Not to be confused with books I did not like, or books that were poorly written…
What constitutes a book that I probably would not pick up again, then?
Not that it did not resonate enough…but that it resonated too much. The books I am listing here had me concerned, not wanting to know but wanting to know, and feeling the pain and devastation which they all address, to one degree or another.
Sometimes, a book is just too powerful for me to want to engage with it more than once.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Yes, it was oft assigned in high school and yes, the plot just gets more and more deeply depressing as it goes on. But this book is a beautiful work of art in how it is written, how the real tension and struggle with the Great Depression sharecroppers is demonstrated, and the spot on characterization. I had to stop listening to this book for a few weeks because it made me so sad in parts, but at the same time had me envying this masterpiece. I had to come back to it because it would do a disservice to the work to leave it lying there and I did hang on to the bitter end. I may not read anything else by Steinbeck if this is what he plans to do to me.
Caveat: I listened to it while pregnant. Not sure if that changes anything.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Another wow. This is a stunning debut novel. The novel launches into one of the most stressful topics for me: the repercussions of how we have ill used the Earth…but I had to know. I just had to know. And the way she described the fallout from so many levels from the Earth slowing and created the political climate through eyes of a pre teen girl going through her typical pre teen crises, within her and in the people around her, against the backdrop of a major disaster was just so beautiful. Coming of age along with apocalyptic. I love it. I probably can’t touch it again. Please Ms. Walker make another novel so I can eye it as it dances around in front of me on Amazon whilst deciding if I am emotionally in a place to process your stories.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
As I am writing this post I am thinking about how this one is also a coming of age of sorts in the middle of disaster, namely, the Civil War in the American South. The stress level with this one was akin to The Grapes of Wrath where I wondered how the characters would survive as they figured out how to get on after the world had completely changes, and as with Grapes I was not sure they really would. I mean, Scarlett survives but does not really grow up until the bitter end. I had a hard time really liking her, but I liked how Mitchell wrote about love and how it sees through pretense and how someone who truly loves us encourages us to be the best possible person. So many times in history are sad. Maybe we are in a sad time right now, too, hidden under the guise of predictability.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Three of the four books on this list were brought into my purview by the Independent’s 100 best books list that floats around Facebook asking you to rate how many you have read and thus feel inferior to some of your friends who did those sorts of things with their time. I am starting to see a theme here. The Kite Runner was more beautiful sadness and devastation. This book, like The Grapes of Wrath and Gone with the Wind, went on forever and plucked at all of my vulnerabilities but I could not leave it. Breaks sometimes, maybe, but there was no leaving it. And I listened to the author performing it, increasing its power. Often I listen to these heavy works with the slight distraction of driving so they creep into my consciousness. It humanizes a complicated history in a region that is poorly understood and sometimes feared.
Also read while pregnant. Earlier pregnancy than The Grapes of Wrath, but no more sane.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
I know I have already mentioned in a previous post about this book and why it is so good. And why I can’t go into the sadness of the mortality of bright teenage kids just trying to make do with the time that they do have left. And why I can’t even watch the movie because I cannot see in person the sadness of the book. Which, I know, prevents me from also enjoying the really funny and interesting and poignant pieces of his work too, because it is all of those things.
These books, all five of them, press our boundaries and force us to consider things that we have not had to experience personally. And they make us grateful, and empathic, and better people. They are woven into our basic experiences as human and the crazy world we have made for ourselves.
What books did you love but knew you could not engage with again for a re-read? Comments and shares are love!