Books that make you feel better

I was just thinking today about the stories I want to write and the stories I enjoy reading the most. I was trying to think about the common thread. It isn’t that I love fantasy or literary fiction or even non-fiction the most because I love reading all of them. It’s hard for me to choose one genre that I love over the other. What is the common thread?

Then, it occurred to me as I was watching a documentary, The Science of Healing, that healing is the most common thread that runs through the stories I love.

I love adventure and fantasy stories because they allow you to escape for just a little while. A well-told story will have you so swept up that you no longer think about divorce, or death, or pain, or fear. There is nothing wrong with escapist fiction because sometimes the burdens of life are too heavy to bear and you need to set them aside just to remind yourself what joy feels like. I loved reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books because they really captured that feeling of falling in love.

A good book doesn’t just distract you from pain, but takes your hand, like a trusted physician, and leads you through the complex labrynths of the human psyche. Authors  can be your guides on your journey to heal your soul. The very best books give you the language to understand your world at the same time they entertain you.

Of course I want to write commercially successful fiction…that’s just a byproduct of technique: being able to capture someone’s imagination. But I would never be satisfied with only being an entertainer. Entertainment is a venue. It makes people trust you so that they become more receptive to the deeper stuff. It’s just like something I once heard about the placebo effect in medicine: 90 percent of it is the performance. Think of someone who postponed suicide because she wanted to finish your story…wouldn’t you want to keep the story going as long as possible and then have the ending resonate with why they should stay alive.

What I hope to gain from this creative writing program is mastery over craft. I want to master the entertainment skills so that my readers will take my hand and feel that I will carry them safely to a better place. I need feedback from people who are better than me to help me get to that place.

In my small way, I want to make the world better. The books I have loved are:

  1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (literary)
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (science fiction)
  3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (science fiction)
  4. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (literary/fantasy)
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (literary/meta fiction)
  6. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (young adult fantasy)
  7. Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (fantasy)
  8. The Stand by Stephen King (horror)
  9. From Proust to Camus by Andre Maurois (non-fiction)
  10. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (fantasy)
  11. Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert
  12. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (non-fiction)
  13. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (literary/horror)
  14. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (non-fiction)
  15. Ordinary People by Judith Guest (mainstream literary)
  16. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (literary/horror)

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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