Tag Archive | Books

Five books that punch you in the heart

Some books should come with a warning:

Booking Through Thursday asked the question:  What was the most emotional read you have ever had?  To answer that, here are five books I’ve read through the years for which I had no warning that I was about to be sucker punched in the limbic system.

1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

The protagonists in this epic, evocative fantasy trilogy set in a richly textured alternate universe are mostly children, but it doesn’t stop Pullman from throwing the book of emotional trauma at them. So if he didn’t have mercy on his characters, why should he spare you, oh hapless reader? He makes you care about young Lyra Belacqua and her friends so much that when they  get into trouble, you can’t help gnawing your nails until it’s over. When they win, you’re right there with them throwing fist pumps in the air. And when they grieve, holy mother of many worlds, there is nowhere you can hide from the tears. I moped around for days after it ended. Then picked the first book up again to go through all of it once more.

2. The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’s an irrepressible part of me which, even if I already know that a story has no happy ending, still insists on holding on to hope until the very last moment. For example, every time I watched any performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I would hold my breath at the climactic scene, crossing my fingers that maybe, just maybe—this time Juliet will wake up before Romeo kills himself. And I don’t even like those two infatuated idiots that much.

When I started The Children of Hurin, I already had a pretty good idea what would happen. I’ve read The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales, so I thought I was prepared for the inevitable tragedy of it all. Wrong. It still broke my heart, dammit. It may not be fair to say that I wasn’t warned, but just because you know the train you’re on is going to crash doesn’t make the moment of impact hurt any less. And Tolkien got me on that train. He got me on that train real good.

3. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’ve already written twice about my favorite GGK novel Tigana (here and here), so I’m taking this chance to appreciate another brilliant work, The Lions of Al-Rassan.  Set in an alternate history version of medieval Spain, it is a deeply moving story of passion, faith, and valor in the midst of change and conflict. Like always, Kay’s characters are complex human beings you would be willing to follow into any adventure and fight beside in any war. Also, like always, Kay knows how to make you fall in love, he knows how to break your heart, and he knows how to make you feel it was all worth it afterwards. He’s a really good writer, is what I’m saying.

4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

When a book’s title has the word “miserable” in it, there’s no way it’s going to be a laugh fest, right? Right, I knew that. But I was surprised anyway by how emotionally devastated I was by the (sometimes hopeless) struggle for love and redemption by the downtrodden in post-revolutionary France. I read this while growing up in a small town without a theater to speak of, so I hadn’t seen the world-famous play yet and had to find out what happened next by turning the page. What an unforgettable journey. The musty pages of that old book I found tucked high up in my mother’s bookshelf still have tear stains on them, and my mother still remembers how I wouldn’t shut up talking about it to anyone who would listen.

5. State of War by Ninotchka Rosca

This one is heartbreaking not just because it’s really good fiction, but because so much of it is true. It follows ordinary human beings throughout a dreamy, panoramic allegory of Philippine history and thus takes the story of the Filipino people out of the dry pages of textbooks and weaves it into living, breathing myth. I didn’t know I could grieve so much for what had been lost when I hadn’t even lived when it existed, but State of War brought home for me the damage inflicted on the Filipino psyche by centuries of carnage and subjugation. The novel got me thinking more carefully about who I was as a Filipino, all the while deeply aware of the irony that those thoughts were running through my mind in English. In the end that contrast somewhat describes my cultural identity: confused, fragmented, seeking, and still in the process of defining itself.

When I finished writing this list, I realized that all five of these books are set either in fantasy worlds or somewhere far in the past. Other honorable mentions are Atonement by Ian McEwan and Night by Elie Wiesel (holy buckets of terror, was I traumatized after reading the latter—which is as should be, as the Holocaust should never be taken lightly).

I do get affected by stories in set the here-and-now (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, anyone?), but the ones on this list refuse to be dethroned from their place as soakers of the most number of handkerchiefs. I’ll be making my way around the other posts to discover reading suggestions for when I’m feeling brave again. Or severely masochistic. You know, whichever comes first.

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Frightened

It was too late. Stupid dare or not, she had to see this through.

But she stood frozen by the icy air, suffocated by the thick, putrescent stench filling the room. She recoiled, but the sense of horror wrapped itself maliciously around her, seeping into her pores, oozing into her hair, caressing her scalp. There was nothing to do, no help she could give or receive.

She could only watch.

Suddenly, the book was snatched out of her hands. Her friend’s laughing voice intruded into her imagination.

“Are you aware that you’re reading The Exorcist by peeking through your fingers?”

______________________________________________________________________________________

(This is a response to the 100 words challenge in Velvet Verbosity. The word for the week was “frightened”. This one happens to be a true story. I usually get completely caught up in whatever book I’m reading, provided it’s well written enough, which is why I never read horror. A friend of mine, however, dared me to read William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. Suffice it to say that I never watched the movie, or read anything like that again.)


 

On Longing (Or: My Sentiments Exactly)

Fatima went back to her tent, and, when daylight came, she went out to do the chores she had done for years. But everything had changed. The boy was no longer at the oasis, and the oasis would never again have the same meaning it had only yesterday. It would no longer be a place with fifty thousand palm trees and three hundred wells, where the pilgrims arrived, relieved at the end of their long journeys. From that day on, the oasis would be an empty place for her.From that day on, it was the desert that would be important…. From that day on, the desert would represent only one thing to her: the hope of his return.

Paolo Coelho in The Alchemist


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Literary Meme

I found this on several other blogs already, so I’m gonna hop on the bandwagon. Here goes: Instructions: Look at the list of books below. *Bold the ones you’ve read *Italicize the ones you want to read *Leave the ones that you aren’t interested in alone.

  1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
  2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
  5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
  6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
  7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
  8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
  9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
  10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
  11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
  12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
  13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
  14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
  15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
  16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
  17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
  18. The Stand (Stephen King)
  19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
  20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
  21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
  22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
  23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
  24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
  25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
  26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
  27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
  28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
  29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
  30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
  31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
  32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
  33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
  34. 1984 (Orwell)
  35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
  36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
  38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
  39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
  40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
  42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
  43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
  44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
  45. Bible
  46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
  47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
  49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
  50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
  51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
  53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
  54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
  55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
  56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
  57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
  58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
  59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
  61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
  63. 63. War and Peace (Tolsoy)
  64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
  65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
  66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
  68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
  69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
  70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
  71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
  72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
  73. Shogun (James Clavell)
  74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
  75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay) 7
  77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
  78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
  79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
  80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
  81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
  82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
  83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
  84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
  85. Emma (Jane Austen)
  86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
  87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
  89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
  90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
  91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
  92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
  93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
  94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
  95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
  96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
  97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
  98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
  99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
  100. Ulysses (James Joyce)


A lot of books that I wanted to read were not on this list. So many books, so little time. *sigh*

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On moonlight

We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness…. We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant…. It transforms. It falls upon the banks and the grass, separating one long blade from another; turning a drift of brown, frosted leaves from a single heap into innumerable, flashing fragments; or glimmering lengthways along wet twigs as though light itself were ductile. Its long beams pour, white and sharp, between the trunks of trees, their clarity fading as they recede into the powdery, misty distance of beech woods at night…. We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or the dew on a July morning. It does not reveal but changes what it covers. And its low intensity – so much lower than that of daylight, makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, only for a little time, a singular and marvellous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone again.

Richard Adams in Watership Down


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In defense of joy

…We have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid….This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else.

Ursula K. Le Guin in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters)


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