Monday, October 6, 2014

Top Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character-Driven Novels

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is books for readers who like character-driven novels. I found it a little bit difficult to nail down a definition of character-driven books, but as I started looking through the books I'd read, I started to find some great examples of books where getting to know the characters is far more important than anything that happens to them. If that's what you're looking for, here are my suggestions:

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This is primarily the story of Henry, recruited to college to play baseball, but it's also the story of his mentor, the college president, and the president's daughter, all of whom are interconnected in different ways. The characters each have their own pressures to deal with and decisions to make. Although some plot points were questionable for me, I enjoyed seeing the development of the characters and their relationships to one another.

2. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
This book paints a picture of a small town in Georgia at the turn of the 20th century. The characters are true-to-life in their complexity, and the book explores the deep and the shallow feelings that can coexist in a single person as characters react to the scandal of Will Tweedy's grandfather marrying a much younger woman.

3. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
No description can do this book justice because the plot is the least important part. This story of the friendship between two couples was introduced to me by one of my book clubs, and it's a great example of a book I wouldn't have necessarily picked up on my own but ended up loving. It touches on questions of friendship, marriage, and the meaning of life -- really.

4. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The rich lyricism of Roy's writing extends to her characters in this heartbreaking novel. At the novel's center are twins Rahel and Estha, whose relationship is so close that they only feel whole when they are together. There is plenty of plot in this book (much of it tragic), but ultimately the reward of this book is in the connection you feel to the characters and the ability to experience their emotions at each unfolding event.

5. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Similar to Cold Sassy Tree, this book is about a close-knit family in a small town. These vibrant and memorable characters are each trying to do what they believe is right, but as in real life, the right thing to do isn't always clear and isn't the same for every person. Even if you're not one to cry over fictional characters, this one may just get to you. Be aware that the book touches on some disturbing topics, including animal abuse, child abuse, and sexual abuse, but in my opinion it's handled well.

6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
This novel is a work of historical fiction about the life of Sarah Grimké, who narrates alternately with the wholly fictional Handful, a 10-year-old girl who is "given" to Sarah as an 11th birthday present to be her personal slave. Both girls learn and grow as they age, individually enduring pain and loss in different magnitudes. They develop a complicated relationship with one another, close yet distant. The story is engaging primarily because the characters are intriguing and their personal journeys are captivating.

7. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
This book follows the trajectory of its characters' lives from a single moment, when Dr. David Henry hands off his newborn daughter with Down Syndrome to the nurse and tells his wife that the baby died. His guilt and her grief play out over the decades in parallel (and contrast) with the close relationship the nurse and her adoptive daughter form. This is not a plot-driven book but an intimate exploration of how one moment -- and the secrets it spawns -- can affect multiple lives in different ways.

8. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
This book has no straightforward plot arc -- it weaves and twists the way that real life tends to unfold. A man who has worked his orchard alone for decades suddenly finds two homeless, pregnant teenagers have made it their new home. The characters are multifaceted, have complicated relationships with one another, and sometimes behave in unexpected ways. It took me a while to get invested in the story, but once I started caring about the characters there was no looking back.

9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A minister from the South takes his wife and daughters with him to be a missionary in the Congo, and life as they know it is uprooted. All the characters react to their new life in very different ways, and we get to see inside each of their heads as they alternately narrate chapters. Ultimately what and how much they learn from the experience depends on how much they open themselves up to learning, and at least one of the characters is likely to resonate with you personally.

10. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Each chapter of this novel explores a different character, all of whom have joined a monthly cooking class in Lillian's restaurant. We get to see their present-day experiences interwoven with the memories and emotions they bring with them from their individual lives. They each learn about more than just cooking and begin to reach out to connect with one another on a deeper level.

What are your favorite character-driven novels?

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  1. I have to admit that I haven't read many of these books. I did enjoy The Memory Keeper's Daughter though!

  2. that's a great list, quality books. Thanks for sharing this week. I loved "The Invention of Wings" and "Cold Sassy Tree". I don't know why I didn't think of them. Have a nice week! kelley—the road goes ever ever on

  3. I haven't read any of these, though a couple have been on my TBR list. Thanks for reminding me about them!

    Here's my list -

  4. You're welcome! They're all great!

  5. Your list has some of my favorite books! We must have similar tastes.

  6. If you liked that one, I definitely recommend the others, especially The Orchardist and The School of Essential Ingredients. They have the same kind of tone.