The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

When I was sat with my lovely fellow judges at the first proper Fiction Uncovered meeting, the subject of what we were all looking for in winning books came up. As it went around the table with the judges and the Fiction Uncovered team things like the prose and writing style, something different that stands out, great stories etc all come up. When everyone looked at me for my response the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I want the book tingle’ and they all looked at me like they might have someone unhinged (or living up to the Simple Simon namesake) sat with them. And so I explained…

For me a book tingle is a rare and elusive phenomenon. You would initially think that for a book to give me all the tingles it would simply need to be an amazingly written book that ticks all my literary likes. Well yes, but you see there is more to it and I bet you have all had them too. You can have books that start amazingly and then, for various reasons, go off on a tangent, these ones don’t. From start to finish they have you.

The first time I had this sensation was with Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love*.  I should hear add that since then Catherine and I have become firm friends, down to the book actually, yet when I picked it up I hadn’t heard of her before and had no knowledge of the book. Oh, expect that on the cover it said ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ which piqued my interest and also made me wary all at once. In fact, cheeky little scamp that I am I actually thought ‘compared to Du Maurier eh? Go on then, impress me…’ and it did taking me completely by delightful surprise. You see from two or three paragraphs in I just knew this was a book for me. It is often the sense of surprise when this happens that adds to the experience.

These books are rare gems; you don’t get them often. There is an almost unexplainable feeling from the start which lasts until the final full stop. Not for a single moment does the book let you down, or indeed out of its grasp, you are effectively spell bound by it. It feels like all the rest of the world goes completely out of your mind and all that is left is you, the book and the author’s words. It is the prose, the characters, the atmosphere, everything! You almost feel, without it sounding arrogant, that this book was written just for you.

This has happened again very recently, if I may be so bold, with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, review coming soon. Four pages in and I knew we were off. I was in an effortless zone of book reading bliss. This book has nothing in common with The Proof of Love, well actually maybe something in hindsight but I wouldn’t have known from the start. They are set in different times, completely different places, yet somehow I just knew. And it is the same with some other books which gave me that same sensation (have I said tingle too often now making it sound even weirder than it did at the start?) like Gillespie and I, The Hunger Trace, Small Island, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, My Policeman etc ** from the very beginning I just knew. They all just got me, or did I just get them, either way it was a perfect match.

So what I am saying really, and what I think I am not looking for in just Fiction Uncovered judging but also in my reading life in general, is that the reason I keep reading is to hunt for that next kick and those extra special books. The books that you more than simply just love, the ones that give you that magic feeling, don’t let you go and afterwards become both part a landmark in your reading history and a part of your psyche.

To hear me talking about it slightly more eloquently, yet with more giggles, listen to the latest episode of The Readers. I would love to know (in the comments below) which books you’ve read that have given you the book tingle, or whatever you would like to call it, from the very start and held you throughout, plus how it feels when you just know a book is going to be just your sort of book. Which books do you feel were really written just for you? Do also share them on Twitter with #BookTingle, let’s get it trending!

*You may have noticed I have not mentioned Rebecca. This is in part because it is the book that got me reading again, so is a whole separate stratosphere and also in part because I wouldn’t have known what a book tingle was if it had hit me square between the eyes.
**These with Catherine Hall are the books, prior to my last tingle with Ms Burton, that I thought of when I was thinking of books where the feeling hit me within a few pages or a chapter. I just knew.


Filed under Book Tingle, Random Savidgeness

23 responses to “The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

  1. The Book Tingle- wonderful. “Tingle” books for me include: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Shadow of the Wind, The Magician’s Assistant and A Fine Balance. But really, Savidge, such a great post I’ll have to share it on my blog.

  2. Pingback: The Book Tingle | Book Barmy

  3. It’s hard to resist reflecting on a personal list: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, Les Miserables (both of these doorstops sustained the tingle throughout); Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint, Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Island of the Mighty by Evangeline Walton (Book 4 of her wonderful Mabinogion retelling), The House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Okay, I will stop but I want to mention one more, the first book tingle I recall: The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, about a girl who discovers a room in an abandoned house which becomes her special reading room. I knew even then I could use such a place! 🙂

  4. First one that comes to mind is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Just perfect for me.

  5. alisonmercer

    A few book-tinglers of mine (and there are many more): Harriet Lane’s Alys, Always, Patrick Gale’s Notes on an Exhibition, Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, oh and of course Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca – on it goes. My ur-book tingle experience was The Catcher in the Rye, which I picked up one lonely lunchtime in the school library aged 15 or so, having never heard of it. It was exactly what I needed to find at that point in my life.

  6. The last book I read like this was The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I also felt that way about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters; in fact, I haven’t read The Paying Guests yet because I know it will not be The Little Stranger. I’m a book weirdo.

