Jilly: Community

How are things with you?

At least here we don’t have an election to stress about, but I spent a dismal hour yesterday watching our Prime Minister, flanked by his chief scientific and medical officers, presenting the powerpoint of covid doom 😦 . Later this week we’re heading back into a national lockdown that is scheduled to last for a month.

The government seems to be taking action now because that gives them the best chance of ensuring restrictions are lifted for the holiday season. I think that’s plain common sense, because even really cautious, rule-following friends of mine are planning family gatherings around Christmas and New Year, and to hell with the official regulations or the potential consequences.

I’m a grinch even in non-corona years, so being required to spend the holidays quietly at home with my husband, books, puzzles, music, wine, and long walks, is no hardship, but we are definitely feeling the lack of face to face interaction with our wider community. Not just our friends and family, but people we’ve known for years at our favorite restaurants, shops, hair salon, dentist, car service company, dry cleaners—all kinds of personal and professional contacts that may not be deep but are long-lasting and treasured relationships.

I was thinking about this recently as I re-read Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series (strongly recommended, especially the first three books). The author does a fabulous job of uniting the young rulers of three warring kingdoms. Over the course of the series they bond into one tightly-knit community strong enough to defeat the invasion of a powerful, predatory empire. It’s cleverly written and deeply enjoyable to read.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I think I read for community even more than I read for romance. Becoming part of a kind, strong, successful community, even a fictional one, gives me the warm and fuzzies. It’s not a complete substitute for real-life interactions, but spending mental time in that connected world leaves me feeling happy and empowered, and it lasts after I’ve put the book down. In our current situation that’s no small thing.

Most of my favorite authors are excellent at creating community. Ilona Andrews. Grace Draven. Loretta Chase. Jenny Crusie. Dorothy Dunnett. Georgette Heyer. Lois McMaster Bujold. Martha Wells’ Murderbot books. Our own Kay has a talent for writing community. Her heroines are people magnets and her stories are super-fun to read for the way all kinds of unexpected characters become part of a strong network of generosity and friendship. I hope I can do half as well with my elan stories.

What do you think? Is community an important element of your reading choices?

Do you think fictional communities can help people feel connected when we’re forced to narrow our real-world interactions? And do you have any favorite authors you think are especially stellar at creating that community buzz?

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Community

  1. First up – love the photo. There’s something about black and white photographs which immediately creates a haze of good feelings. Secondly, to Dorothy Dunnett and the sublime Georgette Heyer, you might add K J Charles whose gay characters re-appear like old friends dropping in for coffee, or S W Perry’s Jackdaw series set in Elizabethan England, which is historical mystery with a dash of romance.

    I agree heartily – community is increasingly important in times when we can’t connect in person and it will be interesting to see if that revitalises a corresponding trends in books.

    • Thank you! That’s a family photo. I thought it had a great vibe so I decided to use it and not worry too much about the quality.

      I’ve never read KJ Charles, though I know our Michaeline is a fan. I’ve never even heard of SW Perry but historical mystery with a dash of romance sounds right up my street. I’ll be looking for a good book or several to tide me over the next few months. Must check these out!

  2. I enjoy reading books with strong communities, too, Jilly, and I suppose that’s why I like to write those, as well. Creating unlikely alliances, or even likely ones, to work out problems is always fun. Many of the authors you mention are favorites of mine, too, and the ones I’m unfamiliar with—off to check them out!

    The holidays are fast approaching, and … yeah, what to do. A friend of mine has a big patio. I just ordered a patio heater for her, and we’ll be doing a small, outdoor Thanksgiving there. It’s hard to figure out how to celebrate connections when the socially responsible thing to do is avoid them. Staying at home doing things you enjoy with a person you love is a good way to go, and I think this patio setup will work, too. Sooner or later, the worst of this will pass.

    • A small outdoor Thanksgiving with heated patio sounds like a good compromise. We humans really are social animals, so if there’s a socially responsible way to stay connected I say go for it. Celebrate in the now and look forward (fingers and toes crossed) to better times ahead, hopefully not too far distant.

  3. It’s funny–community in novels was something I’d never given any thought to before McDaniel. If I thought about it at all, it was with a vague since that I enjoyed the supporting characters. Since then I’ve come to realize community is really critical to my enjoyment. For example, I like Kristan Higgins’ single-title books, but I love her Blue Heron series, which has a very strong, recurring community.

    • I never thought about it before McDaniel either, but I’ve realized that it’s an important element of all my favorite books. I think that’s why I never really got hooked on category romance–because the stories are so tightly focused on the hero and heroine. I also think community is one of the reasons (maybe even the main reason) why series are so popular.

  4. I love community in a book, too. It’s so fun to see one build up . . . it’s almost like a love story between five or six people! And also, almost none of us live in a vacuum . . . although with the Corona, I have to say some of us are getting quite close to it. Of course, community (or society) supports us in many different ways, even if we are staying at home by ourselves or with just family members. But it’s different when it’s face to face contact.

    I bet a lot of people are getting a little homesick for community in real life. I know I am. We keep in touch on LINE or other text-based communication methods, but it’s just not quite the same. I say that as an introvert, even . . . . It’s nice to escape into books with a community!

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