Wednesday, July 02, 2014

That Time Some Books Tried to Kill Me

The very first book that ever tried to break me was A Little Princess. I may have cried a bit over a book here and there beforehand, but I can't recall one that made me do the copious snot/sore throat/uncontrollable tears weeping before this one. I was 10 years old, my parents had gone into the hardware store's lumberyard on a Saturday afternoon, leaving me in the car to read, and came back out to find me silently sobbing over the fate of Sara Crewe. 

Next up was The Outsiders, which I think I read for the first time in 6th grade. This book changed me. I didn't realize it until much later in life -- maybe only recently. But there was so much in it that I related to even at the age of 12, and so much that opened my eyes. And yeah, it made me cry. And I think what made me cry was seeing myself in the main character. People read as much as I do growing up because they feel a little bit alone and a little bit on the outside. And obviously that's kind of the central theme of this book -- feeling overlooked.

At one point, I had read it so many times that I knew it nearly by heart. I'm a bit rusty on it now.

A family friend gave me Exodus when I was in 8th grade. This is the same family friend who introduced me to Monty Python, poetry, Masterpiece and the BBC, and Jane Austen, so obviously her taste is impeccable. She always seemed to kind of know my heart without me having to say a whole lot, so I'm certain she knew I would find a lot to love in this book. It's a fictionalized account of the founding of Israel following World War II. My previous experiences with devastated sobbing at the hands of a book were a mere warm up for this one. It's another one I've read at least 100 times, and I always play this game when I re-read it every few years to see how far I can get before the first tear drops onto the page. I never get past page 60 or so. And the end? Forget it. I've never read it through clear eyes. 

I can't think of any books that I read in high school or college that touched me the way all of these have, but almost immediately upon college graduation and moving across the country from my family came this book, Girl. It's the story of a high school girl in Portland in the early 1990s, and the music scene in that city and Seattle. It cut right through to the heart of me and I remember wondering how a male writer could know so well what it was like to be a teenage girl. They once made a super shitty movie out of it, trying to make it a comedy. This is not a comedy. It's not depressing, either, but it is the very definition of bittersweet. 

I discovered Skipped Parts later in my 20s and Tim Sandlin remains on my list of favorite writers to this day. This was kind of what all the bookish hipsters were reading in, like, 1997 -- Tim Sandlin and Infinite Jest. This book is a coming of age tale of a 13-year-old boy in a small Wyoming mountain town (faux-Jackson, really) who doesn't quite fit in, and his first romance with a girl in his class -- I don't want to give too much away because it's too good but ultimately kind of devastating, though not in a Fault In Our Stars kind of direction. I just love how Tim Sandlin captures the teen angst without mocking it and that feeling -- again -- of being the outsider. Kind of a recurring theme for me... 

Sister of My Heart is so lyrical and beautiful you nearly forget later on how devastating it is. You just know from the beginning that these two girls are doomed in a way. The book begins on the night they're born and I was sad from the get go because I just knew it couldn't end well. But it's GORGEOUS. You have to read it. I mean, no one dies or anything. Come on! 

So yes -- I picked this up after Seth Cohen referred to it on The O.C. and gave a copy to Ryan. And wow -- am I glad I did. I'm normally a person who gets pissy about prize-winning books because they are never quite my thing -- usually they are too deep or weird or painfully depressing, or all three. But this! This is a beautiful book about the lives of comic artist cousins who are more brothers than all that. It's just a beautiful book -- I don't know what to say about it other than that. Really if you've never read it, just read it. It's not about comics, not really. It's about families and love and all that good stuff. It tried to kill me but really it just made me stronger. Because it's soooooo good. (Incidentally, this the ONLY book I ever give to people. The only one. I am always reticent to be all, "Ohh, you have to read this." But with this book -- YES.)

Mockingjay was the perfect end to the perfect series. I began doing the ugly cry intermittently early on -- second or third chapter or so -- and then sobbed for the last quarter of the book. I hadn't owned my Kindle very long when this book was released, and I had a terrible time figuring out how to clear the screen of tear stains. I really thought this was as bad as YA could get in terms of heartbreaking devastation, but I was proven wrong a couple of years later with The Fault In Our Stars.  

So no. We weren't going to get through this without a Harry Potter book. There are places throughout the series that make me cry -- some more now that it's all over than when I was first reading them. But the last several chapters of The Deathly Hallows make me do the ugly cry. Beginning with what Harry sees in the Pensieve after witnessing Snape's death, and then his walk into the forest, and all that follows -- holy shit! It's like the cumulation of all the things that make me cry in books -- death, love, orphans. The usual. 

 Ahhh yes, The Fault In Our Stars. Killer book of all killer books. Devastating and beautiful and funny and sad, I remember reading it the first time through with my mouth hanging open, amazed that someone could do THIS with words. There is a very real part of me that loves John Green.

The year after my older sister died, I just wanted the catharsis of a good solid cry, so all the books I sought out provided that. Ten Thousand Saints is a painful read for about the first third and then gets into a less depressing rhythm of beauty tinged with sadness. I found the ending happy in its way. This is another one I'd love to recommend more but when people read it, they get upset because the first third is so hard to read. It takes place amidst the straight edge punk scene of the 1980s, mainly in Greenwich Village. Give it a chance! 


Another coming of age tale, Tell The Wolves I'm Home is a beautiful story about sisters and family and art and love and all that stuff. It felt cathartic. It caused ugly crying. Of course it did, because it was about sisters who both loved and hated each other at the same time but couldn't live without each other. For obvious reasons, I'll never read another book about sisters again without sobbing if it's well done. Perhaps the rest of you have better self-control.

I didn't read The Perks of Being a Wallflower till after the movie came out -- I hadn't seen the movie, but I had heard a lot about it, and honestly I'm just more likely to pick up a book first than see a movie based on said book. So I read this, and it damn near killed me in its perfect depiction of a shy bookish boy trying to figure out his high school years and cope with some tragedy in his past that he keeps buried. 

This passage was probably my favorite part:

“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn't.” 

But then, there is also this... 

The Dovekeepers is a fictionalized account of the events at Masada after the Romans drove all the Jews out of Jerusalem. Because it is Alice Hoffman, it focuses on the women -- four particular women whose paths cross when they are given the task of caring for doves. Also because it is Alice Hoffman, it is lyrical and beautiful and even as I was sobbing my way through it, I was marveling at its beauty. The fantastic thing about this book, being based on a historical event, is that you know it's not going to end well, so you go into it with clear eyes. That doesn't make it less devastating, but at least you can brace yourself. 

I keep telling myself that, anyway. 

Which brings us to this little gem. Eleanor and Park. I knew it was going to break me the minute Eleanor walked onto that damn bus and started reading Park's comic books. It's got all my favorite things in a book -- teenage misfits, music, books. I related the most to Park, not to Eleanor -- I think I was a lot like Park back in high school. Possibly still am.

Also it had this to say about music...

Anyway. Like they always say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

No comments: