Some of my favorite things in books are little bits of flavor, and my #1 flavorful bit relates to housekeeping and mundane chores. In The Dollmaker, I really enjoy the scenes where Gertie goes to the creek for water, heats it on the stove, washes up, and makes breakfast.
In Mary Reilly, the main character is a housemaid. She scrubs flagstone floors, blacks the fireplace grate, and dusts the library. She looks at Dr. Jekyll’s messy laboratory and yearns to clean it up, and I’d love to watch her do it.
I realize that these kinds of actions are part of character building, but even when it’s not character building, I like reading about it. I’d rather watch a detective make coffee than catch the bad guy.
Anyone else have weird little bits from books that are unusually appealing?
I enjoy authors who play with time in creative ways, like Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy and Nicholson Baker in The Mezzanine. The former’s nine volumes, despite purporting to be the story of the title character’s life (and opinions), ends shortly after his birth. The latter’s events comprise (entirely) one man’s ride up an escalator from the ground floor to the mezzanine (or maybe it’s down, it’s been a while).
Describing precisely how to go about some task, especially a creative or unique or particularly clever one.
Frederick Forsyth does that very well. see day of bthe Jackal or The Dogs of War or many of his short stories, like The Careful Man. Rex Stout did it with many of the clever ruses in the Nero Wolfe books. And C.S. Forester did it with Horatio Hornblower’s seamanship in those novels, to the point where even a non-nautical type like me was interested.
In Jane Eyre, when plain Jane tidies up her hair and clothing so that it can “admit of no disarray”, and when she is teaching school towards the end of the book, living in a shabby little hut. She points out that things may be poor, but you can at least make them clean. I just love that.
I also dig the part where she is helping clean Mr. Rochester’s mansion for the arrival of the guests. For some reason, I like to read about cleaning. It doesn’t carry over into real life as much as you might think…
Thought of another for us clean freaks: Good Morning, Miss Dove, by Frances Gray Patton. There is tons of stuff about how Miss Dove makes cleanliness, quiet, and order out of chaos. Oh, and she’s punctual! I always idolized Miss Dove.
I simply read the topic of this thread and came in to mention the exact same thing. My favorite bits of David Eddings’ Belgariad series is when Garion, the powerful sorcerer-in-training soon-to-be-king boy destined to overthrow the corrupt god Torak in a climactic confrontation of good and evil, still has to scrub pots and help make dinner while being teased by his [great-great-great-great-great-] Aunt Pol and grandfather.
I love what I call ‘landmine sentences’ that deliver an unexpected BANG! in a short sentence amidst a much longer passage. They come in many types. They can be comedic-
In the novel Sex and Sunsets by Tim Sandlin there’s a novel in which the main character (here called MC because I can’t remember the name) is having a huge fight with his ex-girlfriend (EX) over something completely unrelated to the revelation:
And it resumes the argument with no more mention of the KFC incident.
Or just beautifully evocative, saying in a sentence what could be expressed less well in 500 words. Capote was a master of this. I’ve mentioned it before, but in Music of Chameleons Capote describes a black prostitute who solicits him in the French Quarter by quoting whatever she says and saying
Or shocking. One of my favorite historical fiction novels is called Indochine (not related to the Jacqueline Bissett movie and I believe long out of print) in which following a description of a woman (a Eurasian heiress in Saigon, mid 20th century) who has had a surprisingly enjoyable evening with her estranged husband comes the sentence
Again- BANG! The author could have described the rape, the events leading up to it, whether it was violent or involved a weapon or just physical force, etc., and while the aftermath is dealt with the rape itself (i.e. the details) never are other than she is sore and bruised (but not battered) and intent on revenge when she comes to the next day.
I don’t mean any of these to imply that my writing has to be concise and and written like a tour guide- quite the contrary. The art is knowing when to use a thousand words to describe something and where to plant a land mine.
I like novels with an ingenious and unusual structure, especially those that play with time, sequence or self-reference, and those that contain what might be called a structural surprise. Tristram Shandy, Catch-22 and Good As Gold all qualify.
I’m not sure how to put this but the personal lives of certain detectives. Well, just one really–Wexford. Normally I hate extraneous bits but in Ruth Rendell’s Wexford books, I just love his personal life–his wife Dora and his daughters, and his off topic conversations with Mike Burden. And all his literary allusions. Normally I’d find these dull and hope the writer got back on topic but never with her. Not sure this “counts” as such because it’s so specific but oh well!
One of the most memorable “character” bits I can remember reading is the bit in A Wrinkle In Time at the beginning where a storm wakes Meg up and she finds Charles Wallace downstairs waiting for her with cocoa and a sandwich.
It’s just this perfectly done “quiet” moment that really somehow captures the feel of being awake in a house when everyone else is asleep.
One of my favorite novels is Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat, and this is as much due to the eccentric qualities of the lead character as it is to Spark’s brilliant prose. This woman, Lise, is thoroughly unhinged, throwing fits about “stain-resistant” dresses, dirty glasses in hotels, and macrobiotic eaters, and Spark describes all this in a tone of such perfect sobriety and nonjudgmental reserve.
You might like Cloud Atlas, which is composed of six nested stories. You read the first half of the first story, then switch to the second, and so forth until you reach a complete story in the middle, then you start backing out again.
In all the detective stories I read, I’m more interested in the personal lives of the detectives than in the murder-of-the-week. I almost always read books in the order of publication, but with Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter mysteries I skipped over several books to get to the ones featuring Peter’s relationship with Harriet.
I admit I enjoy reading what the characters cook, or eat. Spenser (Robert E. Parker) was notorious for his cooking in the earlier novels. Elvis Cole (Robert Crais) does a bit of interesting cooking for Joe Pike and himself. Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine? Always interesting to read what people are eating in England these days.