Book Theme

Bookish: Book Theme – Beautiful

book themeEach 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!

Beautiful

what is beautiful

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 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?

beautiful 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.

gingerbread

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

beauty of the wolf

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).

the hunchback

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.

the lovely bones

what is popular

This is based off of the ‘Popular Beautiful Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 10,338 entries. The top ten are: –

  1. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  4. Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire
  5. A Beautiful Wedding by Jamie McGuire
  6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  7. Mrs. Maddox by Jamie McGuire
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. 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.

What are my favourites.jpg

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 PrinceTo 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.

Breaker

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!

11 thoughts on “Bookish: Book Theme – Beautiful

  1. What a thoughtful post! I love how you explored the spectrum of what “beauty” might mean to different individuals, but when it comes to books, I personally am with you in saying that books that make me cry into my drink are the beautiful ones. Emotion IS beauty imo (pain, love, anger, etc.), so any book that induces that reaction from me can be considered beautiful, although I do have a few other caveats such as beautiful language/prose. 😉

    For example, I consider Shadow of the Wind a beautiful book, Not perfect, not totally realistic, and not necessarily my favorite book, but there’s just that sense of atmosphere that’s almost magical, and I can’t help but describe it as “beautiful” each time I see it. Of course, the beautiful covers helps too lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      It’s strange because I didn’t even realise until I was writing it down that all the books on the list that I’d thought of as beautiful were ones that I’d cried over. Although A Monster Calls is a sad book I actually thought of it as beautiful rather than depressing although I know a lot of people who wouldn’t like it because they would consider it ‘miserable.’ I think you’re right – if something can illicit an emotion than I may well see it as a beautiful book!

      Shadow of the Wind is an excellent book and atmospheric is a wonderful way to describe it. I always thought of it as quietly tragic and quietly hopeful in equal measures.

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      1. Same, I thought Monster Calls was beautiful rather than depressing. It was beautifully cathartic, and I would add Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller to that list in that regard. 😊

        It’s weird how much I loved Shadow of the Wind! The plot would’ve been usually too dramatic/unrealistic for my taste, and yet I couldn’t help but adore it to bits. As you say, I think it’s the nuance and quietly hopeful aspects that unexpectedly outweighed my nitpicks with it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The Book Thief is amazing, I would agree with you there! I’ll have to check out All the Light We Cannot See because I don’t know a thing about it. That’s why I quite like doing these though – because I end up finding books I’ve never heard of.

      Like

  2. Oh, Iran with the fake nose bandages… i saw that recently on youtube and was kinda surprised, cuz in Europe / US most people try to hide whatever nose job or stuff they get done.

    This was a really cool post, and i also totes love that first cover (Gingerbread).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I know! I love when there’s cultural elements to beauty though because it’s so interesting. The perception of status and money = beauty.

      Gingerbread has such a pretty and shiny cover in real life, I was like a magpie!

      Like

  3. I actually really love this topic and how you delved into the both the very definition of beauty, society’s definition of beauty, and how ultimately those definitions define us. I agree with you on how beauty is completely subjective, so it is probably one of the worlds most hardest things to quantify or label because everyone and their mother’s have varying opinions on what they find pleasing/attractive/beautiful.

    I haven’t read many of the books you have listed but I can agree with you on When A Monster Calls being a beautiful piece of literature–never in my life had I sobbed harder with a small book than with that one. ugh. The emotions were hella real lol.

    I’ve never read McGuire’s work either but i do know its a NA romance that was a HUGE bop back when it first released.

    I think the most beautiful book I’ve read would have to be A Court of Mist and Fury, not just because the cover is super pretty, but because of how complex, intrinsic, and spell bounding it was. I was left breathless and changed by the end of it and I think that is what makes a novel beautiful–at least to me–when at the end of the day I am a better person for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I found it fun to write this one but also it was quite tricky and it does all come down to the subjectivity of what people think is beautiful. I couldn’t even list what I consider to be beautiful or why because it doesn’t feel like a tangible thing!

      A Monster Calls hit me hard in the heart. I read it on the train from work but luckily finished reading it in my living room at home because I was just openly weeping by that point.

      Unfortunately I struggle with the ACOTAR series, they weren’t what I wanted them to be and I’m quite critical of them. Oddly I love some of the characters though, especially the most controversial character in Nesta. I stan her hard. But I fully appreciate that people are unique and different and like you said – beauty is subjective. It would be a boring place if we all thought the same things!

      Like

  4. This is such a great post! I think beauty is such an interesting topic because, I agree, beauty is so subjective and dependent on the individual person. For example, there are some book covers I love that I know other people hate, and vice versa. Or there are some books people think are beautifully written, whereas I think it’s too much like purple prose. It totally depends on the person and what they’re standards are.

    But I totally agree with The Night Circus, it’s such a gorgeous book inside and out

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much!

      Yes completely, beauty is such a subjective thing and I know that I struggle to find words to explain *why* I think something is beautiful because I just think it’s felt on an emotional level and not a rational one.

      Same re. purple prose. I’ve read some books that I think are up to the eyeballs with purple prose but others love it and think it’s lyrical but then there are some books that I think are lyrical and others think it’s the worst purple prose!

      The Night Circus is such a great book!

      Liked by 1 person

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