Wanted: great escape

Dear well-read reader,

I pick up books for a lot of different reasons – to learn, to be emotionally moved and challenged, to be immersed in the lyrical potential of language. But sometimes I read because I’m craving the sensation of being transported. I want the great escape. I love it when I am partly through a book and I don’t want be anywhere in the world but curled up in a chair, devouring the pages. The imaginary people and their concerns have become entirely real. I can’t wait to find out what happens, and yet I dread the end of the book and the end of this other reality.

Strangely, the more I read, the less frequently I fall under this spell. I don’t know if I have become too aware of how language and plot works – it’s like I can see the wires and pulleys that are enabling the characters to fly. Or maybe I am reading the wrong types of books, those that are considered the canon of tomorrow and make me work hard to understand what the author is trying to do and how it will influence literature. I enjoy these types of books, too, and I think they are important for me to read, but they rarely offer escape.

In other cases, a book seems to take me on that perfect little vacation – I rip through the pages, but when I get to the end? As one reader friend put it, it’s like you just scarfed down an entire box of doughnuts. It seemed like fun at the time, but now you are feeling slightly ill and kind of disgusted with yourself for having so little self-control.

It’s such a rare treat when I come across a book that is both well-written and page turning, satisfying in its emotional depth and entirely transporting. Some of the best escape books I’ve read in recent years– the Harry Potter books. There is nothing experimental about Rowling’s writing style. She falls prey to cliché now and again. In ways the characters and plot conform to existing molds. And yet, I can think of few books that have magically swept me off to such an unbelievable world and made me believe so fully.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See was another one of my rare escapes. This lovely novel set me down in 19th century China and wrapped me in the fascinating lives of the characters. I was entirely transported, and when I was finished with the book, I felt changed as a reader.

Just in the past few weeks, I’ve read some really terrific novels, books I think are well-written, important in our social context, entertaining and surprising. I cared about the characters, and the plot kept me turning the pages. And yet, none of them successfully cast a spell over me. I wasn’t swept into another world.

That’s what I want. I want that perfect escape book.

Any suggestions?



  • Chickaloon Jenny says:

    Call me an elementary reader, but I like picture books.
    The Sign of the Seahorse by Graeme Base swims into my memory as a great tale. (Caudal fin, for fisheries types)

  • Trista says:

    For a good scifi/fantasy read try Patrick Rothfuss’ series. First book is “Name of the Wind,” second book is “The Wise Man’s Fear” and the third hasn’t come out yet.

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      I loved Name of the Wind. Just read it a few months ago. I haven’t sat down with the new one yet. I think I’m the last person at the bookstore who hasn’t read it already, but I keep hearing it’s just as good, if not better, than the first one. Have you checked out Rothfuss’ blog? http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com, I really enjoy it.

  • Lily says:

    Did you already read American Dervish? I highly recommend it. I would also recommend Art of Fielding, but I’m pretty sure you did already read it, right?

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      It’s funny you should mention those two specifically, Lily. I read them earlier this year in preparation for BEA, and absolutely loved them. Both stories are so moving and vivid, and they did have that unique quality of being page turning and yet in the end satisfying and enriching. I had the chance to tell Chad Harbach that The Art of Fielding is one of the greatest love stories I’ve read — love in all its forms. Can’t wait to have them both at the bookstore to share with readers!

  • Sue Mathis says:

    I love getting lost in a good book. Sometimes I can’t wait for the end just to find out what happens and some times it’s because I just want to finsih the damn book and be done with it! I’m reading “A Song of Fire and Ice” series by George R.R. Martin. What an imagination this guy has!

    • Eowyn Ivey says:

      That is one I’ve actually been thinking about, but I’m a little daunted by the size of each book, and there are several of them, and more coming. A great escape, but I’m not sure I can be gone that long 🙂

      • Sue Mathis says:

        Book three in the “A Song of Fire and Ice” series was near 1250 pages! That’s a lot to get lost in. But I am so into the story line and characters now and time already invested that I have to continue. This is one of those “need to see what happens in the end” times. So I guess I’ll be lost for a while longer.

      • JackieG says:

        Definitely don’t be daunted by the size, once the different plot lines get going, the novels move really fast (especially when you find your favorite characters and hurry through the POVs of others just so you can get to them)!

  • Sue Mathis says:

    “finsih??” I just made up a new word! I meant “finish.”

  • Ruth Hulbert says:

    Skimming over my lists from the last couple years, I think the novels I was most absorbed in/transported by were Snow Falling on Cedars, The Lacuna, The History of Love, Middlemarch (eventually), Pillars of the Earth, Sometimes a Great Notion, and The Sparrow. Really, The Sparrow and its sequel drew me in so far, I didn’t fully surface until several weeks after I’d finished them. Some of these would be considered the opposite of escape reading, though. (Who wants to escape to a claustrophobic coastal Oregon logging town in winter?) But then again, it all depends what you’re escaping from — if it’s a break from daily routines and facebook trivia, the deep stuff is a respite. (And the Oregon rain is a break from Matanuska wind.) If it’s organic chemistry, then even Moby Dick is escape reading. 😉

  • Eowyn Ivey says:

    Totally agree about Snow Falling on Cedars — that was captivating. But Middlemarch? Moby Dick? Oh, Ruth. I felt like I needed to escape FROM those two. Ha! But The Sparrow has intrigued me for some time. I might have to pick that one up.