlikely to be able to match.

    We also had a communication from someone who wants to use an earlier work, M/M, to create two-person video clips which he’d love to share with us and also post on his YouTube channel which has just under 500 followers. My cousin and I have the same reaction to this — refer it directly to the literary agent, and No, we do not want to watch, thank you. She gets squicked easily and while I don’t get squicked quite so easily, I do turn into a Mad Critic, having dealt with a lot of people over the last few decades who are sure that because they’re Intense Fans, they should be the ones to do a screen version of one or another of the books, despite having no experience and no budget.

    1. As Cas (Mischa Collins) said at a Supernatural Convention”No do not tweet me the fan art” Some super fans have no boundaries

      1. Oh, that is so true! Is it just some authors who attract no-bounds fans, or perhaps some genres, or does it mean you’ve Arrived?

        1. I think it all really depends on the fans, there are fans ships of all sorts of unsuitable characters, which their creators would never let happen as it would be a betrayal of the story. “But they’re mortal enemies and they want to slaughter each other in cold blood” Doesn’t seem to stop the fans, because they can find a moment when the characters mutually respected each others skill in trying to kill each other. Still having it happens probably means you are writing some compelling characters

          1. I think that’s it. (I’m just the trustee, however; I am not writing fiction — I just claim that decades of work on engineering standards ruined any ability in that line I ever had, which probably wasn’t much to begin with.)

  10. On re-reads vs. one-offs, I’ve been noticing that one of the factors that makes a difference to me in wanting to go back to a book (or series of books) is the author’s use of a change of location that comes with a change of characters and understanding on an MC’s part.

    Like, if Pride and Prejudice had focused on Jane instead of Elizabeth, using only the settings in which Jane met, fell in love, and ended up HEA with Mr. Bingley, you would have 1) balls and parties around Longbourn in which the two dance and admire the other’s looks & demeanor; 2) Netherfield Park, at which Jane is ill and Bingley is nice to her; and Longbourn itself, where they renew acquaintance and become engaged. The movement is not very far and the changes we see in the characters not based on learning more about the other’s environment(s) and character in different settings.

    Instead, Elizabeth & Darcy receive one impression each of the other at the opening ball; learn more at Netherfield Park in the banter and the contrast with others; see new things at the horrible aunt’s estate, including explanations in the letter that illuminate things that weren’t understood before; give background and new interactions at Pemberley that change Elizabeth’s feelings and confirm what was learned in the letter; and a return to Longbourn for Elizabeth as a kind of new person, joyous and miserable at the same time until a very unexpected series of things happen among Elizabeth & family, and Darcy/Bingley leading to the HEA moments for all.

    If the movement between places had been just a recap of the feelings and interaction patterns of the characters, with a little local color thrown in, it would have been a much less rich, much less fulfilling reading experience. Changes inside as well as outside make a real difference.

    Just my two cents, though — ymmv.

  11. There’s one other reason I might not want to reread, no matter how much I like the characters, etc. It’s if the ending is a bad one. For example, something horrible happens to a favorite character or a favorite character does something massively stupid and out of character or you get a Shakespearean tragedy when you were led to expect a HEA. There are so many ways in which books can fail to nail the dismount. It doesn’t just happen in books, it happens on tv too. And sometimes the ending just spoils everything that came before.

    1. I just read a really good book that has a bittersweet ending. It’s not a fail, it’s the right ending for the book and the writing was great all the way. But the damn thing broke my heart. The book is so good, but the ending hurts. Do I recommend it? I mean books that good are rare, but who needs more life ache right now?

      1. Agreed. You should recommend it anyway, but with disclaimers. I like most of your recommendations so the book you mention is very likely well worth reading for me. And I’ll read it. But I’ll definitely have to be in the right mood. If I’m looking for a comfort read or re-read, that won’t be the book. Comfort for me, re-read for me, needs a happy ending. But that’s just me.

  12. I loved A Canticle for Leibowitz by Miller. I read it decades ago, think about it a couple of times a year but can’t bring myself to reread it. For me rereads are comfort, usually involving sentences that make me read them out loud and laugh. The plot is not only good but stuffed with little gems of joy that never get old.

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