Do you ever read just to people watch?

I think if I had to narrow down my reasons for reading to just one single thing it would be people watching.

I recently heard an idea that exposing a child to classic literature can bring them a wider range of experience than the actual human world can bring. As much as I was suffering through War and Peace at school I think there’s some truth in it. Still, I don’t think every child can appreciate the chance to analyse human nature when there are more rewarding activities waiting outside the classroom. Now though, when the classroom is a couple of decades away, it’s a different story for me.

I don’t remember all events of The Forsyte Saga, but Irene Heron will forever be my hero. If I ever return to these books, it will be for her.

The plot of Madame Bovary is quite interesting, but Madame Bovary herself mesmerised me more than any storylines in the book, and I don’t mean to say the things that mesmerised me were noble or nice. I love watching all sorts of people, as long as I’m doing it from a safe distance of a book.

And what about Anna Karenina? I said it before and I will say it again – it will forever be a mystery to me how Tolstoy managed to lock real people within the covers of the book. But he did. Those are not characters. Those are living beings. And I love watching them.

I think this love is one of the two things that kept me through the books about Patrick Melrose, this and the impeccable, precise, scalpel-sharp writing.

Maybe that’s why it’s easier for me to enjoy literary fiction than fantasy (if I ever enjoyed fantasy). Maybe it’s because one can breathe only that much life into a book, and if you created believable dragons you don’t have any magic left to create believable humans?

I’m currently going through all the works by Daphne du Maurier. Apparently, not all of her stories are good (to my huge surprise). Some of them are so plain it’s hard to believe they are her creations, but the people… the people are always there, alive and breathing.

If you can recommend any books with characters like that, you are very welcome. The characters don’t need to be strong or do incredible things. They don’t even have to be good human beings. They just have to be real.

11 thoughts on “Do you ever read just to people watch?

  1. A thing about Mary Beth Keane is that her stories are just as you described in your post. While her characters are (mostly) flawed in some unmistakably real way, they are so human in nature that one can see past the fact that her stories lack a linear plot (if any plot). Her stories are about the characters, their interactions…their often careful and diligent relationships. So far I have read ASK AGAIN, YES and FEVER, the latter being my favorite of the two. While I tend to gravitate more towards a plot with my deeply developed characters, I’ve decided she is not an author for me; but, I have no trouble recommending her to others as her writing is exquisite and her characters of physical flesh. If you haven’t given her a chance, maybe you should, and I would be interested to know how you felt.

    1. Thanks for letting me know! I like good plots also, of course. I wonder if a good plot is even possible without fully developed characters? I can’t think of any story right now that would have a good, logical, fulfilling storyline but “cardboard” characters in it.

  2. Thanks for your post about “real” characters. I recently re-read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and felt remarkably inside the lead character’s head. I think Woolf was writing stream of consciousness in reaction to Ulysses by Joyce, to do it her own way, but I must also say everyone should read the last section of Ulysses where we are literally inside the head of Molly, without punctuation. Yes, yes, yes. I recently tried writing fiction with a book called The Vavasour Macbeth. I tried to make my characters real, but think I fell short in places. If you get a chance to read that, I would appreciate any comments and suggestions for improvement of possible sequels.

    1. Hi Bart! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Ulysses has been on my list for a while now but the truth is I’ve never read more than a few pages. This last section you mentioned sounds like something I heard about before and really wanted to try but couldn’t remember what book it was from. Thank you! I’ll have a look at your book too, although I don’t know at them moment when exactly.

  3. Hi again 🙂 it’s been a while.
    Great post – I like to have believable characters too and I agree du Maurier is good at that. If you want to read a classic I always recommend Villette by Charlotte Bronte to everyone. The characters in that are so distinctive and interesting.

    1. Hi there! 🙂 Indeed it has been a while. Thank you! I looked the book up, I think I’ll try it. I had a feeling Charlotte Bronte might be too romantic for me, but it’s my perception from a long time ago so maybe it has changed.

  4. I know what you mean, people are fascinating creatures and reading about them in literature can be as fun as in real life.

    1. It’s sometimes even more fun. 🙂 and definitely safer if we are talking about some villains or just very disturbed/disturbing personalities.

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