A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
I can usually categorize most fantasy into two groups: plot-driven fantasy and character-driven fantasy. All novels have elements of both, but fantasy novels seem to be dominated by one or the other. I prefer character-driven fantasy. I'd consider Harry Potter to be character-driven. Plot is certainly a key element, but the main draw is the investment you have in the characters. I'd consider Lord of the Rings to be plot-driven. It certainly has memorable characters, but the reader feels somewhat removed from them. The draw is the adventure, or the quest. For all books, not just fantasy, I much prefer character-driven stories. A Wizard of Earthsea is a book that I'd consider to be plot-driven. It wasn't ever hard to put the book down (which means it took me forever to finish it), and there were some action sequences that felt especially long. But in all the books I've read by Ursula LeGuin, there are potent moments, images and ideas that make the long action scenes totally worth it. Here's an example of one of those moments. The main character, Ged, has performed a spell that nearly killed him. The people nearby take him to his home, where he lies unconscious. He finally wakes up when his pet otak (a little squirrel-like animal) licks the wounds on his face.
"Later, when Ged thought back upon that night, he knew that had none touched him when he lay thus spirit-lost, had none called him back in some way, he might have been lost for good. It was only the dumb instinctive wisdom of the beast who licks his hurt companion to comfort him, and yet in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees."It's just a small relatively-inconsequential paragraph in the novel, but it contains a sudden exquisite moment of insight that will stay will me for a long time. So although the novel was somewhat slow reading, I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the sequel.
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
This is one of the best books I've ever read, and gets pretty close to being a favorite. (Though I can't imagine book will surpass Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, this one is certainly close.) This book is also a little hard to get into, because Morrison plunges you right into the end of the story, then slowly builds back up to that point. The story is set in the 1600's in colonial America, and follows several characters that are all slaves, literally or figuratively. The main characters are also all orphans; some violently uprooted from their communities, some cast away by their own families. They are trying to survive alone in a new world. The book explores slavery, motherhood, and what it means to be cut off from your roots. Even though it is difficult to get into initially, once you're a couple of chapters in, you are immersed in the world and fascinated by the characters. The end is heart-breaking and haunting. As I tried to fall asleep after reading it, I kept having imaginary conversations with my mom in my head. A Mercy is a beautifully written book, and I'm sure I will read it again many times.
Coming soon... I started reading The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, but was severely disappointed by it. I tried to push through, to give the book a chance (even though it had a description of someone's "winking nipples"), but I had to give up when one chapter was told from the point of view of a dog. There's only so much I can take. I really liked The Red Tent, also by Anita Diamant, so I was disappointed that this book wasn't very good. I have quite a few books on my "to read" list, but I'm not sure where to go next. I have the Earthsea sequel, a couple of recommended YA books, and some thrillers by Jill's favorite authors. I am also always open to suggestions, if you have a good book recommendation.