Do you ever feel physically drained after reading a book? Have you ever read a book so intense that you feel like you’ve been bruised and beaten? And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way: it’s just that I have such a visceral reaction to certain books that I end up feeling like I can barely draw a breath.
And yet, books that pack such a tremendous punch often end up being my favorites.
Take my reading experience of the past week. Knowing that I’d be attending a speaking event featuring author Mary Doria Russell, I decided to re-read her first novel The Sparrow. The Sparrow has been one of my best-loved books ever since I first encountered it. I first read The Sparrow in 2005, after picking it up in a used book store. Why I originally decided to read it, I don’t know. I think I’d heard of the book before, but certainly it wasn’t one that had been recommended to me by anyone I knew. And yet, something about it drew me, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve since read The Sparrow several times, on my own and with a book group, and each time, I find something new to love in it, some new ideas to mull over, some new emotional response to the moral dilemmas it presents.
I’m sure I annoyed my friends and family to an even higher degree than usual this week, as I kept finding passages to read aloud, or burst out with outrage or sorrow over something that had befallen one of the characters. It’s amusing, in a way, that I’d react so strongly to something I’ve read before. Clearly, the book holds no surprises for me at this point, and yet the joys and sorrows of the characters still affect me as if they were happening to real people whom I care about.
I want to protect Emilio Sandoz. I’d love to be friends with Anne Edwards and get invited to one of her fabulous dinner parties. I’d like to spend time with Sofia Mendes and get her to loosen up a bit — maybe having a woman friend would be healthy for her. I’d love to hang out with D. W. Yarbrough and get the benefit of his words of wisdom. I could go on and on, but you see the point. The Sparrow is not some huge, 1000+ page doorstop of a book, but within its pages, the author has created not only an entire fictional world, but a cast of characters whom I feel I know. And when bad things happen to them — and they do, as it’s made clear from the very first page — it hurts. On the other hand, when these characters encounter beauty and joy — and again, they do — I want to celebrate with them and share in the glory of the moment.
I suppose the reason I’m even sitting down to write this is to preserve in some way my moments in the world contained within The Sparrow. I finished reading it late last night, and I just don’t feel quite ready to dive into something else and leave behind the mood and the emotions evoked by this book.
I know there have been a handful of other books in my reading life that have affected me as strongly (or nearly as strongly). What about you? What books have you read that have made a dent in your heart? What books ensnare your emotions and don’t let go? I find that while these type of books may be difficult to get through, they’re ultimately the ones that I love the best. Share your thoughts, please!