Quick. When I ask you to name a novel where the first-person narrator leaps off the page, what comes to mind?
Now skip to the bottom of this post and type it into the comments.
Ah, you’re back. Good! Thank you for helping me formulate a reading list for the next semester in my MFA program. As regular readers know, I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Creative Nonfiction. Last semester I thoroughly enjoyed my list, which included collections of great personal essays, award-winning travel literature, and a few other selections.
But those books were all nonfiction. I want to add some novels in this go-around. In particular, I’m hoping to learn more about telling a story in the first person.
The first novel that came to my mind was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and this opening:
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
Thanks, Huck; that’s what we try to do in creative nonfiction, tell the truth, mainly.
It wasn’t just “literature” that came to mind, however. About 20 years ago I was addicted to Robert B. Parker novels; in fact, Spenser was so real to me that I never watched the TV show Spenser for Hire because I didn’t want to spoil the world Parker had created in my own mind. If you’ve ever read a Spenser book, you know how critical the narrator’s voice is to the lasting appeal of that series.
I head off to Montpelier, Vermont, a week from tomorrow, and a few days after that I’ll be paired with my semester advisor. What novels should I tell that advisor I’d like to read?