THE KEEPER SHELF
BY TAM LINSEY
Dystopian post-apocalyptic science fiction romance – how’s that for a genre? And where would you shelve it? As of writing this, Goodreads had 979,375 shelving categories. Everything from the traditional genres like sci-fi or romance, to “to-be-read”, “British” or “ghosts.” My personal favorite, and goal for Botanicaust, is the “keeper” shelf, because when push comes to shove, a good story is a good story, no matter what shelf it’s on.
So what makes someone want to read a book again and again? I think there are a lot of variables in that question. Some people like world-building, some people like characters, some people enjoy fast paced plots. The best books combine these into something greater than the whole.
All books require some world building, but science fiction and fantasy require more than other genres because these stories take place in unfamiliar setting. Readers enjoy experiencing new climates or cultures, rules of magic, or wishful technology. (Haven’t we all wished for a matter transporter at least once?) My husband has read Fellowship of the Ring about twenty times, because he loves the depictions of dark versus light, the epic fight of good against evil. This is a keeper shelf book because the world feels real, and every description in some way illuminates the central story question. The tale begins in the Shire with a party among the Hobbits. Because the Shire is described as light and fun, readers know what is at stake when news of the Dark Tower of Mordor is introduced in the second chapter.
If you've ever watched someone read an exciting book, the facial expressions they make are awesome. I’m sure I looked dumb as I read The Hunger Games - I could hardly put it down because the plot kept me guessing. Plot can draw readers to a story, but what makes them read the same plot over and over?
If properly foreshadowed, surprise twists make me read a book again to see what other clues or details I might have missed, or how my perception may have changed now that I know the ending. A plot that is both surprising and plausible makes readers continue to dwell on the story long after they've finished reading. Those are the books readers place on a keeper shelf.
In addition to world building and plot, great authors create characters who tap into our deepest emotions. If readers feel like they know a character so well that they lived the character’s adventure in the novel, then readers want to keep the book. It serves almost as a scrapbook, a book of memories, like a photo album from a favorite vacation. I've re-read The Vampire Lestat many times, not because of the plot or world-building (although Anne Rice does do a stellar job describing her beloved New Orleans) but because of the character of Lestat himself. He’s not a good person. He’s not someone I want to emulate. But he is someone I can understand. He wanted to be loved and accepted by his family, a difficult goal with the family he was born to. Becoming a vampire ruined any hope he had, hence he searches for a new group to call family. During this search, he rationalizes each of his actions, good and bad, and I, for one, could empathize. A lot of readers could, which is why the book became a best seller.
About the author
Tam Linsey lives in Alaska with her husband and two children. In spite of the rigors of the High North, she grows, hunts, or fishes for much of her family’s food. During the long Alaskan winters she writes speculative fiction.
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Genre – Dystopic Romance (SciFi)
Rating – R
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