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It’s 2.30 am as I type this opening line, and I have just managed to return Bug to his bed after a nightmare. Only it wasn’t his, it was mine – and I wasn’t asleep, but we don’t try to explain at this hour of the morning.

We often joke about the effect of a really good novel. On nights like this I sometimes think that we shouldn’t. Hell, there’s even a meme about it:

paperback-emotional-trauma.jpg

Here’s the thing, when I have to physically stop myself from sobbing, and generally get a grip on myself, so that I can put 8 year old Bug back to bed – that meme is exactly, without any sense of humour, what I’m dealing with.
At some point I’m going to have to explain it to Bug, because my once 6 year old who sat through reading all of The Hobbit is at some point going to experience this for himself; and it won’t be as far away as I’d like. He’s almost ready for The Hunger Games and he’s a smart cookie. It won’t be as bad as it could be for him when he first reads it, but only because he can’t see the world falling apart. We don’t have TV, I don’t bring home newspapers, and he’s not allowed to read over my shoulder while I’m on social media. I want him to be a child for as long as he can; but how can anyone stay a child in a world where 11 year olds have access to the internet?

You’re wondering how this post came to be, and why it still doesn’t make sense. Tonight I finished rereading a book series that I’ve read many times before. One that has an ominous feeling of what happens when the world falls apart. I finished reading The Hunger Games series.

I have another question for you. Because I know people who argue that it’s really only an average quality novel.
What makes a good novel? Well? Is it classic literature? Is it winning prizes? Is it that some studio has made it into a movie? Is it when a title makes it onto a university course load?

I can assure you that I know people who think that nothing produced in the last 30 years is worth reading. I know other people who won’t read it if it doesn’t have at least one prize. Others who think that it must be good if it was made into a movie, but heaven forbid they actually read the book. And a handful of people who revere academia, but were not admitted to the hallowed halls, who truly believe that if someone at a university believes that it is worth studying that it is the highest recommendation of all.
I never refute any of them.

Because as far as I am concerned a truly good novel has nothing to do with it’s age, it’s prizes, whether or not it has been read by some studio exec, or dissected by academics.

A truly good novel will grab hold of you and not let you go.With a very few exceptions, every hard copy book on my shelf is an example of this type of truly excellent novel. Some have been made into movies, some have prizes, some are old, and some have even been studied at university – occasionally by me. But all of them pull me in, so that nothing else matters until it’s over; and sometimes I really do sit there in some form of shock, wondering how people can put it down and just carry on. How have they not seen what I have seen within it’s pages?

I only keep books that I will reread. Books are for reading, not for gathering dust. There was one that I read so much it fell apart, and couldn’t be repaired. I had to order a replacement, and then once that arrived I had to recycle the old one. I cried a little. Because paperbacks take on a little of the scent of their owner. Which is probably why I only read new releases at the library. And that new volume didn’t smell like my other paperbacks yet, it was physically uncomfortable to read that volume the first time; because I associated it with a more familiar, comfortable smell.

A list of my essential titles:

  • A Closed Book by Gilbert Adair
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Kushiel’s Legacy Series (Phaedra: Dart, Chosen, Avatar; Imriel: Scion, Justice, Mercy… I’m awaiting the Naamah companion set) by Jacqueline Carey
  • Fire by Deborah Challinor (NZ author)
  • The Innocent by Harlan Coben
  • Promise Me by Harlan Coben
  • The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
  • The Legacy Series by Catherine Coulter
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • The Wilderness Series by Sara Donati
  • Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen
  • Six Renaissance Tragedies compiled by Colin Gibson (NZ)
  • The Racketeer by John Grisham
  • The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • Bulibasha by Witi Ihimaera (NZ Author)
  • Rose Madder by Stephen King
  • The Curiosity by Stephen P Kiernan
  • One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz
  • The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  • The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum
  • The Night Watch Series by Sergei Lukyanenko
  • The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The English Patient  by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
  • The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
  • The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
  • Snow Hill by Mark Sanderson
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
  • The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Dracula by Bram Stocker
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Orphan #8 by Kim Van Alkemade
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

And those are just the ones that I can’t live without; they are only from my fiction section. Some of the best ones were gifts. There are so many more, if I tried to list them all I’d be here until the sun came up – and I never so much as touched my kindle while compiling that list. There are over 400 titles on my kindle. So many of those authors you won’t have even heard of, unless you’re intimately acquainted with my library. And there are so many more that I simply don’t have yet.

I have a bad habit of creating intense images in my head of what I’m reading. And I form deep connections with the characters, I feel what they feel. Or at least I do when they grab hold and won’t let go. But I also have a bad habit of selecting books that (if they didn’t have blurbs on the backs) ought to come with trigger warnings, and weirdly I can’t get enough of them.

I don’t often follow the reading of a book with a meltdown, in fact it’s pretty rare. Although trying to read through tears is not so rare, and fortunately not always sad. It breaks my heart a little when my son tries to comfort me out of what, for his sake, I call a nightmare. But his maturity and capacity for empathy and understanding will serve him well in the future. I’m immensely grateful for his sweetness, and I try not to squish it with well earned cynicism – to Bug the world is still wonderful, and only occasionally sad; but it’s never beyond saving, and it’s never bad. I’m not ready for the day when he reads about the true extent of human cruelty.

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