A book at least 500 pages long, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Confession time: I actually listened to this book on audio disk; I did not read it in the traditional sense. Normally, this feels a little like cheating to me, but in this case, I am so glad that I made the choice to listen instead of read. I never would have been able to “hear” the amazing different accents in my mind. Listening to the person reading the story was amazing—she nailed the different English, Scottish, and even French accents that made it such a better, richer experience. I actually do recommend this as an audio over a traditional approach—something I don’t think I’ve ever said!
I obviously chose this book for my challenge because of its length, but there are plenty of long books to choose from, so why this one? I have heard from so many people that this is an excellent book, and while it definitely veers quite strictly out of my normal reading comfort zone, I thought maybe that is a good thing sometimes. Occasionally, you need to challenge yourself by trying something you normally wouldn’t read, and in my case, I was very pleasantly surprised. You’re probably thinking, why would this be considered “out of your comfort zone.” I don’t typically enjoy popular fiction, a la the Nicholas Sparks novels of the world. While they may have those great, tearjerker storylines that the masses clamor for, I generally find the writing to be quite awful. I don’t mean to sound snobby here, because believe me, I am by no means an elitist about anything in life, but the fact that I have a Master’s degree in English does make me feel like I do know a thing or two about good literature. I have studied the best authors in the history of the literary tradition. It’s hard to study the masters and then read something written by Jodi Piccoult or Mitch Albom. No matter how much I may wish I could just enjoy a nice story, my English major brain always analyzes the writing style and finds most of these “pop fiction” writers to be lacking. I don’t feel fulfilled. It’s like a film critic watching the Jersey Shore. No offense to people who like that level of entertainment—it serves a very real need/purpose, but it’s just not my thing. I’d much rather read a classic or something the average bear wouldn’t be interested in. But like everything in life, there are always exceptions. I am learning to give more books a chance rather than rule them out because of my assumptions about the writer, and usually I am rewarded. Usually.
I was hesitant about Outlander for several reasons outside of its popularity amongst the masses. I don’t typically go for Romances, and this struck me as one of the bodice-ripping variety. I also don’t usually enjoy science fiction unless it’s really GOOD science fiction, like a Bradbury or an Asimov. I know, I sound like a snob. Stick with me. This book also falls under the Historical Fiction genre, another with the potential to be a real snoozer for me personally, depending on the time (and 1700s Scotland definitely wouldn’t be my go-to historical epoch). The fact that Outlander embraces the traditions of several literary genres is actually a huge undertaking, and if done by a less talented writer, it would have been a disaster. For all of these reasons, I was very hesitant about attempting to read the book, but thankfully I took the leap. Gabaldon masterfully interweaves the history of recently post World War II English folks vacationing in Scotland with the brutal history of 1700s Scotland. She does great justice to maintaining historical accuracy down to every detail and artfully juxtaposes the vast differences of the two periods through the narration of our heroine Claire, a time travelling nurse who suddenly finds herself transported backward nearly 300 years into the past. I also felt that the author spread out the Romance parts enough—I hate the awkward sex scenes in most Romance novels. This book does have quite a lot of sex, but it’s intermixed with the other bits, so it doesn’t become too overwhelming. Then of course, we have the mystical/Pagan/magical side of things that the author addresses but does not fully explore in this first installation of the series. So there you have it—Outlander is a lot of things, and it does each of those things quite well.