Tuesday, 15 March 2016

My eleventh writing-related blog post is all about books and what makes them timeless and universal

Pre-discussion questions to consider: What makes books timeless and universal in your opinion? What books come to mind when you think about that? Can it be achieved through captivating writing, spot-on characterization and vivid world-building alone? Or is there something more at play? 

Today I’d like to talk about books. Do you ever marvel at how many books there are in the world? Do you ever feel sad or frustrated at the fact that you will never be able to read all of them? That you won’t get to know about many of them? I often think about books, especially those that leave an everlasting mark in the world beyond that of literature and have a most profound effect on people and their lives. There are a lot of great books. There are a lot of great books that you read only once and never come back to again. There are a lot of great books that get forgotten with time and never taken up again. There are a lot of great books that never reach the readers at all and no one knows just how great they are or what they have missed. There are books that are not at all great but that become famous or, rather, infamous. There are books that set trends and inspire short-lived fads and obsessions. But then there are books that are timeless, that capture our hearts, that impact our lives, that compel us to come back to them again and again. They have countless editions, websites dedicated to them, fanfics, fanart, movies, series, millions of fans all over the world, they appeal to people of different ages and they pass from generation to generation… I’d like to talk about such books and try and figure out what makes them timeless, universal and classic and whether it is something that can be acquired and applied to my own books. 

I know there are quite a few books that fall into this category (though, admittedly, a tiny percentage if we take all fiction books out there) but I would like to look at and analyze the two series that I’m completely and totally obsessed with: Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables. If you’ve read them you know that they are very different and yet with similar, unfading, universal appeal and legions of fans all over the world. So what is it about them that converts people and makes them fans for life? I personally believe that if you’ve read either and felt no desire whatsoever to want to devour them all over again straight away or to find yourself inside them that you just didn’t get them, because you can’t have read them and felt nothing. These books are imbued with powerful magic the like of which is extremely rare and if you haven’t felt it than you’re probably a muggle – the worst sort of muggle there is. I’m kind of happy now that no one reads my blog, because I’m sure I would get a lot of flak for saying that. But that’s the truth! You are! 

Anyway, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about why I love them so much and why they are so popular with people in general is their beautiful, quirky and unforgettable settings. Hogwarts. Hogsmead. Diagon Alley. Avonlea. Green Gables. People love those places! They even recreated them in real life! So if you have enough money, you can even go and find yourself inside your favourite book! Not many authors can boast to have inspired something like that and it's really something incredible, something beyond my wildest dreams, something a lot of authors aspire to, I'm sure. There are many books that I really liked but that never found a home in my heart, because they failed to capture me with their world-building, by making it too dangerous and quite impossible to live in. I think there should be a balance between the bad and the good, the beautiful and the ugly, the light and the dark, the normal and the bizarre. The aforementioned books keep the balance perfectly and make you want to be a part of their world. 

Also both series explore universal themes that will never become out-of-date or out-of-fashion: the search for home, for love, for friends, for kindred spirits; the wish to belong, to be understood, to be accepted; the pain of being an outsider, a nobody, being different; the choices that we make, the abilities that define us, the mistakes that ruin our lives and have unpredictable consequences; the death of loved ones and the wish to bring them back, etc.. They are full of words of profound, poignant, eternal wisdom that we keep on the most important shelves of our memories and quote whenever the occasion is right, when we come face to face with fellow fans or when we just want to appear really clever and witty. 

Then there are the characters. Not just the main ones. The secondary ones. Even the tertiary ones. They all represent a certain type - a stereotype, if you will - that we can either relate to or say that we know exactly someone like that; they all have a particular feature or features that stand out or set them apart or make them instantly recognizable and memorable – but with all that it doesn’t make them one-dimensional or flat due to the mastery and genius of their creators. They have many layers to them, layers that we discover with time. I think it’s important for a character to have a feature or a trait that grabs our attention and helps us define and identify them before exploring them further. They are real. They are real to us. We feel like we know them. We feel like they would understand us like no one else. We want to be their friends, partners, adversaries. They make us experience real emotions. They become part of our life. 

Some other things that make a book special for me are, of course, the story, the voice, the humour, the language and the way the author has with words. I suppose a lot of great books have these components and many others that I haven’t mentioned and yet they fail to leave a lasting mark. I honestly believe that there’s got to be something else: something that cannot be explained by logic or analysis, something that is pure magic - a final drop that turns an ordinary concoction into a magical potion. No matter how gifted you are, how honed your craft is, how many books you’ve written or how many formulas you’ve tried – there’s one ingredient at least that is beyond your control. It’s like being lucky. You can’t generate it. You can’t explain it. 

But I can’t help wondering, you know, if any of my past, present or future books and characters have what it takes to capture hearts, to inspire fandoms and followings, and remain with their readers for the rest of their lives and beyond? 

Favourite books - what makes them timeless and universal? bit.ly/1RjW0S1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet

Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables – what makes these books timeless and universal? bit.ly/1RjW0S1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)


  1. I think that's the question every writer would love to have answered, and we'll never have it answered in our lifetime. Which is a little sad, isn't it? Still, we can only do our best, write from the heart, and hope that there is something in there that will touch readers' hearts and endure. I definitely like all your points about books that last. I especially think that the universal themes have a lot to do with why books endure. People can relate to the themes, no matter who they are, and the amazing settings and characters support that. Very interesting to think about!

    1. I totally agree with you! Alas, we are not to know... However, you are right, we should write the books we feel passionate about, relish every moment, no matter how slow or torturous, and hope that it will find its place in the hearts of the readers in the end. That's all we can do - everything else is beyond our control. Thank you for stopping by!