Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Real Boys Never Live Up To: Beth's Top Ten Most Fervent Literary Crushes

One of the best things about my new job - besides the nice discount on books and the occasional free latte - is that it once again puts me in the land of the living. When I was job-hunting, I spent most of my time alone with only two fighting cats for company. But finally, I am once again taking part in proper social interaction. Of course, this means I am once again thrown in the middle of men I find attractive but unattainable (and occasionally, attractive but unfortunately-mannered). I am prone to the occasional infatuation, but nothing quite lives up to the crushes I develop towards literary characters. It might be unhealthy, but I can't help but constantly fall in love with these wonderful creations. I hope as I present my all-time favorite literary loves, you will spend some time thinking of your own. And who knows? Maybe you have a top-ten list, too...

Top Ten Literary Character Crushes

1. Jax Thibodeaux (from Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver): When I first read Pigs in Heaven about seven or so years ago, I fell head over heels in love with this man, protagonist Taylor Greer's live-in boyfriend. This sensitive rock musician adores his girfriend, writes songs with the aid of Taylor's adopted daughter, and grieves for the many things he has lost. Jax is funny, self-deprecating (well, to be honest, he actually has low self-esteem), and seemingly talented. More importantly, he wants nothing more from life than to be near the ones he loves. It sounds corny, but Kingsolver makes him as imperfect as the rest of us. And I don't know why, but I love the cracks in Jax's character as much as I love the flashes of perfection.

2. Kerry Holiday (from This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald): You might remember this name from my Fitzgerald-related list a few weeks ago. For some reason, I often collect doomed characters as literary crushes, and Kerry is the prototype. From the beginning, it's easy to desire his friendship and attention, with his strong sense of humor and easy-going attitude. Plus, he's as luckless in love as a certain book-obsessed blog writer, so he gets double points. But then, less than halfway through the book, we find out he dies in World War I. And really, I should have known all along from the moment I decided I liked him.

3. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (from War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy): I admit it seems a little strange to develop a crush on a character from one of the longest and most serious literary achievements the world has ever known. But in the literature class I took last fall where we studied War and Peace, the professor asked the girls in the class (for the purpose of comparing Tolstoy's constructions of different characters) if we found Prince Andrei - handsome, intelligent, restless, and doomed - attractive, we were all quiet for a moment. Then suddenly, one by one, we began nodding our heads and fumbling our words. The professor just smiled; point made.

4. Dan Needham (from A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving): Dan is a lot like Jax in the simple fact that he's a bit of a cliched nice guy. He loves his almost-stepson, narrator John Wheelwright, as if he were his own, and he always stands up for people who need help. Plus, he has red hair and is a bit of a nerd - never a bad thing in my book. So while Dan may not be the most exciting literary creation of all time, he's certainly one of the most decent and loving.

5. Captain Frederick Wentworth (from Persuasion, by Jane Austen): Okay, have you seen the letter Captain Wentworth wrote to his beloved Anne Elliot while only sitting a few feet away from her? Wentworth makes me ask, "Darcy Who?" Check and Mate.

6. Atticus Finch (from How to Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee): That's right. I have a crush on Atticus Finch. He's the most respectable man who probably ever graced a page. I don't care if he's older or too interested in doing what's right to be up for much dating. He represents everything that is good in humanity, and that's what makes him crush-able.

7. Gottfried Lenz (from Three Comrades, by Erich Maria Remarque): Another doomed figure, which seems to be Remarque's specialty. I've actually carried a torch for quite a few Remarque characters, as they often are so full of grief and shock that they bring out all my dumb instincts to hug and make cookies and repair holes of humanity in the wake of World War I. Lenz, however, is never less than charming: funny, intelligent, a lover of poetry and beer. He's a goodtime guy haunted by memories of war, and when he gets caught up in the post-WWI political movements (Lenz is anti-Hitler; he seems to be more of a communist), you know it can only turn out badly.

8. Mason "Mace" McCormick (from Tex, by S.E. Hinton): In my Hinton post from a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I often fell for her super-responsible older brother types. Mason is probably my all-time favorite Hinton creation. He's torn between taking care of his younger brother and getting the hell out of his home time, possibly through a college basketball scholarship. He worries so much he even develops an ulcer. But Hinton refuses to make Mason particularly sympathetic. His temper often gets the best of him (his first real scene in the book involves him beating the shit out of his little brother, the titular narrator), and he's so serious sometimes that he never looks twice at a girl or a painting or even a movie. But the final few chapters of the book reveal a complex teenager who simultaneously wants nothing more than to take care of his brother and himself at the same time.

9. Scripps (from History Boys, by Alan Bennett): I love History Boys. It's about damaged people doing often horrible things based on what they believe. In one scene, as the teachers and students talk about the Holocaust, several characters voice that it's a situation so far beyond factual comprehension that talking about it in terms of historical "interest" is grotesque. And the play works this out on a much smaller level, with both idealism and cynicism raging war against each other. It ends up as a war that no one wins. And stuck in the middle is amiable, God-fearing, "nice" Scripps. It's hard not to feel bad for a guy who sees everything but is pretty much too weak-willed to keep anything from happening. At the end, when we learn that he might never get to be the kind of writer he wants to be, it feels even sadder than it should. So why do I have a crush on him? I have no idea, but that never stops me when I read the play, watch the theater version, or see the movie.

10. Peter Hatcher (from Superfudge and other books, by Judy Blume): Peter Hatcher was my very first literary crush, way back when I was seven years old. For those of you who don't know, Superfudge was the "book that changed my life." It cemented my love for reading, and when I read it the first time, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I wanted to share stories with people who would love them as much as I loved that book. I over-identified with Peter when I was a kid. I thought I had an annoying brother, and so did he. He was smart but largely normal, which I thought I was. We would have been good friends had we known each other. And now, weird as it may seem, I often wonder what he'd be like now. After all, now we'd both be mature adults making our way in the world without our siblings under foot. Hmmm...I wonder if he's single...


  1. I love that you assembled this list! I totally need to think about my top ten literary crushes. It might actually be a difficult thing for me to figure out; I have a tendency to fixate on certain books.

    I love the "Darcy Who?" comment, by the way. So true, Captain Wentworth forever!

  2. Hi Beth! I don't know if you remember me, but I'm Amy's friend, Melanie. She had a link in her blog to this post of yours.

    I just had to share, I have had a cruch on Atticus Finch for years now. So much so, that for a long while I wanted to name my son (if I had a son) Atticus. He is such a wonderful character and so loveable!! :)

  3. Yay! I'm glad someone else shares my Atticus crush.

    And of course I remember you, Melanie!