While I love to gab and gush and dish about books everyday, all day, sometimes there are those special books or stories that are so resonant, so beautiful, that I actually want to keep them to myself for awhile. Not as in not telling people to read them, I always recommend when I love a book, but novels that I just don’t feel the need to dissect or discuss because they are so precious to me and I’m not ready to pull anyone else’s opinions or thoughts into my own orbit.
I’m also like this with some television shows and movies. I didn’t need to dissect Breaking Bad, it just was supremely excellent and there wasn’t more that needed to be said. I’ve never talked about Nurse Jackie with anyone, and that’s by design.
There are simply those stories that create such an impact that their existence and my experience of them is enough, there is not much left to say. My experience of these stories is complicated and complex, evidence of the enchanting relationship that a writer and reader can have. That’s what makes it so beautiful and so important when done well.
I’ve compiled a list of these books because, while they are still precious to me, they are also the kinds of books that insist on being read.
- The Stand by Stephen King. There is a lot to say about this sweeping epic. It’s not like this is a quiet, reflective story with a languid plot (see a few below). And yet, I found myself pretty speechless at the end. I loved The Stand and read it while driving across the country, unintentionally crossing through many of the same states that the characters themselves were crossing. It was a wild, tandem journey. I loved these characters so much, had been through so much with them (not unlike other epics like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones — other massive favorites of mine that, conversely, must be discussed). I didn’t want the experience to leave me, and I felt that by discussing it, it would.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Like any depressed and searching twenty-something, I read The Bell Jar in college. I was so captivated by it. So moved, so validated, so scared by its truth and honesty. I remember, teetering on the edge of cliche, when I read it on a grassy knoll on campus and feeling like I finally found a lifeline to someone who understood the inner workings of my own mind. This is a story that merits rereading at different stages of life and I am fascinated and daunted by the prospect of revisiting it soon.
- Room by Emma Donoghue. I read Room in spite of myself. I was so nervous to read it given the intensity of the subject matter. I am so unbelievably grateful that I did. What I found was one of the most engrossing, beautiful and lasting stories of love between a mother and son. What has stayed with me is not the abuse, the fear or the horrid nature of the actions in the book. What has stayed with me is the impact of love and how it fuels all of our survival. I haven’t seen the movie because I’m not sure I even want that different interpretation in my mind given how much I loved this book. It’s dear to me in its hope, its innocence, its unflinching drive to give and receive love as a mother. Just stunning.
- Lucky by Alice Sebold. This is an intense one. A true, comprehensive, biographical narrative of a sexual assault and the aftermath. This kind of book is not for everyone. I was turned on to Alice Sebold’s gripping and visceral writing, as we all were, in The Lovely Bones. When I stumbled on Lucky in a Barnes and Noble, I had just finished a two-year volunteer experience as a sexual assault victim advocate (hotline and hospital response) it felt like this book was trying to find me. This book is agonizing in its accuracy. And its hope. I read it the once, and don’t feel the need to ever read it again because it has never left me. I remember lines from it these ten years later. It’s just that good, that important, that lasting.
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. I never felt the need to talk about It’s Kind of a Funny Story because it does all the talking for you. What is there left to even say? It follows the story of a suicidal teen’s hospitalization on an adult psychiatric ward. I read this book while working as a social worker who did psychiatric hospitalizations for suicidal and homicidal adolescents (I’m noticing a theme here of when and how a book makes a mark in my life). It is dark, but funny and ultimately hopeful. It shines a light on what getting help in the darkest times in your life can actually do when all the stars are aligned.
- Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz This is a beautiful coming of age story that centers around two teenage boys. What defines friendship, love and how to grow up all at once. The pace is plodding, the characters relatable, yet so different and fresh. I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe because it tapped into that lonely, adolescent place in such a gentle and loving way. The reading of it, the finishing of it, the experience of it was simply enough.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I love Donna Tartt. Her books are insane in their scope. They are so long, so meandering, so rich and compelling and gutting. The Goldfinch took me a long time to read, not just because of the length but because it was so immersive and transcendent that I needed space and time to absorb the story. There was so much to it. The prose is gorgeous, the story is fascinating and bizarre in the best way, and the characters are real, flawed and complex. I so bought in and participated in the emotional journey with Theo that by the time it was over, I had closure and felt ready to simply move on. What an astonishing accomplishment as a writer.
What are the books that you have kept to yourself or that have left you speechless? The stories that stay with you that you find you can’t say anything but, “I loved it. You must read it”?