  7. gilgulis

    I agree with everyone who said Shadow of the Wind gave them a book tingle! That’s such an atmospheric book. For me, the book tingle happens when I pick up a book that I’m in the EXACT RIGHT mood to read at that moment. More often I need to work at it a bit to find my way into it, but when it gets me on page one, BOOM, instant book tingle. Those are the books I wind up reading in one sitting or else in just a few days, the ones that fully capture and keep my attention. Night Film by Marisha Pessl was one for me, as was The Goldfinch.

  8. Stephanie White

    Just listened to the book tingle episode of The Readers today. I thought of two: The Night Circus and Breadcrumbs. When I read The Night Circus, every time I had to put it down, I held it close to my chest, shuddered, and thought, “I love this book!” That seems like a book tingle to me! Breadcrumbs is a kids book by Anne Ursu and Erin Mcguire. It’s a modern fairy tale and the writing is so beautiful that I kept having to retread passages. I actually haven’t finished it. I was reading it to my son about 6 years ago or so and he wasn’t into it so we put it down. I kept meaning to read it to myself, but never got to it. It’s going on my list for this summer. (Along with Rebecca – which I read as a teenager, but have been inspired by you to retread. And the Sparrow, thanks to Anne K and Bring Up the Bodies. It’s going to be a fun summer!)

  9. Michael F.

    I guess some recent tinglers for this reader include “Stoner” by John Williams, “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt (honorable mention to “The Goldfinch”) and “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. Cheers!

  10. Annabel (gaskella)

    I’ve only read My Policeman of yours – it tingled for me too. Others for me include The Shipping News, Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Into the Tree by Robert Williams and American Sycamore by Karen Fielding.

  11. David

    I know exactly what you mean by the tingle, Simon (Stephanie above puts it well when she says it is a book she hugs to her chest – I do that too) though the tingle is pretty subjective so presumably it isn’t your only criteria when judging? For instance I’ve read all of the tingly books you mention barring ‘The Miniaturist’ – I found two to be superb, one very good, two a bit pedestrian and one just badly written, and none for me were tinglers. Still, it’s a fine place to start: a book that moves you profoundly is sure to strike a chord with at least some other readers.

    Anyway, “tinglers” for me: Ernest Buckler’s ‘The Mountain and the Valley’ is the one book above all others where – even though it was written twenty-odd years before I was born – I felt like the author had looked inside my soul and put what he found there down on paper; others include Simon Van Booy’s ‘Everything Beautiful Began After’, Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘We Were the Mulvaneys’, Susan Fletcher’s ‘Oystercatchers’, Larry McMurtry’s ‘Lonesome Dove’, Justin Cronin’s ‘Mary & O’Neil’, David Adams Richards’ ‘Mercy Among the Children’… they’re the books that form my own personal pantheon.

  12. This is how I felt when I read Academy Street by Mary Costello last year, John McGahern’s The Barracks, Cynan Jones’ The Dig, Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Tim Winton’s Eyrie. I could go on…

  13. My most recent tingle was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Just amazing. Not an easy book to experience, but just magical in that it left me with a book hangover (which I dealt with by picking up a low-brow thriller). Far From the Tree (Andrew Solomon) was another; The Moon by Whalelight (Diane Ackerman) yet another. And Simon, I know you hated it, but The Martian (Andy Weir) was another; I laughed myself silly through that book and enjoyed the science-y stuff as well because I know people who think like that.

  14. I love the idea of the book tingle! It encapsulates that magical feeling you get when you find a book that’s just perfect for you in every way. Books that have given me the tingle include Elizabeth Kostova’s ‘The Historian’, Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, Rachel Hore’s ‘A Place of Secrets’ and Natalie Haynes’ ‘The Amber Fury’. Such a great way of expressing something so common to all readers – you’ve inspired me to write a bit more on the subject at my own blog!

  15. What a fab blog post! Life after life by Kate Atkinson is currently giving me book Tingles. I got the same tingly feeling with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Secret History and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells.

  16. I second Alys, Always, fourth (?)The Secret History and add My Cousin Rachel and The Sisters Brothers. These are off the top of my head, I could probably go on. I liken the experience to stepping into a bath at just the right temperature, it’s that feeling that you are in the hands of an expert storyteller. Lovely!

  17. Carey

    A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Does this mean I’m officially old? My most recent #booktingle is All The Light We Cannot See. I put it down days ago and can’t quit thinking about it.

  18. Just finished the miniaturist on bookbanter recommendation. Read this book.

  19. #booktingle isn’t really happening on Twitter anymore (I’m so behind) but the two books that come to mind for me are;

    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
    All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

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  21. Laura

    BookTingle is a thing! I came across this article today and felt compelled to look up this post and leave a comment.

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