Some people read for plot; I read for character. I know this because I often catch myself talking to others about the characters of my favorite books as if they were people I know in real life. I surprise myself at how ridiculously happy I am for them when their lives go well, how sad I am when tragedy strikes them, and how long I'll stay up at night pondering their dilemmas. All this for people that don't really exist! But, for me, that is the joy of reading - immersing myself into a fictional society that allows for such contemplation.
My latest indulgence was The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. The novel begins with the dramatic birth of the protagonist, Daisy Stone. Her life story is a dynamic one, spanning the 20th century and many eras of change. As Shields unfolds Daisy's tale, as well as the narratives of Daisy's loved ones, the work coalesces into an elaborate family tree. The plot line is absorbing, but the character development definitely outshines the story's action. Daisy, her parents, friends, spouse and children - the author portrays each person with tenderness, as if they were a part of her own family. Shields stretches her characters outside of initial expectations, creating depth, intrigue and a fascinating read.
Additionally, I love a book that makes me think, and this one had me pondering some deep ideas. For instance, how much does a person change throughout a lifetime? Is our identity fixed or multifaceted, like a series of different people meshed into one? How much do shifting cultural expectations change our roles as spouses, parents and individuals? These compelling issues are written with great artistry, but without pretention, making it no surprise that the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Great choice for a book discussion and for fans of literary and historical fiction.
Recommended by Erica Jesonis