Just like our interpersonal relationships, there are times when our relationships with books can be fulfilling…and sometimes they can be disappointing, unhelpful, or downright unhealthy. And it’s just as important to be aware of these moments, and have ways to handle them.
I have read a number of books in my time that seduced me with false promises; spectacular descriptions or glowing reviews that convince me that I can’t live another day without getting my hands on it, but which don’t speak to me as they spoke to those other readers. And that is fine. Most of the books that have changed my life are ones that friends and fellow readers couldn’t stand.
But the ones that really hurt are the books that lull you into a false sense of security…the ones that promise so much…and then turn on you with an unexpected plot twist, a sudden death, or a shift in perspective or a character, leaving the reader floundering, lost, and desperately trying to recapture the magic they once felt. There is an enormous sense of loss when this happens, as if a personal relationship has gone bad, because so much time and energy and imagination has been devoted to this book–and it just doesn’t seem willing to conform to the reader’s plans or wishes.
Perhaps my favorite example of this is a quote from Jason Momoa, the super-terrific star of such shows as Game of Thrones, and The Red Road (and who is heartily invited to visit our library any time he’s around), upon learning of the death of his character, Khal Drogo, in Game of Thrones: “[I] started reading the book… It took me four days. [When] Drogo died, I literally freaked out, set down the book, went to Barnes & Noble, bought the second book and I’m flipping through it because, of course, I’m [convinced I’ll be back] in it and I was so bummed [I wasn’t]”.
So what is there to do? Other than finding another copy of the same book to ensure that our copy isn’t somehow ‘broken’, and that the same troubling section does indeed exist in all copies, of course. Can we break-up with books over a difference of opinions? We will be discussing the issue of ‘book-breakups’ soon, but for now, how do we handle stories that “bum us out”, to use the great Mr. Momoa’s phrase? What good can we take from these moments?
My sixth-grade self would tell you to fling the book across the room and refuse to speak for three days (yes; this actually happened. No, please don’t throw your library books across the room). But my taller, ever-so-slightly-more-grown-up self tries to remember what drew me to a book in the first place, and use those moments to find new books to love. Perhaps I didn’t feel that spark with the book in my hand, but I can learn from that in order to find a new book on the shelf that might just change my life.
So here are a list of some books with sensational moments. Maybe they are not my ‘forever’ books, but they led me to great things…and maybe they’ll do the same for you…
The Strain: The opening scenes of this trilogy about a modern-day vampire epidemic is one of the most eerie, disturbing, and thoroughly unforgettable that I can recall. A plane lands in New York with all its window-blinds drawn, and sits silent and dark on the runway. After all attempts to communicate with the place fail, agents are sent out to force the doors open–only to reveal that every person inside the plane is dead. I’ll be honest, I never finished this trilogy, but this well-paced, utterly unsettling scene alone is a reason to recommend to someone looking for a thoroughly modern twist on some very old supernatural themes. I loved the steady pacing and gradually building sense of dread, and ended up reading (and adoring) ‘Salem’s Lot and The Passage as a result.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair: As I’ve said before, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, is perhaps my favorite book of all times. So when I began reading through Joel Dicker’s award-winning mystery/thriller, I was delighted to realize that it was, essentially, a re-telling of Lolita, told from outside the relationship. Here, a young man discovers the story of his mentor’s relationship with a fifteen-year-old girl when he himself was in his thirties–but only after her body is discovered buried on his property. The references, allusions, and conscious homage to Nabokov’s book in the pages of this novel made me appreciate both works even more, and I found Dicker’s use of the ever-popular Unreliable Narrator fascinating. And while I still can’t wrap my head around the plot twists that begin around page 500, this story would definitely appeal to anyone who enjoyed the surprises in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I personally loved the ways in which the various testimonies from the townspeople and friends of the main characters combined to make a story that was heart-wrenching, surprising, and, overall, completely convincing…until the very moment that it wasn’t.
The Sojourn: As someone who studies the First World War, I was thrilled to learn about Andrew Krivak’s book, which focuses on Jozef Vinich, an Austrian-American who becomes a sniper along the Italian Front in the Great War. The book is at once a close study of an individual caught up in a tidal wave of historic events, and an attempt to capture the war on a grand scale. It was, by no means my cup of tea, but it did lead me to several non-fiction books about the Italian Front, such as The White War (one of the few book in English published about this particular geographic area during the course of World War One), and the fiction of Stefan Zweig, himself an Austrian who lived through the First World War, and captured not only the opulence of his pre-war Vienna, but the loss of faith and community that resulted from the war.
I hope this helps you deal with some troublesome book relationships in your own life, beloved patrons, and always know that we at the library are here for you, and ready to help you discover a new book to love anytime you need it.