Tag Archive | literature

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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You’re far away, beside me

In the silence that followed Devin felt a sadness come over him…. A sense of the terrible spaces that always seem to lie between people. The gulfs that had to be crossed for even a simple touching.

~ From Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay)

Click here to read my new review of an old favorite book on this new page. 🙂

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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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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Books I will always remember

Some books are read and then easily forgotten. But there are those that, after many rereadings, still spend more time on the bedside table than on the shelf.  Here are a few of those rare ones (in random order) that have stayed with me no matter how many other books I read.

FICTION

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, by J.R.R. Tolkien – My absolute favorite! Adventure, enchantment, wonder, depth, tragedy — all these and more. One does not just read about Middle Earth, but dwells in it, and never completely forgets

2. THE BLUE CASTLE, by L.M. Montgomery – My first L.M. Montgomery experience, and one of the most vivid memories of my childhood (I read this when I was about 11 years old). She enchanted me most with her whimsical and almost lyrical descriptions of nature; and her books became an unforgettable part of my childhood daydreams.

3. VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE, by Paulo Coelho – A beautiful young woman who has everything except the desire to live finally finds it while she is waiting to die. A wonderfully fulfilling story.

4. TIGANA, by Guy Gavriel Kay – Brilliant, satisfying, and lyrical. The characters are wonderfully complex, tragic, and unforgettably real. There is no lack of depth, intelligence, and intensity here. You’ll want to read it again and again.

5. WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams – An unexpectedly fast-paced, thrilling book combining epic fantasy, adventure, and ecological themes. There are moments of profound insight, heart-stopping suspense, and intense sadness. The emotions are raw, pulling you into the world of creatures with a fierce desire to live. All in all: a first class, fascinating read.

6. STATE OF WAR, by Ninotchka Rosca – A dreamy, intricate, poetic novel of the beauty and the heartbreak of a wartorn country’s history. Every Filipino seeking to find his or her national identity should read this book.

7. THE WIND’S TWELVE QUARTERS, by Ursula K. Le Guin – A collection of seventeen short stories from award winning F&FS writer Ursula K. Le Guin. I especially like “Semley’s Necklace”,  “Darkness Box”, “Direction of the Road”, and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

8. THE COMPASS ROSE, by Ursula K. Le Guin – Also an anthology of short stories by Le Guin. My favorites are “The New Atlantis”, “The First Report of the Shipwrecked Foreigner to the Kadanh of Derb”, “The Diary of the Rose”, “The Pathways of Desire”,  and “The Wife’s Story”.

9. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, by C. S. Lewis – A classic series beloved by generations of both children and adults all over the world. It’s a timeless masterpiece whose message never gets old.

NON-FICTION

1. I KISSED DATING GOODBYE, by Joshua Harris – A sincere, inspiring call to genuine romance and real purity in a time when the call to wait for true love is seldom heeded. I encourage every young person to look beyond the title and give this book a chance.

2. BOY MEETS GIRL, by Joshua Harris – A refreshingly honest, biblical look at relationships and how to avoid the heartaches and regrets of careless dating. A must-read.

3. WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?, by Philip Yancey – All of us, at one time or another, have been haunted by this profound question. This book is an honest, straightforward look at the seeming paradox of the goodness of God and the presence of suffering in this world. A masterpiece, complete and moving without being sentimental. Where is God when it hurts? The same place He was when His Son was on the cross.

4. WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE?, by Philip Yancey – Significant, compelling, powerfully convicting. This book explores the depth of love and sacrifice found in the word “grace” and emphasizes the responsibility of all Christians in spreading the message.

5. EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, by Josh Mcdowell – A must-read for every skeptic who is honestly investigating the claims of Christianity. Clear, precise, and factual – this book is an important defense of the faith. It explains how Christianity is not a “blind leap into darkness”, but rather a “step into the light”.

6. HE STILL MOVES STONES, by Max Lucado – Stories about hurting people who are changed by an encounter with the Savior. Stories of healing. Stories of hope. Stories of grace. They tell us that He really does understand, and He cares more than we dare to imagine. This is a book that will open our eyes to miracles.

7. CAN MAN LIVE WITHOUT GOD, by Ravi Zacharias – A brilliant and compelling defense of the Christian faith using a logical and philosophical approach. Recommended for all Christians who want to present an intellectual argument for the hope that we have, and for every skeptic who is honestly seeking answers.

8. CAPTIVATING, by John and Stasi Eldredge – Delving into the mysteries of the feminine soul, this memorable book attempts to describe a woman’s heart, its longings, and the way for them to be fulfilled. It encourages women to ground their identity on the Creator and to live the lives they were meant to live.

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