All of us voracious readers have favorite books—book we re-read, books that encouraged us, inspired us, challenged us, and soothed us. Not always the same (the book and the character) there are those members of the cast who never leave us. I wonder, is there a difference between most memorable books, and the individual characters who stay with us far after we finish the last page?
I’m not an academic scholar who can deconstruct the ‘why,’ but perhaps these are the characters who (as well as having a role in a favorite book) represent the best or worst of who we think we are, who we may become, or maybe they have the qualities we want or fear the most.
Could they be a litmus test for our personalities? Do they have a role in forming who we are?
If you are a person in constant “Word Love,” all the above could be true.
Caroline, Ben, Judith, and Jacob Reiser, the family from Before and After by Rosellen Brown, showed me how a family can remain loyal to their love for each other, even as their own versions of the truth lead them in opposite directions.
Anne Frank. Of course, the book, The Diary of Anne Frank was incredible (please insert this sentence all the way down the list, and help me not be repetitive!) But Anne, a character I met when I was so very young, moved into my head and never left. Despite her tragic end, she provided a ruler for open-eyed (very different from wide-eyed) optimism, which became a measure I attempt to emulate, even if I can only hope for the tiniest fraction of her ability.
Karen Killea, the main character of a memoir Karen, written by her mother, Marie Killiea, Karen and her parents overcame the conventional wisdom of what a child with cerebral palsy could achieve. From Karen I learned grit.
Francie Nolan lives in all my favorite book categories. Brave Francie of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn taught me that a frightening childhood plagued many girls.
Calliope, later Cal, Stephanides, the narrator of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides will forever stand out as an example of how a character suffering from the narrowest of problems (in Cal’s case, being inter-sexed) can become the most universal of role models in courage and significance.
Sissy Sullivan, the main character of Tin Wife, a novel by Joe Flaherty I read years and years ago, a worn paperback which still has a place of honor on my shelf of long-ago favorites, will forever represent an ordinary woman facing down a city wanting to bury her with lies.
This is just the tip of my particular iceberg of characters who will always live with me. Who’s living with you?