Chewing Gum and Hearty Meals

I’ve been on a book-purchasing spree recently. There are the books I’ve read, then read again and again, and am finally purchasing: manga (I’m loving Skip Beat at the moment), all of the “Chalion” series by Lois McMaster Bujold, and I’m stocking up on the missing books from my Megan Whalen Turner collection. I’m getting a few non-fiction books also.

Then there are the impulse buys from the local discount book store that’s closing down. I try to pick them carefully, going by the blurb on the back of each book. One had a glowing “this-is-great” quote from Eoin Colfer on the front, while another had won some publisher’s award. It also helped that they cost around $1 to $2 each.

I’ve been picking my way through them, and I’m coming to realise the biggest difference between the deliberate buys and the impulse buys. Though they all more or less fall into the genre I enjoy (read: fantasy), and they all keep me reading to the end, once I put down the impulse buys, I have no motivation to pick them up and read them again. Each told a compelling story, yet there was something missing. There was no true sense of permanence, of being left with the joy of seeing a world or a person changed. The “hooray, protagonist is now a spy/secret collector/whatever and has a much better life than before!” was satisfying in terms of concluding the plot, but no more than that. They reminded me of chewing gum, where you get the initial burst of flavour that disappears as quickly as it came, leaving you with nothing but flavourless rubber.

Needless to say, those books have already gone into the “donate” pile.

The deliberate buys, however–they’re the kind of books that I finish, reluctantly put down, and immediately daydream about the characters and the world. The first time I finished The Curse of Chalion, I went back to my favourite parts and started re-reading them. I wanted to spend more time with the honourable yet wily, broken yet brave Cazaril. I wanted to spend more time contemplating Lois McMaster Bujold’s fascinating take on religion, and her dry wit expressed through various characters. I wanted to marvel at how the plot wove itself together in a perfect tapestry of redemption sought and found, long and bleak journeys explained, and justice served.

I’ve also gone on at length about Megan Whalen Turner’s books before and how her books contain so much under the veneer of actions and words they demand multiple re-reads. Even Skip Beat, though a romance manga, has such layered characters that you can’t help noticing something new each time you re-read older chapters. It never truly leaves the reader hanging when it comes to main romance, but brings the protagonists closer with each story arc. The arcs don’t end on cliff-hangers, but in the most heartwarming, satisfying conclusions that serve the greater story.

These stories are like a rich, hearty meal to a famished person in the middle of a freezing winter. They nourish in so many ways, and shift your thinking–if not of the world, then at least of people and why they act as they do.

These are the books that make reading (and re-reading!) worthwhile.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.


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