Monday, February 18, 2013

Capturing the South, Why some books stay with us, and 13 Weeks of Sookie

May 7 of this year marks an exciting, but bittersweet day on my calendar. It is the day that Charlaine Harris's 13th and final Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Series book will be released. The title of the book is Dead Ever After, a title that leads to much speculation regarding how Sookie's fate will play out. The beautiful cover, once again done by artist Lisa Desimini, also leads to much speculation, and I can't wait to read the book and find out what happens. Let me just point out here that when I finally have the space and the cash to actually purchase copies of all the books, I plan to get copies with the original cover art, not the editions with the tacky True Blood tie-in covers. Let me also point out that while I enjoyed the first two or three seasons of True Blood, the series has now drifted so far away from the book series that it has become unrecognizable. And not for the better. The last season in particular was extremely disappointing, and I may not even bother watching when the new season starts. But enough on that - this blog is about my love of the books.

I can't say what it is that I love so much about these books. For one thing, they are set in the Deep South and Harris's Mississippi upbringing allows her to remain true to this area of the country - both the good elements and the bad. Having lived in this part of the country all my life myself (even spending a few years in Louisiana), I can appreciate the unique blend of old and new, backwardness and progressiveness that Harris manages to capture in these novels. Because the South is, among many other things, a section of the country that is on a precipice - many of us are clinging tightly to our old ways of life and thinking while at the same time trying to catch up to the rest country in terms of modern thinking and living. I think Sookie captures this juxtaposition perfectly. Her struggles, of course, are of a supernatural variety that those of us in the "real world" will never face, but they still reveal a lot about how the Southern mind works. I find myself nodding my head and laughing out loud at some of the phrases and actions that Harris includes because they are so perfectly Southern, if slightly exaggerated at times.

I also love that these books are populated with unique, interesting characters. You may ask how I can call them unique when there is such a plethora of the  supernatural writing that has become wildly popular in recent years, but it seems to me that most of that started when Twilight came out in 2005 and started a huge trend primarily in young adult fiction. A lot of these books, and the characters in them, seem so similar to one another that it is almost like they are written from a pre-designed formula. Just change some names and a few minor details and voila! a new book is ready to be published. Sookie appeared in 2001, and these books have a more mature feel than a lot of the more recent series. She is technically still a young adult, but she didn't come from a life of privilege and has to work hard for a living. And she works as a waitress in a small town, redneck bar rather than having a glamorous job in the big city. I also like that Harris keeps some of the more traditional beliefs about vampires (they can't be out in the day and can't tolerate silver) while also introducing new ideas (the invention of synthetic blood that allows them to go mainstream). And even though the first book focuses mostly on vampires, later Sookie books include a variety of other supernatural characters as well.

I think, however, that what has really made this series stick with me is the time period in which I began reading them. Like certain songs that stand out in your memory because of what was happening when you heard them, these books have stayed with me because they saw me through a very difficult time in my life. I didn't start reading them until 2008, so I had plenty to catch up on and keep my mind occupied. I had just come home from the hospital after having surgery to correct a problem that had caused me to have a miscarriage earlier in the year. A very brilliant friend of mine, who just so happens to be one of the most interesting people on earth (just check out her blog, The Cattywampus Chronicle and I think you will agree), came by to see me and brought a bag of books for me to read since I wouldn't be able to go to the bookstore or library for a few weeks. Included in this bag were the first 3 or 4 books in the series ( I can't remember exactly how many). At first, I was a little hesitant to read them. I was afraid that they would be too silly. But eventually my curiosity won out and I began reading Dead Until Dark. That was all it took - I was addicted, and every time I started to feel bored or sad, I immersed myself in Sookie's world and always felt better when I came out. Of course, I also had a hard time getting back to reality and suffered withdrawals when I wasn't able to read them that surely would have rivaled any drug addict's. And ever since then, I have done my best to keep up with the series and read the new books as soon after publication as possible. A couple of times, I have reread the series from the beginning to prepare for the new book's release, and that is where this year's 13 weeks of Sookie comes in. I don't usually do reading challenges, because I never know what I will be in the mood to read, or have time to read from day to day, but in honor of the last book I am challenging myself to read one a week until I have finished the last one. Once again, I find myself at a difficult time in my life, and it is fitting that my old friend Sookie is here to pick me up and help me through it. As crazy as it sounds, I think I may even cry when I finish the last book. I could almost cry now just thinking about it.

Is it time for Charlaine Harris to end the series? As much as I hate to admit it, yes, I think it is. The past few books have felt a little rushed, and not as well developed. Maybe Harris was being pushed by her publishers to get them out before they were completely ready. Maybe she is getting a little burned and out and is ready to focus on some other projects (I also enjoy her Harper Connolly series.) Maybe she is so disgusted by the direction the TV series has taken that she can't bear to write any more books for them to completely ignore. I don't know why she has chosen to end the series now, but I am glad that she is ending it before it becomes ridiculous and cliched. I only ask that the final book remain true to the 12 books that came before it, that it tie up all the loose ends so the series has truly ended, and that it give Sookie the happy ending that she deserves.


  1. I've been disappointed in the series as well. The last season was just awful!

    It means a lot to me to know that those books helped get you through a difficult time.

  2. That was spot on. There are so many things one reads but not everything stays with you. It is only a few books that talk to you so deeply that they leave a profound imprint. I think, one shouldn’t write something if you don’t have anything to say.

    1. Thanks for the comment! As a general rule, I agree, but every now and then it is nice to read something that most people would find completely pointless. And it varies from person to person.