Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
I was at a party once, talking to someone I had never met before. I must admit, I tend to be less creative in interpersonal contexts than I am in other areas of my life, so my attempts at casual conversation were a little bit banal. “What do you do for a living?” I asked her.
“Oh, please!” she responded. “Everyone asks that question, and I don’t think what you do for a living really says that much about you.”
Embarrassed, but up for the challenge, I think for a minute. “Okay,” I say to her, “If you could become any book character—regardless of age, race, or gender—who would it be and why?”
I can’t remember what she said—I guess my feeble attempts at “getting to know you” conversation were futile, after all. But still, I think it’s an interesting question, and it’s something I’ve thought about a great deal myself. When I read a book, I tend to put myself into the shoes of one of the characters, imagining the world through his or her eyes. (I think it’s one of the reasons I prefer books with strong, believable characters, regardless of genre.) And I think the kinds of book characters a person identifies with really does say a lot about a person.
So I invite you to join me in this hypothetical personality analysis and talk about a book character—or two, or ten—whose shoes you would gladly wear. There are only two rules:
1) You must live the character’s life exactly as it played out in the book (or books). So regardless of how much I hated the ending of the Twilight series, I could not become Bella Swan and give that character a life, a personality, and a spine. (Not that I would waste my opportunity to become a book character on someone that insipid!)
2) You may choose characters based on your life and personality now, or on the life and personality you would like to have. (Of course, it would be nice if you told us which of these factors prompted you to make the selection.)
Let’s get started…
I think my first choices are a little obvious. Growing up, I often identified with the heroines of my favorite coming-of-age novels. Of these, Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables and Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time came the closest to capturing my personality. Anne captured the spirited, imaginative aspect of my personality, not to mention my tendency to be temperamental. I loved that she used big words all the time; this was something I often did as a child (still do, as a matter of fact) and often got made fun of for it. I am also a writer, and have been since I was very young, so this part of her character is also something that I identify with.
What I remember most about Meg Murray was her awkwardness, her inability to fit in anywhere or with anyone. Even though Meg’s likes and dislikes are not as closely matched to mine as Anne’s are—I’m a writer with a love of books, and Meg was a math guru—I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time when I was 12 and thinking, “This girl is exactly like me.” Like Meg, I was the ugly duckling adolescent with few friends, and like Meg, I was stubborn and surly. I could have totally seen myself beating up someone who made fun of my little brother the way Meg did. (Of course, in my case, my little brother probably would have beat the person up first. And then he would have laughed at me for trying. But that’s a different story.)
And of course, the romantic side of me loves that both Anne and Meg found true love, with people who accept them for who they are: Anne with Gilbert Blythe and Meg with Calvin O’Keefe. Both of these guys are sweet, intelligent, caring, and totally in love with our heroines despite—or perhaps because of—their personality quirks.
My next choice is probably a little less expected. As I sat down to write this article, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to be Huckleberry Finn?” Granted, Huck doesn’t have an easy life, and I would probably have some trouble getting over the racially-charged attitudes of both the book and the character, but I think it would be worth it in the end. Huck’s not the easiest character to identify with, but I think it says a lot about his goodness as a person that, in spite of his racist attitudes, he was able to see past Jim’s skin color and look at him as a real person. Plus, the idea of leaving civilized life behind and taking a trip down the Mississippi River is just inherently appealing to me. I think, in many ways, civilized society is just as overrated now as it was back in Huck’s day.
I have also always loved the idea of immortality and experiencing the world in a time beyond your own, so the character of Cormac O’Connor in Pete Hamill’s novel Forever is definitely an appealing option. In 1741, young Cormac is granted eternal youth and immortality after saving the life of an African slave—provided that he never leaves the island of Manhattan. Cormac then gets to experience the growth and development of Manhattan from the mid-18th century until the beginning of the 21st. I lived in New York City for four years while I was in college, and I was always amazed at how the past and the present collide there. It’s a very modern city, and sometimes it’s hard to remember just how much history has happened there—until you’re walking through the Financial District, surrounded by skyscrapers, and you pass an old church and cemetery and realize you’ve just stumbled upon the grave of Alexander Hamilton. It’s a strange dichotomy, one that Hamill perfectly captures in the character of Cormac. And really, what better way to spend a few centuries than to watch New York become the metropolis it is today?
I am sure there are many others that I am leaving off of this list, that I will kick myself tomorrow morning for forgetting. But maybe that says something about me: rather than just being one character, I think I'd like to be all characters. I'd love to try living life in a skin other than my own, just for awhile. And, short of actually becoming someone else, reading is, for me, still the best way to do that.
Selected Book Releases, July 13-19
Vixen Manual: How to Find, Seduce, and Keep the Man You Want by Karrine Steffans
Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
Rain Gods by James Lee Burke
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich
The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang with Holly George-Warren
Last Light over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe
Bobby and Jackie by David Heymann
Sweet Mary by Liz Balmaseda
Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens by Gaynor Arnold
Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridge Brennan
$20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner
Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson
Near Death in the Desert, edited by Cecil Kuhne
Ravens by George Dawes Green