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Oftentimes, a good book is characterized by the immersive world an author is able to create, one that transports readers into a realm unlike their own. Some of these worlds are so richly detailed and beloved that movie studios and theme parks have made a living off of recreating them for consumers (think Harry Potter World at Universal Studios). However, being engrossed in the world an author creates and wanting to actually live in it are two different things entirely. Below, I highlight - looking at both classic and contemporary titles - the top ten books whose worlds I personally would rather admire from a distance.
Yes, the world of Dickens is filled with memorable characters, a quirky made-up vernacular including words like “jog-trotty” and “slangular,” and delightful references to the oddities of life in Victorian England. But make no mistake: London in the middle of the 19th century was noted for its filth, stench, air pollution and overcrowded streets. This was not lost on Dickens at all, who in the first chapter of Bleak House imagines the dark smoke and soot-filled sky as having gone “into mourning…for the death of the sun.” Bleak, indeed.
There are a few positives about the post-pandemic world the characters in St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven find themselves in - not having to live in a technology-obsessed culture and being made to recognize the importance of art in life being chief among them. However, let’s be real: this is a world where over 99% of the world’s population has died as a result of a flu pandemic, and where the few clusters of people left have to go on without electricity or any of the modern conveniences that they knew before. Oh, and there’s also the possibility of getting killed by isolated gangs of survivors for food. No, thank you!
This book, set in the indeterminate future, features a world without color! Okay, if that wasn’t enough to convince of this world’s move-in undesirability, there is also the fact that every child gets their future vocation and spouse chosen for them by a mysterious committee, and no one understands genuine emotion or pain. While I’m glad that protagonist Jonas begins to be troubled by these aspects of his society, I’d rather not pay him a visit.
In an age beset with an over saturation of news (and the propensity for fake news), it is interesting to examine a world in which the opposite was true: a time when news was so hard to come by that a person could earn their keep by traveling from town to town to read the newspaper to people who either couldn’t read or couldn’t afford to buy a paper. This is exactly what protagonist Captain Jefferson Kidd does in this tale of post-Civil War Texas. While I do believe unplugging from our fast-paced news cycle from time to time would be beneficial, I admit it would be very hard to be that unplugged.
I would say this one is a fairly obvious one, right? Kids being asked to kill one another, and…I don’t even think I need to say any more. Just get me out of here.
A fantastic and imaginative tale, this book is perfect for just that - the imagination. Much as I would like to say that I would find living in Wonderland full of fun and adventure, I think if I really met the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit in real life I would still have circles in my eyes. A great adventure, but once again I’ll just read about it.
I readily admit that the chance to live in this world - a virtual reality full of references to 80s pop culture and video games - sounds very cool. But two things would hold me back if I ever got the chance to do so. One, the threat of antagonist Nolan Sorrento hunting me down, and two, the fact that I’m not very good at any of the video games mentioned in the book (even Pac-Man). I suppose Sorrento wouldn’t hunt me down because I’m not good at the games, so at least there’s that.
The world of Hatchet is one where a person has to live in the Canadian forest all alone and learn how to hunt, gather food, create a shelter and ward off predators completely on the fly. A very admirable endeavor, but a hard one to wish for.
Austen’s books are beloved by many, reproduced on film continually, and spoofed on to this day. But it is probably for the best that some of the customs of the Regency era are of the past. For example, the five Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice, young as they are, all have to find husbands because of the laws that existed about only male heirs receiving inherited property. The horrendous proposal by Mr. Collins could have been avoided were it not for that law!
It is easy to appreciate the world of Out of the Dust without wanting to live in it. Set in the “Dust Bowl” of Oklahoma during the Great Depression, a young girl through poetry recounts the often hard and difficult life her family has to endure. Yes, the severe dust storms are something I would never want to go through. But in all seriousness, this book shows through its heartbreaking and poignant moments that although the world can be hard to live in, there can be meaning and beauty.
This was Meg's first post on Mentor's Reader!
We look forward to more bookish insight from her in the future! Welcome, Meg!