Last night at approximately 4:30 am (hey, it's a Saturday, that's allowed), I was having a deep discussion with two lawyers about books. The subject wandered from Michigan football (which is not my forte), to fine wines (also not my forte), to favorite novels. Lawyer Number One informed me that every work of fiction should include four ingredients:
1. Who Are We?
2. Who Are They?
3. What are we trying to do?
4. What are they trying to do to us?
Can you tell this person works in litigation? He talked quite a bit about this literary theory of his, which he developed while studying literature at Oxford. I still haven't figured out the relevance of that little tidbit, but he made sure I knew it. And that's fine. I'm okay with hearing people's resumes as long as I don't have to share mine.
His favorite book was Don Quixote. I am embarrassed to say I've never read that book. The other lawyer said Hermes, the comic. I've never read that either. He almost said Hemingway, which I found amusing because just the other night, a different friend told me that "anyone who likes Hemingway has a stick up his ass, and is therefore a moron." That person's favorite writer, by the way, is JayZ. To each his own.
I never revealed my favorite book to my lawyer friends, maybe because I didn't feel like arguing with an Oxford-educated litigator. I understand the merits of not caring what people think, but at 4:30 in the morning, I don't feel like defending myself. I feel like sleeping.
I did, however, mention my favorite contemporary author. For the record, they both liked Cormac McCarthy. Is there anyone who doesn't like Cormac McCarthy? I have no problem admitting I tried to read The Road, and I put that thing down. I can't handle the man's writing style. There, I said it.
Which brings me to the point of this post. My favorite books are all great stories. I love story. I crave story. If the story sucks, I stop turning the pages. I appreciate beautiful writing and masterful characters and deep themes and all that, but if the story isn't there, why bother? I have a notoriously short attention span. Entertain me. At the very least, I'll park my butt in a chair and finish the book.
I'm not saying a great story implies great writing, or even a great book. But when that connection is there, I'm sold. My favorite contemporary writer, for example, is Dennis Lehane, who keeps me turning the pages like a woman possessed. But even more than that (and this is where Lehane rises above the Grishams and the Browns), he writes beautifully. Here's a guy who specializes in commercial fiction, but he can write a paragraph about love or heartbreak or loss that sticks with me for weeks. Read Shutter Island. There's a passage in there about the tragedy of first love that just about killed me.
Of course this is my opinion, but I'm okay with the fact that I'm kind of low-brow when it comes to favorite books. I've read the classics, don't get me wrong. And I've loved many of them. But I'm a sucker for story, and if the book doesn't have that, you've lost me as a reader.