Each month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’
The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.
May’s theme is a little late due to the mini hiatus I took but better late than never 😉
Let’s take a look!
This question, my friends, has no answer.
But I like a dictionary definition so lets start there anyway.
According to the dictionary, ‘beautiful’ is something which is ‘pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.’ According to Wikipedia, ‘beautiful’ is a characteristic given to an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. According to Christina Aguilera, it’s what we are in every single way.
If we look to the above we may be able to garner a vague understanding of the definitions for ‘beautiful’ but I couldn’t possibly tell you what is considered ‘beautiful’ as a standard across humanity (hint: because it doesn’t exist).
I could list you some things that I find beautiful but I wouldn’t be able to cohesively explain why I find them so.
Ultimately what we find beautiful is an incredibly subjective experience. The saying ‘beauty is in the eye of beholder’ is especially apt because that’s truly where beauty lies – in the eye and the mind of the perceiver.
We can see ‘trends’ though. Society does a good job of instructing us of what we ‘should’ find visually ‘beautiful’ and this is ingrained to us through the constant bombardment of media images of what is considered acceptable to that culture’s standards.
Do they get it right? Not even a little. This constant flux of information on what is ‘beautiful’ is in fact incredibly damaging. The culture and society I live in would say thin is beautiful, white skin is beautiful, blonde hair is beautiful, youth is beautiful, able bodies are beautiful.
So what happens if you’re fed this as the ‘ideal’? Well you start to absorb the message that anything outside of this ideal isn’t beautiful and is either something you turn away or that society should turn away.
That subtle (and at times, not so subtle) messaging that drips into people’s subconscious is hard to combat. It’s a slow poison that works over years but it can leave an incredibly large and lasting amount of damage. We’ve seen this damage play out with real people. The consequences on a societal level have far more impact than someone’s personal opinion existing in isolation.
People get harmed.
Cultures also perceive beauty in different ways. This article is just a brief look on ‘What a Beautiful Woman Looks Like in 15 Different Countries.’ (I couldn’t find anything that indicates what a beautiful man is supposed to look like). For the UK we apparently like ‘understated elegance,’ slender figures, pale skin and freckles. In the US a beautiful woman is apparently tall, slender but somehow still quite busty.
I don’t know how accurate these or the rest are.
What is considered beautiful also changes over time. There is mention of slender figures for the UK being a modern standard of beauty but historically larger sized bodies were seen to be beautiful. This tied in with wealth – you could afford to eat plentifully. Was it the larger size bodies that made someone beautiful or was it their money?
Nowadays in the UK we’re fed the media interpretation that larger size bodies equate to ill health and lower socio-economic status. Apparently if you’re a larger sized person it means you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle either because you can’t afford to or you’re not educated enough to do so. Of course this is a pretty harsh blanket statement but again – the media has a lot to account for.
Of course beauty isn’t just about people. Beauty can be found everywhere; architecture, art, nature and of course, literature. For some a mountain range is beautiful while others can see beauty in a derelict city. For some a story about enchanted forests and dragons is beautiful while for others it’s when someone is visiting their elderly grandparent for the last time.
Although I may have made a slight joke about it I personally subscribe to the Christine Aguilera school of thought – beauty is no longer about what is aesthetically pleasing. Beauty can be what is spiritually pleasing too.
Beauty doesn’t need to be about the physical aspects. If we go back to using people as an example we may well see someone as physically beautiful but we may not see them as a beautiful person. Why? Because elements of who they are as a person don’t fit in with our individual perception of beauty.
I may find someone physically beautiful but if they are bigoted, selfish and are cruel to kittens then they are actually incredibly ugly in my eyes. Ultimately that will overrule anything that is ‘pleasing to the senses.’
‘Beautiful’ – a concept that is easy to define but hard to explain.
How on earth to translate this into books?
We can slice this pie in multiple ways.
- Are we talking books that are aesthetically pleasing? (You know I love a pretty book cover).
- Are we talking books that contain the words ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ in the title?
- Are we talking books where the concept of beauty is a major theme or part of the story?
- Are we talking books where one or more characters are considered physically beautiful and it’s a major plot point?
- Are we talking books where one of more characters are considered beautiful in terms of their soul and it’s a major plot point? (Bonus points if it’s because they buck the trend of what society would consider physically beautiful).
- Are we talking books that just ‘feel’ beautiful or make you feel beautiful? How many times do we say, ‘that was a beautiful book?’ What do we even mean by that?!
I’m exhausted thinking about it.
Aesthetically Pleasing Books
The book blogging community like pretty books and I’ve participated in memes and tags that discuss the aesthetics of book covers because I 100% have brought a book because of the cover.
I brought Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi recently because of the cover. I mean I’m intrigued by the blurb too but that cover…. it appealed to me. The picture doesn’t do it justice because the gold is actually gold foil and as we know…. I like things shiny.
Beautiful Titled Books
The most recent book that I read with ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ in the title was The Beauty of the Wolf by Wray Delaney. Incidentally this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which actually covers off the points of:-
- Beauty as a major theme of the story
- Books where a character’s physical beauty is a major plot point
- Books where a character’s spiritual beauty is a major plot point
Books Where a Character’s Spiritual Beauty is a Plot Point
Although I kind of covered this in the point above I thought I would insert another.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not a book I’ve read but this is one of the major novels where someone’s physical appearance is not considered beautiful but their nature is (Quasimodo) while also containing a character who is considered physically beautiful – which is actually detrimental for them – while their beautiful nature is ignored or taken advantage of (Esmeralda).
A Beautiful Book
Despite some incredibly uncomfortable subject matter at times (the beginning is an incredibly horrific start to any story that I’ve ever read) I think The Lovely Bones is a beautiful story with the message of love eternal and it’s no great surprise that I blubbed like a baby almost the entire way through.
This is based off of the ‘Popular Beautiful Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 10,338 entries. The top ten are: –
- Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire
- A Beautiful Wedding by Jamie McGuire
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- Mrs. Maddox by Jamie McGuire
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Who is Jamie McGuire?? He has occurred a lot on this list because his series is called the Beautiful series and so that kind of makes sense.
But as to the list itself – this does appear to be a mixture! Some books are listed because they contain ‘beautiful’ in the name or series name and some books are listed probably because of the emotion they have stirred within the reader.
I’ve not heard of Jamie McGuire but all the rest are familiar to me and I literally raised my arms up and went, “Of course!” when I saw The Book Thief because you guessed it – I blubbed like a baby.
I think it’s safe to say The Book Thief is one of them! I’ve not read the rest but would like to read The Little Prince, To Kill a Mockingbird and All the Light We Cannot See. For some reason I have no desire to read A Fault in Our Stars.
If I continue up to the list to the top 30 out of the ones that I have read and loved are:-
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
While I loved The Night Circus so very much I wouldn’t necessarily call it a beautiful book under my personal definition. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is indeed a beautiful, nostalgia filled book which made me sad and A Monster Calls made me….. guess what?? Blub like a baby! Actually I would consider it a beautiful book.
I am now very worried that I consider books beautiful only if they make me sob into my mug of tea.
What do you guys think of this months topic? It’s a very tricky one in some ways due to the subjective nature of what is considered beautiful but in some other ways this was an incredibly easy and fun topic to consider.
I would love to know what other people think of when they think of ‘beautiful books.’ Is it the way books make you feel? Is it the characters? The content? The cover? All of the above? Something else?
What are some of the books you consider beautiful and why?
Until next time – June’s topic is already out and it’s going to all be about Retelling’s!