Ten Authors & Our Favorite Scenes

For our Question of the Week, I have been thinking about those scenes that pop into mind at random moments, the ones that make you think, or there is just something about it that impacts us in a powerful way. You get ten authors together to reflect and you have everything from Flowers for Algernon to Shogun to sex scenes. You’re in for a FUN READ! Enjoy~

For me, so many books have been a part of my heart and mind. From scenes that engender magic and mystery like the night time bonfire and snowball dance of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Or the chapter on Richard in Rosamund Pilcher’s Shell Seekers and how the main character loves the sound of his footfall when he enters the study. And at the end of her life, she imagines hearing it again as he comes to greet her. (sob!) Or the the gallery in the beginning of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility (and the bathtub scene;-). It’s a precious thing, that these scenes become a part of our daily lives, bringing a smile, a flash of inspiration, or even a tear. I can’t wait to hear from our illustrious Miss Demeanors! What are your favorite and most memorable scenes?

Tracee de Hahn: I don’t have a specific scene but a collection. For me, the nature of regret is always War and Peace with the story of Natasha and Andrew. Different types of sacrifice, selfishness, and ultimately the question of whether heroic tragedy makes something into something it was not. It is drawn together through three scenes: where she asks for more time before they marry, his death, and, ultimately, her marriage to his good friend. Often when traveling I think about James Clavell’s Shogun and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Both involve epic journeys, although certainly the journey is more central to Lonesome Dove. In both the descriptions of the joy and hardship of the voyage takes me to a different place and time. When I’m traveling it is also a reminder of how easy things are today! With only a few words both authors evoke place through the quality of light, the water, the sense of alertness to the dangers on the road and the joy of the journey. Also, interesting things can happen while traveling…. we are not precisely ourselves. 

Susan Breen: Laurie, Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about scenes a lot, because of my upcoming classes. I found this great link on buzzfeed of 36 of the greatest movie scenes of all time.  https://www.buzzfeed.com/spenceralthouse/the-best-movie-scenes-of-all-time  You can actually watch the scenes!

As to my own favorite scene, I have many, but one of my top ones comes in the novel Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It takes place toward the end of the book as the father, a minister, has suffered a terrible tragedy. (I won’t say what in case you haven’t read it.) He has to preach a sermon, and it would be perfectly reasonable for him to collapse, and yet he rises to the occasion. It makes me cry every time I read it. Afterwards the son says, “I left the church that morning feeling, as I do to this day, that I had experienced a miracle, the one promised by my father who had spoken a truth profound and simple.” So my takeaway is that I like a scene to move and transform me, which is probably asking a lot. 

Robin C. Stuart: The first book that came to mind for me is Flowers for Algernonby Daniel Keyes, but I’m having trouble narrowing it down to a single scene. The entire story has stayed with me since I read it the first time when I was 13. The second time I read it was right after I read the last page – I started it all over again. I don’t even know how many times I’ve read it since then. It’s a master class in the power of voice as the vehicle for character development, creating empathy, infusing back story organically…all things I aspire to accomplish as a writer.

If I have to choose just one scene in a book, then it has to be the only other book I reread immediately upon finishing, Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn. The scene where The Big Twist is revealed (no spoilers) was such a gut punch in the best possible way. I read it the first time on a plane and said, out loud, “no f—king way.” Then I apologized to my seat mates, one of whom asked what I was reading. After I finished, I reread it with The Big Twist in mind, to see if the author cheated. Of course, she didn’t.

The commonalities between both of these books are that the movie version couldn’t possibly live up to the reading experience, given their genius use of language, and the impression they made on me. I wanted that power, to make a reader question their perceptions, and to entertain in such satisfying fashion that they want to go back and read the whole thing again.

