Name: Leila Marston
Location: Winnipeg, MB, Canada
1. What is the first book you can remember reading on your own?
The first that I can clearly recall is J.D. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain. It sticks in my mind because my family nicknamed me “the great brain” after seeing the title, and I remember wondering if they had read the book; Tom, the title character, is a brilliant but devious boy who uses his knowledge to swindle everyone around him.
2. What is your very favorite book?
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley’s creative vision is so comprehensive and erudite, pensive and intimate, juxtaposing actual history with a nightmarishly plausible future. I am ever astonished at each new reading, amazed that a human mind could invent a story so complex yet convey it so clearly.
3. What are your favorite genres?
I prefer religious studies, spirituality, and ancient history, and also enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels, collections of short stories and poetry, and books on anthropology and alternative medicine. The only genres I usually avoid are romance, self-help, and books pertaining to hobbies I don’t pursue.
4. Do you prefer books with linear storylines? Or do you enjoy flashbacks?
I like both, provided that flashbacks are incorporated smoothly into the book and actually enrich the tale. Sometimes, it seems that authors write flashbacks as a shortcut, to get the boring character histories out of the way so they can move on to the plot. When a “vision” or “memory” is introduced to cover up lazy, impatient writing, it usually shows.
(Huxley’s novel exemplifies the flashback used to its greatest advantage. The first chapter alternates several characters’ voices with a history lesson about the gruesome past that fashioned the “brave new world.” There’s a pointed contrast made between the carefree conversation of two young women, the mental ruminations of a man uneasy in himself, and the detached descriptions of a horrifying genocide. In only a few pages, Huxley conveys crucial knowledge of the back-story, while encouraging somber reflection about whether a pleasant, passionless world is really the perfect solution.)
5. What’s your favorite plot twist?
(I’m omitting the series name deliberately.)
The best plot twist I’ve ever read came near the end of a fantasy series, in which the “good” characters are pursuing certain artifacts, in response to an ancient prophecy.
This prophecy specifies that certain magical objects must be found and united, in a time when evil forces are rising. So the main characters undertake long, harsh quests, to recover these items from the beings (or places) which guard them. At last, in the final book, our heroes race towards a fateful meeting, hotly pursued the entire way by servants of darkness.
And then, the scholar makes a devastating realisation; all along, the heroes have been reading the prophecy the way they wanted to believe it. They interpreted the words to mean that their actions would oppose evil. But all the prophecy actually says is that the objects must be joined.
They figure out that the artifacts were actually crafted to open the door to darkness. The prophecy had been cast by an evil sorceror. And their only “accomplishment” was to make the dark leader’s job much easier, by finding everything he needed and bringing it right to him.
That was a bold and gripping blow for the author to deal the reader! He told an engaging story, sped it to a logical climax, and then tore it apart right before the expected culmination. I found it quite admirable; that is, after I picked up the novel from the floor, where it had fallen after I shrieked, “Nooooooooo!” and hurled it against the wall.
6. What plot devices drive you crazy?
It tweaks my nerves rather fiercely when a main character is captured, and the captor leaves him/her alive for no real reason. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBrcn1JGgbA for a perfect example.) This is especially irksome when an elabourate kidnapping happens mid-novel, since there’s no suspense at all in it. We already know that the book isn’t going to tell the story of “How our hero laid open his thoughts and feelings in the preceding pages, then was shot in the face halfway through the quest, and turned the narration over to someone else.”
7. If you order a book, directly from an author, what would it be about?
I would love to read a work of historical fiction narrated from a woman’s perspective, and set in an ancient kingdom of which little has been written (like Mitanni or Hatti). Ideally, the novel would convey the imagination of Mika Waltari in the poetic style of William Buck.
Thank you, Leila, for providing your readerly perspective.