My 6 Picks: Celebrating Ordinary Characters in Books

My 6 Picks: Celebrating Ordinary Characters in Books

In my previous post on origin stories and defying conventions, I talk about accepting one's ordinariness or rather, not worrying about needing to be extraordinary to have lived a life worth something. And over the last couple of weeks while reading, I became a little irritated and I had no idea why. Then, like a lot of non-brilliant people, I had an epiphany while in the shower. I realized that I was irritated with the types of books I was reading because they played up the extraordinary.

Seriously, think about it. Out of all the books you have read, how many have been about regular people simply living? Or about ordinary people wandering into unique situations but still emerging ordinary out of it? My guess is not a lot unless those are the types of books you actively seek as a reader.

As you know, I love to read. With the help of audiobooks, I am currently on my 10th book of the year.

Sidenote: If you're wondering, the apps I have downloaded on my phone and use are Hoopla and Libby (by Overdrive), both of which are free if you have a library card and your library has a subscription with them. You can find the apps used by the Chicago Public Library system here on the left-hand panel. And, if you don't have a library card, you can apply for an e-Card that allows you to use their online services by applying here.

Anyway, I keep a running list of all the books I read annually because it makes me feel like I'm doing stuff. Out of 9 books (I'm not including 1 because it was a mini-feminist manifesto), only 3 follow an ordinary character, and this is not to say that I read a lot of fantasy, I primarily read contemporary fiction. So I'm wondering, why is it so hard to write about ordinary people? Are publishers not interested in the everyday? For this reason, and because I have been the type of person who has had to work hard for what she has, my book follows an ordinary family whose life changes after a horrific incident. I will admit, in one of the first iterations, the main character was a quick-minded 9 year-old but she didn't stick around long.

I'm digging into the backlogs of my mind and scouring my bookshelves to celebrate the ordinary with you. If I ever did have a theme song for a blog post, for this one, it would be Ordinary People by John Legend. So, if you stick around to read my recommendations, please feel free to play the song while reading as I did while writing this.

You Deserve Nothing by Aleksander Maksik was one of the first books I read that was completely ordinary. I remember being befuddled when I finished it. I'm pretty sure I thought it was a terrible book because it felt like it was about nothing. But it wasn't, it so wasn't. I was young and an idiot. It's told through the perspectives of 3 different characters. It's about expectations and reality. Simply, it's about life unfolding.

I just read The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay and it is a vivid debut. It follows Shalini, a woman who, after losing her mother, sets off on a journey to look for a Kashmiri salesman who used to visit their home in Bangalore until he suddenly disappeared. When she does so, she is pulled into Kashimiri politics and the destruction it has left behind in the lives of its people.

Puddin' by Julie Murphy is a follow-up to Dumplin' (made into a Netflix Original with Jennifer Aniston) but it can be read as a standalone. To put it aptly, it's about a fat teen who loves her body and shows that to be fun, likeable, and an all around good person, you don't need to be a size 2.

Ok, so if you couldn't already tell from my previous reading habits, I tend to stick with YA. But I expanded my horizon and read Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I'm going to talk about the latter since the MC in Gone Girl is a psychopath of ridiculous proportions. Also, another sidenote: I think it's super weird that both of these books are for adults and the MCs are over the age of 20 but they're still referred to as "girls." They are not girls. I wonder if it's better for marketing... Back to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, the main character Rachel is ordinary. Sure she blacks-out after getting shitfaced, which happens often because she's a functioning alcoholic, but what I love about her character is that she is a little bit of all of us. Or maybe we are all a little bit of her? She has the types of internal thoughts, jealousies, and insecurities that I think we have all experienced. She's fucked up, but so are all of us. It just so happens that her curiosity puts her in a really scary position. The plot unfolds really well. I didn't see what was coming until it ran me over. Get it, like a train?

...

I could write on and attempt some more terrible puns but here are two other books worth mentioning (there are also two books in the picture that I won't talk about but are equally ordinary. Please pardon Timmie's scowling fur-face and yes, I do keep those plant instruction tabs because I am forgetful and a hopeless plant-assassin):

The God of Small Things (adult) by Arundhati Roy. This is my favorite book in the whole world. No arguments. It's beautiful. I'm going to copy my thoughts from my roundup on Desi & Desi-American Lit:

Roy's first novel is like a decadent slice of cake composed of exquisite prose. The story follows Estha and Rahel, fraternal twins whose lives begin to rapidly fracture after the death of their seven-year-old cousin, Sophie Mol. The story is of love and loss, family and political unrest in India, and the "Love Laws that lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”

Lay it on My Heart (YA) by Angela Pneuman. My fiction seminar professor gave this to me when I was working on my manuscript, although it was very different then, this books remains one of my favorites. Charmaine Peake is the daughter of a prophet father who is committed to a psychiatric ward and a mother who is resentful of her circumstances. Charmaine is burdened by the problems of others, by religion, and by expectations, all while on the cusp of growing-up. It's a pretty heartbreaking book, but I assure you, it is worth the ache.

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  • Thanks for an intriguing idea. I tend to read mostly detective stories (mysteries), since that's what I am trying to write. But one of my favorite books isn't a typical detective story -- "Rebecca" by Daphne DuMaurier. The heroine is so ordinary that she doesn't even get mentioned by her first name in the entire book. She's just "Mrs. DeWinter" (and the Rebecca of the title was the first one). Spooky stuff for a very ordinary character.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    That is so interesting, thanks for sharing! I'll have to add Rebecca to my reading list!

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