C. Michele Dorsey: I have a personal attachment to the first scene in Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft in which he sets forth the robbery in an understated way as if it were a common theft. The first chapter is titled, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, after the Rembrandt, which was the first taken by the thieves. Just a few hours later I came upon the scene to meet a friend on a Sunday morning when the museum opened after she learned I had somehow missed the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum, although I was born and educated in Boston. It was bizarre to arrive to find crime scene tape around the museum and learn I would still have to wait to discover the enchantment inside what has become one of my favorite museums, albeit without a few treasures (thirteen to be exact). The theft remains a mystery with many delicious theories since it occurred in 1990. Boser’s first chapter delivers a satisfying account of what happened inside the museum before I arrived. Now if he could just resolve the rest of the mystery and tell us where those masterpieces are. Honestly, my friend and I know nothing!

Connie Berry: I often think of the enigmatic ending scene in A Gentleman in Moscow [no spoilers] because the reader is allowed to complete the story herself. I recently followed a chat group where everyone had decided on a slightly different ending for the Count—and had good reasons to back it up. 

We writers think hard about tying up all the loose ends in our books—and we should. But not everything has to be spelled out and tied with a bow. Leaving some things ambiguous can draw the reader into the story. The trick is knowing when and how to do it. That’s why the ending of A Gentleman is so memorable.

And, on a side note for those of you who have read the book, my husband and I spent some time in Moscow last summer, visited the Metropol, and had a drink in the Shalyapin Bar.

D.A. Bartley:  I love this question, Laurie, and I love everyone’s answers! The first book I remember reading where I memorized lines without trying was The Little Prince. When I was eleven, just before moving from France to Germany, friends gave it to as a memento. (And that slim volume of Le Petit Prince still lives on my bookcase). It remains one of my favorite books to this day, for both its charmingly spare illustrations, and its beautiful language. I don’t think there’s a single page that’s not powerful: the desert, the fox, the rose, the stars. In the interest of brevity, though, I’ll end with this phrase: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Paula Munier: I was very jet lagged when I read this question–and all I could think of were sex scenes. What this says about me, jet lagged or not, I’d rather not consider. But here you go: 1) the ingenious, unforgettable scene in John Irving’s The World According to Garp in which Garp is conceived; 2) the fire and ice intimacies between the unnamed narrator and Lazarus Jones in Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen; 3) the first  encounter between the painter and her patron in Mary Gordon’s Spending, and 4) the poignant coming together of Pedro and Tita in the last scene of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.

Cate Holahan: I love this question. The scene in Catcher in the Rye when he is watching his little sister grab for the brass ring always brings tears to my eyes, but for different reasons. Reading it as a child, it was because I had my own mixed feelings about growing up. As an adult, it’s because I don’t know if I can stand there and let my kids reach for that ring, knowing they might fall, and knowing that’s part of it. 

Alexia Gordon: I had to think hard about this question. I can’t recall a particular scene from a book that comes back to me, bidden or unbidden. The closest I come is Ed McBain’s Cop Hater, the first 87th Precinct  novel. It pops into my head whenever I find myself thinking that novels written “back in the day” (pre-1965) were discreet and genteel and full of euphemisms. Cop Hater blasts that misconception right out of my brain. It also comes to mind whenever I try to think of an example of an author using a place as a character. McBain’s fictional city matters as much as his fictional police officers. While no specific, vivid scenes pop into my head, words from Lewis Carroll do. At least once a day, I find myself referring to something as frabjous, finding an occasion to shout (or mutter) “calloo, callay,” or ending up in a situation that makes me think, “we’re all mad here.”

I just thought of another one–funny how this “pops to mind” thing works. Whenever I close a drawer, I make sure to push it all the way in because Archie Goodwin doesn’t like women who don’t shut drawers all the way. (Archie Goodwin was my first book boyfriend, Jame Retief was my second, and I have no others.)

Such fantastic answers! Thank you so much for you wonderful thoughts. Now it’s your turn, dear reader. Let us know your favorite scenes that keep coming to mind. It’s fascinating to think about WHY they impact us so much. I hope these reflections will make you want to read and enjoy your favorite scenes all over again.

Have a wonderful weekend! ~Laurie

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