Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life changing books

I've been thinking about my newly kindled love affair with books (still in the infatuation stage, though I hope it becomes a long term commitment). While it's satisfying to list the books I've read cover to cover, what I'm really after is something more significant. I'm looking for a life changing book. I'm waiting to stumble upon a story that rocks my world, an author who can express stuff I feel but can't articulate; an epiphany on a page.

The most recent book I just couldn't put down was In the Woods by Tana French. Over a year ago, I heard it reviewed on NPR, was immediately interested, and bought it as soon as I could. Side note: I'm very susceptible to suggestion. The book reviewer on the radio presented such a strong case for this mystery novel, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I read during every spare moment. I took it to bed with me (which is very rare, as I'm the only one in my family of seven who doesn't read at bedtime. I fall asleep minutes after my head hits the pillow. I might be narcoleptic). I finished the book within a matter of days, totally engrossed in the characters, the plot, the twists, the intrigue. This story had it all.

But the ending was a total letdown. I shouted when I came to the last sentence. Where was the rest of the story? Surely there was a chapter missing! I loudly complained for days, angry that I was led on for so many pages, lured into a world I could see and hear and feel, only to have the proverbial rug ripped out from under me. It was pure anguish. I begged Husband to read it (unfortunately, I wailed and complained, and then recommended it, but he wasn't fooled). I talked my brother into reading it, explaining all the teasers I had heard on the radio, raving about the things that sucked me in. But really, I just wanted someone to commiserate with over the miserable ending. Let's just say that ploy did not foster family togetherness. He'll never read another book I recommend. It was a traumatic literary experience.

Since then, I've hoped to find a story that engrosses me AND gives me something lasting to take from it. So I've read a lot of non-fiction lately. Not even bad writing can dilute the effects of real life, right? I thought I could protect myself. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller held my attention and entertained me. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer horrified me. Murder by Family by Kent Wittaker was like watching a train wreck. A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman delighted me.

But I'm still looking for something life changing. I want to be able to say this:

"It should be required reading for anyone who is ever going to tell a story, whether that story is to be written or spoken."

"This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it."

"It was weirder, stranger, more disturbing and more powerful than I was lead to believe. I've read through several times more and it never fails to disturb me."

"The first book I ever read that left me thinking about my own value structure after I closed the cover."

"Reading the book, I felt as if my mind was rocked by explosions. At times the ideas were too much that I literally had to lie down."

"Reading [this book] is like having [the author] grab you by the hair, shake you, and say WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?! YOU NEED TO USE THESE TIPS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT!!"

Have you had any similar reactions to a book? Do tell.

Want to hear what books these quotes are referring to? Let me know.


  1. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think Tana French's "In the Woods" should have had a different ending and those who think it's perfect as it is. (The latter kind include the juries of the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, and Macavity awards, all of which the book won.) Grit your teeth and try French's second book, "The Likeness", which appeared on all sorts of "Best of '08" lists (including Best Mystery of the Year according to the editors at Maybe even better than "In the Woods," and you won't have a problem with the ending!

  2. David,

    Thanks for the comment. I am actually excited to read "The Likeness." My only stipulation is to wait for the paperback. I know that at least one character crosses over to the second book, but I'm hesitant to expect a "sequal." Tana French has definitely peaked my interest, and I have by no means written her off.

    What other books do you recommend as personal favorites?



  3. I would like to know who gave such high praise to what books please! :)

    Also I dunno know if I've suggested this book to you before or not; but I loved Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It's about the Lewis and Clark expedition. One of my very favorites of all time. If J hasn't read it he should also give it a try. He'd probably really enjoy it. I'm currently loving Three Cups of Tea. Have you tried that one? If you can get past the terrible writing in the intro it is fascinating.