My reading during the past month seems to have revolved around a central theme. This was not planned. When I go to the used book store, I buy books that I know have been bestsellers or books by authors that I know to be good – or books that just look interesting. My last trip to the bookstore just happened to result in these selections – among others:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, a bestseller in 2000
The Shack by Wm Paul Young, a bestseller in 2007
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos, published in 2005
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, a best seller in 2005
Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult, published in 1995
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, a Best seller in 04
All of these books have appealed to a large audience, in part I believe, because people identify so strongly with the human need for love and affirmation. Of course, the search for love is a common thread in all forms of literature; but it is an especially-strong thread running through each of these recently-read books.
The Secret Life of Bees was a very strange book that held my attention most of the time (but, in my opinion, would have been improved by shortening its length by half.) The effectively-drawn characters and storyline drew a poignant picture of children’s indisputable yearning for the guidance and love of a parent. The reader comes away feeling warmed by the knowledge that family is built by loving actions rather than just heredity and physical relationship. The role of “Mother” in a child’s life is shown to be vital to development, happiness, and productive adulthood. Regardless of the reader’s feelings about his/her own mother, that message revives childhood memories and thoughts about one’s own development into adulthood.
The Shack was also a very unusual book about love. In its unusual context, it clearly illustrated the universal human search for the love and acceptance of God. Readers relate to this author’s portrayal of a character who wants to know and enjoy the love of God even though that love has often been misrepresented to him through society and tradition. Knowing God and basking in his love comes from relationship. The reader comes to see that God’s love is not found in following religious traditions but in being in relationship with God throughout life.
Love Walked In – a simple love story in many ways – also gained its readership because of its multi-faceted approach to the portrayal of the ‘search for love’. While one of the viewpoint characters searches for and finds romantic and creative love, she also, at the same time, finds parental and familial love. As her life intertwines with that of the other viewpoint character, a child who feels deprived of nurturing, each finds fulfillment as she provides for the needs of the other. One of the big attractions of this book for readers is the message that true and unselfish friendship is usually the seed from which other forms of love grow.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards was a best seller in 2005. Recovery from rejection, the long-term consequences of building a life on lies, and other issues related to feeling unloved and misunderstood in life’s significant relationships – readers identify with characters who are dealing with these issues.
Both of Jodi Picoult’s books that I have read this month deal with the search for love too. The plots of Picture Perfect and My Sister's Keeper revolve around controversial societal issues, but the theme of both is that every individual has an inborn need to be affirmed and loved for his/her individual personality. Characters who seemingly have every reason to be happy with their lives are willing to sacrifice their very way of life in order to ascertain for themselves that their “significant others” truly love them in spite of and because of their particular strengths and weaknesses. The need for affirmation and love is the driving force in their lives – as it is in the lives of the readers who have made these books bestsellers.