When I was a little girl, my father would come home from work and surprise me with a new book. He would usually gave it directly to me, but sometimes, I would go up to my room and find a new book on my pillowcase. Heidi, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia, even the Archie comic book digest found their way from my dad’s briefcase to my bedroom. I loved reading so much that I used to hide my books in my lap at the dinner table and read as much as I could while pretending to eat. My mother, who was all-knowing and all-seeing, put an end to my reading at the dinner table. But I read every other chance I had. Books transported me to other places and different worlds. I became friends with their characters, ensuring them that I would return soon when I took a break and closed their pages (or had to eat dinner). They introduced me to words that were beautiful on paper and even more lovely when said out loud: heaven, ethereal, love, angel. Books were magical.
They still hold magic for me today. I’ve progressed beyond the comic books and have expanded my collection and now, you will find biographies, business books, and memoirs tucked in between my fiction friends. Lately, I’ve found myself becoming quite emotional after reading particular books. For example, in the book, When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, my tears prevented me from clearly seeing the short message he writes to his infant daughter as he faces death at the end of his battle with stage IV lung cancer. I could barely get through the epilogue written by his wife Lucy. But this book will forever stay on my bookcase. When I almost forget how sad I was at Dr. Kalanithi’s death, I will pick it up again and read it, because every time I re-read a book, I discover something that I hadn’t noticed before. And in this particular story, there are so many treasures that I simply can’t forget about it.
A similar reaction happened to me when I read Freya North’s The Turning Point. I had such high hopes for the two main characters and was devastated at what happened to one of them at the end. I walked around my house for a few days as if I myself had lost someone (and I’m so sorry that I’m spoiling these books for you!). After my initial despair, I found myself thinking of contacting Ms. North and telling her that she absolutely couldn’t do this to the main character and that she needed to write a different ending (I didn’t go through with that email).
But aren’t these reactions the sign of a great book? Aren’t these stories supposed to elicit some emotional response from their readers? Their words last beyond the time you turn the last page, and you can’t get a character, a phrase, a setting, or the whole story out of your mind. This is why I love to read.
I currently have a stack of books that I’m going through this summer. I’m actually reading two right now: Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I’ve had to tear myself away from both books at various points because of the emotions that they have stirred in me. I’ll let you know how I turn out when I’m done.
What books do you recommend?