Okay, I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to combine reading a series and watching the Olympics. I barely have enough brain power for my paid work during the rest of the year, but this combination was a doozy. I admit that I may have pushed a few deadlines off in order to get through these books while simultaneously watching less popular events like judo, whitewater canoeing, and the marathon (multitasking for the win!).
I actually found that the combination worked well together, although that wasn’t why I chose to read Harris’ oldest series when I did. In fact, I don’t even know what prompted me to buy the first one on my Kindle, although I remember that I did it while waiting for my husband to get out of work. It must have been a blend of having enjoyed her work in the past and having no access to my “to-read” list, but here I am, four days later with five more books read and a fervent wish that my library had a better selection of kindle titles so I didn’t have to slowly drain my wallet 7.99 at a time…
It’s clear that reading her book series from most recent to oldest was a solid choice on my part because Harris’ writing has improved drastically over the years. Her plots have become more nuanced than they are in the Shakespeare books, and she clearly learned to write a subtler heroine. What interested me most though, was that even in these simpler books, she writes a protagonist who is compelling enough to keep me coming back for more. This is no easy feat, especially when the character she’s working with is so damaged to begin with that she exists almost entirely outside of the lives of those in her own small town. Harris goes on to explore the idea of the outsider even more intensely in the Harper Connelly mysteries, and she has finessed both the idea and the genre by the time she starts writing about Sookie Stackhouse.
I haven’t read any of her stand alone novels, so I can’t compare them, but it’s been fascinating for me to see what she does with three female leads. It’s a toss-up whether Lily Bard or Harper is the more damaged heroine, but both of them make Sookie look positively blessed in comparison. Harris clearly is interested in how women, especially women with the odds stacked against them, manage to survive violence and become tough, honorable, and respected. I love this idea, of course, because women’s empowerment is always on the menu for me, but what has moved me after reading this most recent series is how dedicated she’s been to this idea.
In none of her books are her characters in positions of power. They aren’t cops or detectives, and Lily, at least, doesn’t even have a special power to give her an edge in solving the violent and mysterious crimes that happen around her. Of the three, Harper is the only one who is paid to come to examine crime scenes, and even she is often considered a fraud (a lightning strike at fifteen caused her to develop the ability to sense dead bodies and the cause of their death). Without a doubt, Sookie’s innate ability to sense the emotional state of those around her is my favorite twist, but she inhabits a world of vampires and werewolves, whereas the other two women exist in an ordinary world (or as ordinary as the small-town deep South can seem to a Northerner like me).
Lily is the most vulnerable of Harris’ protagonists, but she’s also the one who puts the most effort into being invincible, and I admire her for that. In fact, between reading about her work in strength training and karate, and watching the powerful women at the Olympics, I’ve discovered a renewed desire to become as physically strong as I can. Reading about Bard has reminded me of one of my favorite tenets about reading:
A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
– Henry David Thoreau
Although Harris’ books surely have their faults, her characters inspire me to want to be more brave, clever, fearless, to be resilient in the face of the worst hardships, and to be kind even when the world has taught me that others won’t always be.
To learn more about Charlaine Harris, go here.