I’ve been making an attempt to read more. Our power went kaput yesterday, and without electricity, I picked up one of the books I received for Christmas, Emma Bull’s Territory. It had been suggested by a listener a few months ago, who said my style reminded her of Bull’s a bit. I didn’t realize how large of a compliment that was until I picked up and started reading.

What strikes me about Bull is her ability to infuse the book with its own personality. It’s beyond narrative voice, something that Paul Jessup was talking about yesterday in his post about narrative urgency. It’s almost to the point where the book literally comes alive in your hands. And the best books do this flawlessly, bringing you in as sweetly and silkily as possible. With so little time to read these days, I just don’t have time for books that come off as under-confident or take a while to cut to the chase. If a book seems uncomfortable in its own binding, I’m just going to put it away.

My goal this year was to read some great fantasy from living writers that is not George R. R. Martin. It’s been three years since his last book, and I’m at the point that I’ll have to reread the entire series again when the next one comes out. When I was younger, I had time for that. These days, not so much. So I’ve read Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, and now Emma Bull.

What strikes me about Bull is that her book is so balanced. Of course I haven’t finished it yet, but in comparison to the other writers I’ve been reading, Bull’s book just feels better. It’s a remarkable balance between the characters, the narrative voice, and her incredible talent for description that, while short, evokes an entire world. (As I’ve Twittered, too, I have a soft spot for cowboys and magic, of course, so perhaps I’m a little biased).

Now, I know, apples and oranges. It’s not fair to compare this to the other books, which include modern day gothic horror, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy. But I don’t think genre really matters when it comes to voice and bookish personality. Take Bear, for instance. I really enjoyed Blood and Iron, but the book’s personality shifts 3/4 of the way into the book. I know why Bear did this, it’s a choice a writer must make, and she chose to alter the way she was telling the story to fit the events within. But as a result, I put the book down for a few days and felt a little distanced from the story through the end

I can’t say what exactly makes that balance. It’s a combination of a hundred elements, likely, including dialogue, description, narrative voice–even font and production. I know that as a writer myself, its probably the hardest thing for me to recognize in my own work as I edit because, well, that’s my voice. Every character is a decision I’ve made, and I have no idea how it works as a whole. This is why The Aldersgate is currently lying in state. I want more distance before I do the final edit.

So, is this just me? Or do others notice book personalities, too?