I just finished Charlotte Otter’s debut novel, Balthasar’s Gift, and left a five-star review. If it were just a good mystery, I would have given it four stars, but the author’s outrage about the South African government’s response to AIDS infuses her writing with a passion that makes this a special book.
I started thinking about other books that knocked me out, and in most cases, the author wrote the book because he or she cared – really cared – about something. Tim O’Brien’s Viet Nam war books came to mind. I looked further back, at books considered among the best of American literature.
To Kill A Mockingbird, voted the best book of the 20th century by the American Library Association, tells an engaging coming-of-age story. It also exposes the hypocrisy and human costs of discrimination – both racial and against those who are simply different.
Consider The Great Gatsby, which many critics consider the best modern American novel. How do you think F. Scott Fitzgerald, an ambitious man from an aspiring middle-class background, really felt about the snobbery of Daisy’s closed world? About how the very rich were insulated and protected from the results of their misbehavior?
Authors also imbue their books with passion when they care deeply about their characters. Their caring makes us care when we read. Now, I’m trying to think of a book that engaged me although the author seemed a distant observer.