Saturday, June 14, 2014

Searching for that "aah" experience

Reading has been my favorite hobby, recreation, and comfort in hard times since I dug into my first Nancy Drew novel somewhere around third grade. As I’ve gotten older, with more books rattling around in my brain, I’ve gotten more and more critical, though.  I live for that exquisite reading experience that makes me go “ahh” and then “drat” when I reach the end. “Ahh” because it’s been a great ride and “drat” because I don’t want it to end.

The older I get the fewer of those “ahh” books I find. It’s certainly not that there aren’t as many books being published these days. There probably still just as many great ones coming out. Maybe I’ve already skimmed the cream of what’s available. But I think it’s mostly that I’ve gotten more critical. I’ve read so much, it takes something really special these days to hook me and plunge me into its world.

Which isn’t to say it doesn’t still happen. And when it does, it’s something to celebrate.

That led me to think about what it is in a book that gives me that feeling of delight and satisfaction. I read across a broad array of genres and types of fiction. I enjoy mysteries, adventure, romance, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and mainstream fiction. I’ve found “ahh” books in all of them at one time or another.

Enjoyment is a very personal thing and can vary wildly for individuals. I’ve read books that have gotten raves from others and ended up thinking, “What’s the fuss all about?” And there are some books I just love, while others go “Huh?” I think I’ve got it narrowed down to three things that work together to make it a great ride for me.

So what does make an “ahh” experience?  I’ve got a few thoughts about it.

First, a book that really grabs me will have fascinating characters.  Some authors whose books draw me in for that reason are Sarah Addison Allen, Barbara Michaels, and Jim Butcher.  They create interesting, well-drawn, vivid characters.  People who suck you into their lives. Characters you just can’t help but want to know more about. Many authors can do good characters. Not as many do really great characters.

I also want a setting and world that is fascinating, consistent and well thought-out.  A world complexly and vividly drawn enough to feel real, no matter how far it moves from reality. The best example I know of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s in The Lord of the Rings (and his other books).  Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books also do a great job of bending our world in ways that are creative and fascinating but with enough depth to feel real.

And I like a fast-moving, well-thought-out, coherent plot. A story with a few surprises along the way, a twist or two that I didn’t see coming, and ultimately a wrap-up that has me going, “of course” even though I didn’t see how it was going to happen.

But ultimately there’s a certain intangible factor to an “ahh” book.  It includes all of the above factors, but something more as well.  I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that a book “resonates” with me.  I wish I had a handle on what it was, so I could include it in my own books!

What are your “aah” books?


  1. My "ahh" books? It's hard to pick. Right now I'm reading a Ruth Rendell that I've read before and enjoying it even more the second time around. She sketches her characters so deftly, I'm picking up a lot of things I missed the first time because she also creates suspense so well that I read it as fast as I could turn the pages. I also love Pearl Buck and Wm. Faulkner, though I admit Faulkner is a tough read. Nice post. Love thinking about the books I love and why I love them.

  2. It's an interesting thought. My book group just read a travel book which I loathed. For me it was pretentious and overwritten by a man who I bet was a crashing bore at dinner parties he'd be so intent on displaying his vast knowledge of art and literature. He epitomised the writer who thinks 'why use one word when I can use ten?' One other person agreed with me but everyone else loved it. For them it was definitely an ''aah'' book.

    Like Sandy, I don't think I can define my 'aah' books. I like deft character sketches, witty dialogue and a strong plot but not necessarily fast paced writing. I like to step into a character's world and live their life with them but it has to be a life and world I'm interested in. I read pretty much all genres and styles but I do like historicals, mysteries, thrillers and romance with the occasional heavy duty literary story for contrast.

    I've just finished my marathon "12 big ''Aah" books " Dance To The Music Of Time by Anthony Powell reread, interspersed with The Rosie Project and will now start on a Lindsay Davis Ancient Rome Didius Falco mystery to read on the flight to Italy.

  3. Sometimes I feel that I have more aargh books than aah, but I agree with you about The Gift of the Magi. I've just started to read my mother's favorite book, Mama's Bank Account and that will be one of my aahs. Two of my mega-aah books are Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, another is Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Modern: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Accident Tourist by Anne Tyler. Annie Proulx's The SHipping News also.

    Elizabeth describes so many of my aargh books. I could name two that were recommended to me or big 'book club' choices - both of which I returned to the bookshelf. One made me so angry I stop reading on page 39; the other was so depressing and so badly written, I gave up trying to like it though I got further than page 39.

  4. Hi Karen--
    I have too many great authors to read and my TBR list is about to tilt over. Some of those authors who never disappoint are Jane Porter, Leigh Michaels, Michael Crichton (so sorry he left us too soon), Jane Austen, and a few of the Classic & Cozy authors.

  5. Great post, Karen!
    Some books just speak to you...much as Elisabeth described. Isn't it interesting that the same author doesn't always grab you with an 'aahha' book.
    Enjoyed the blog.

  6. Thanks for the responses, everyone. Reading is such a personal experience, isn't it? Even when we talk and discuss books with others, we often find that we didn't have the same reading experience, even though we all read the same words!

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