“Each reader needs to bring his or her own mind and heart to the text.”
People have different ideas of what makes a book good. For me, and I daresay many others, universality is the most significant standard. Universality – Encarta says: “relating to, affecting, or including everyone in a group or situation; relating to, affecting, or accepted by the whole world” – is what makes me, a twenty-first century American, want to jump cannon-ball-style into Tolstoy’s 187Os Russia in Anna Karenina. No matter the genre, if there is at least some little bit of emotion, a situation, a theme, or so on, to which a reader can relate, well, that’s the good part. And this trait has proven to be what makes a classic; just ask any professor of literature.
Now, I did have some trouble getting over a pretty serious bout of literary snobbery; I used to be all about the classics and the classics only. I mean, they were the ones that had stood the test of time; they’d already been proven important and relatable. But with some gentle prodding, both in college courses and at the suggestions of friends, along with my own curiosity later on, I learned that I am the judge of whether a book I read is good, not just critics and professors and other authors and readers whose opinions pile up over time into a mountain of pages of critiques and reviews and revisions and journal articles… I gained the self-assurance to not only read with understanding, but also to confidently judge books for myself with my own convictions. And that’s a good feeling. Several names come to mind when I consider this lesson, including authors I encountered in my own reading and in my classes, along with respected professors who made a difference in my reading life. But one who was quite prevalent and influential during that learning process is Dean Koontz with his Odd Thomas series.
I never had been one for sci-fi or fantasy or anything like that. I’d watched Star Trek occasionally as a kid because I liked LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow. And sometimes, I’d put a headband across my eyes and run around my room pretending I was helmsman Geordi La Forge’s female counterpart, flying through space on the USS Enterprise-D. (Yep, been a hopeless dork all my life.) I digress; my point is, the only respect I had afforded Star Trek and other examples of sci-fi/fantasy/whatever-I-should-categorize-it-as was that of a child playing pretend. (That is, until the 2009 premier of the new Star Trek film, in which Chris Pine plays Captain Kirk… And even Spock wasn’t half-bad looking… But that’s another digression all unto itself…) So when a friend suggested that I read Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, I laughed. “I don’t know… a guy who sees ghosts and solves mysteries… Sounds kinda like a grown up’s Scooby Doo,” I’d said. But after his sincere assurance that Odd was nothing like Scooby Doo, I agreed to read it.
Sitting in the parking lot across from the Tad Pad at Ole Miss after a long day of English classes, I couldn’t possibly wait till I got home to finish the last few chapters of Odd Thomas, or else I might burst into flames and die right there. Or, at least that’s how it felt. Sun shone through the windshield and reflected on the pages almost too brightly for me to read, but I just pulled the shade down and squinted. When I’d finished, I sat staring at the cover, mouth agape, tears gushing, mind racing over what I’d just read… I had been so engaged with these characters; and it had been a long time since any piece of writing had elicited such a reaction from me, even my beloved classics. “THIS… what genre is this?!” I asked myself. I had never imagined something with a supernatural theme could be so emotional, so stirring, so… so… intelligent. “Why is this guy not featured in our text books?” I wondered. No spoiler alerts, but… a tragic love story, heroic exploits, saving of lives, thwarting of terrorist plots, unique humor, and yes – a protagonist who sees ghosts and experiences the supernatural: Odd Thomas had it all. I have since devoured every installment in the series.
Odd Interlude, the most recent installment, was first released as a serialized digital publication that takes place between the fourth and fifth books. Once again, readers find Odd (whose name has received only speculation in regard to its origins, although it seems to fit him perfectly) following his intuition into a place where people need his special brand of paranormal aid. While Odd’s primary gift is the ability to see lingering spirits who have not passed on to “the other side” after death and helping them to do so, one major difference between this “Special Odd Thomas Adventure” and the others is that he does not use this primary gift in Odd Interlude; instead of relying on spirits of the dead for clues about what to do, Odd relies on another character as well as an unexpected helper to battle an unexpected evil. (Like I said, no spoilers… but it’s worth the read to find out about this new helper and new adversary. I didn’t see it coming…) This situation shows readers a side to Odd that we knew was there, but we didn’t know how strongly it functioned in his life and his heroics; his intuition and “psychic magnetism” seemed to me like lesser powers, sulking in the shadow of his power of seeing lingering spirits. But in this thrill-ride of bizarre evil, I decided that perhaps I’d underestimated Odd before. When will Dean Koontz cease to surprise me?
It was hard to get over being a book snob… But I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong, especially about something I love as much as reading. Don’t misunderstand me; I still love my classics. I think I just might rip someone’s arm off a’ la Beowulf if he were to come between me and my copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Or, I guess it would be more appropriate to chop his head off in one swift WHOOSH, if I could get my hands on an ax. Not to mention what I’d do to protect Treasure Island. I’d have to somehow obtain a cannon and large amounts of gun powder and at least one cannon ball. You know, it amazes me how many characters lose limbs… But disarticulating appendages aside… I love the old classics, and I love the modern classics; I love the books with no “classic” status that I still find to be great. Because I am my own judge.
For anyone who has read my posts up to now, you’ll know that I always try to find something relatable to my life specifically in each book. That’s because of what I explained above; great authors, from ancient to modern, give us the possibilities of finding those relatable emotions and situations. Jane Austen had no idea I’d link her characters to skydiving two hundred years after she’d created them; Isabel Allende didn’t have the slightest clue that her heroine’s quest from Chile to San Francisco would be likened to my job choices; Rowan Knicks, well, she did actually know I’d relate to that one – it was rather obvious. All these authors provided relatable people and emotions with the power to transcend time and cultures. But when I ask myself what it is that I draw from Odd Interlude, it’s more difficult to answer specifically; let’s face it: I can’t see the dead, I can’t combat evil entities with naught but my mental faculties, and the only supernatural power I possess is the ability to spot atrocious grammar mistakes faster than a speeding bullet… So I’m thinking a bit more generally on this one. What to take away from Odd Interlude?… Besides good writing advice from Odd’s companion Annamaria that I can put into practice myself, I’ve found that several important themes and ideas stand out. Selflessness and bravery, those are a given. Humility, as well. The strength of true love. And how about humor in difficult situations? It just might save your life. Being open to new, unexpected means of help; listening carefully to everything around you. Paying attention to your intuition. Never giving up hope that what you desire most out of life (and death), things you feel are promised, will eventually come to you if you do everything in your power to make them happen. Using the gifts you’re given, even if at times they seem more like burdens than gifts.
Of every aspect of universality within the pages of Odd Interlude, the one which I find most profound is Odd’s opinion of the world. I invite my readers, and readers of Koontz’s Odd Thomas, to consider the world the way Odd does. “We are fallen in a broken world, and one thing that occurs to me is that after thousands of years, when we think of fallen angels, we think of them as we always have: busy spreading misery on Earth. But the universe in its immensity is nevertheless of a piece, and what applies at one end of it applies at the other. No doubt misery, like happiness and hope, is found throughout the stars.” We must accept the bad times with the good times, and during the bad times, we must remember that goodness remains, spread throughout the world and even the universe. I invite you to take heed and remember this thought. And don’t be afraid to find yourself specifically in the books you choose and state it with confidence; that’s what great authors like Koontz intend.
Pages: 254 FoA Pages: 11,859