When I visited Portland a while back, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Powell’s. One of my favorite things about that store is that they put new and used copies of the books together on the shelves, so if a person is browsing and comes across an unknown, enticing title, it’s possible to pay, say, four dollars for it instead of fifteen. I think that says a lot about the store’s attitude toward its customers and reading – they love both enough to provide an opportunity encouraging risk-taking on an unknown author. I bought eight or nine books that I’d never heard of before (plus a tee-shirt so that I could sport Portland indie bookstore pride when I got home) and my total came to around forty bucks (and the shirt was eighteen…so do the math on that sweet deal).
Since I’ve been home, this is only the second of those books that I’ve read (the first being my Noisy Village wonder-find), and I just loved it. I had terribly low expectations too, because I hated the cover. Hated. Thought it was cheap and hokey and the art just turned me off so completely that I almost didn’t buy the book…but it was only 3.75…and the sequel was even less…so I took a chance. Thank you, Powell’s. Without you, I never would have found Catherine Jinks, and that would have been a real shame because her writing is just delightful.
After Monday’s wonderful read (Sons of the 613) I had that feeling of listlessness most likely familiar to many of you. It’s the annoying side effect of reading a book so satisfying – the rest of the world looks a little flat for a while in comparison. I have this problem more than I used to (this year has been filled with some glorious books), but I can’t wallow because, well, I post here twice a week (in retrospect, I probably should have prepared for this situation by calling the blog, “Books j’adore: a guide to great books and the guilty pleasure television you’ll need to survive your post-book blues”). I don’t know how other people deal with this situation, but for me, it requires a steely will to pull out a new book and force the last one onto the back burner of my fangirl heart.
It was fortunate, in this instance, that the book I picked up was The Reformed Vampire Support Group. Jinks has a real gift for taking miserable characters and creating a story around them that allows the reader to love them despite their many flaws. This is ridiculously hard to accomplish – much harder than writing a story full of sexy, charismatic people a reader can’t help but love – and when writing about vampires especially, most authors veer toward angst, fear, or romance, rather than say…pity. That, however is where this story starts – with a group of pathetic, sickly vampires with no superpowers whatsoever, who survive on fanging guinea pigs (they are reformed, after all).
They’re weak, they’re vulnerable, and after spending thirty years worth of Tuesdays together talking about their feelings, they’re a bunch of whiny sad sacks. It seems impossible that these creatures, these shells of the human experience, could ever be anything more, but the story Jinks tells gives them the opportunity to become, if not sparkly, strong or attractive, at least heroes in their own peculiar ways.
This is an idea I come back to a lot. It’s not that I don’t like to read about powerful, attractive characters…well, actually, I’m not sure I read many books where the protagonist fits that description, but it’s certainly something I enjoy when I watching tv, so I know I’m not immune to it. And in some of my favorite “female kicks ass” books, the women are certainly described as being, almost uniformly, slim with delicate features and amazing hair. I get it. If this were the story of my life and I could edit it, I would make sure “willowy,” “patient,” and “natural gymnast” got thrown in there somewhere toward the beginning.
That’s not life though. Fortunately, in the real world, we can be heroes no matter what we look like, no matter how poor we are, no matter what terrible hand we’re dealt just by choosing to act with integrity and respect. Those things are free and accessible to all of us, and when I think about it, most of my favorite literary characters share those traits. Even Nina, a vampire trapped in a sickly fifteen year old’s body, who spends her waking hours stuck at home watching television and writing her own stories about vampires much different from herself manages to discover those tools in time to save herself from infinite years complaining about how awful it is being immortal. And if she can do that while vomiting and bursting blood vessels in her eye on a daily basis and still manage to have a sense of humor, well, we all have a chance, don’t we?
For more about Catherine Jinks, head over here.