Readers know that feeling – when a cover catches your eye, or the feel of the pages is just right. You read the first line and know, without a doubt, you’ve discovered something great. When you’re finished you won’t be the same, and when people ask what your favorite books are, this will number among them. There must be a German word for it.
I’ve had that feeling three times as an adult. I spent college reading required lit with very little time to read for pleasure. That being said, I read a lot of Game of Thrones and definitely didn’t read all my bible assignments. Sorry, Humanities I.
The months after graduation I reveled in magazines and the occasional thriller. I caught up on my Tana French (highly recommend) and slogged through The Casual Vacancy until finally I read The Marriage Plot (thanks, Mom!) and felt that desire to start really reading again.
I called my dad from the bookstore (honestly, my parents would both make excellent booksellers) with a list of demands: smart, epic, funny, magical, romantic. He suggested Mark Helprin and so I came upon Winter’s Tale. Oh, Winter’s Tale. I remember when my dad was reading it. I was very small, the book was very large, and to me it seemed the loveliest, most impressive tome to ever grace my family’s bookshelves. It would have been an awful shame if I ended up hating it.
The beauty of truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is, I have seen it, and someday you will, too.
Uff. I don’t even care that the writing is oozing with pretension. In fact, I quite like it. I ate it up. Helprin writes with such confidence, such authority, that I never doubted the possibility of a flying horse or an unchartable village. Winter’s Tale made me believe in miracles. I know – so corny.
A year later, while working in the bookstore, I came across Simon Van Booy. I was initially attracted to the covers of his books, each with a simple muted image and a glossy title and deckle edged pages (that’s the fancy term for rough, jagged cut). Everything Beautiful Began After was my particular favorite but I could sense it was going to make me cry and I wanted to save it for the right mood. I’m weird and I like to read sad books when I’m sad – really wallow in the darkness. So in September 2013, when I was working at the bookstore and Olive Garden, losing my mind and walking a fine line between rage and misery, I read Everything Beautiful and cried and cried and cried. It broke my heart and pieced it back together. The characters – Rebecca, Henry and George – flawed and broken, find solace in each other, and then something DREADFUL happens and they’re miserable again. I know, it sounds awful but I promise, it’s incredible.
To love again, you must not discard what has happened to you, but take from it the strength you’ll need to carry on.
The writing is just beautiful – poetic and insightful. Swoon. It left me, and the characters, with hope.
Most recently, and the real reason I’m writing, I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’ve typed her name so many times now I don’t even have to check the spelling. I’m that devoted to this book.
Around Christmas someone stuck the advanced copy of A Little Life in my mailbox. Four friends, smart and artsy, living in NYC. Just my sort of thing – thank you, mystery coworker who knows me so well. I started reading it on my lunch break, made it through a paragraph and put it away. This is not the sort of book to be read during brief interludes and certainly not during the holiday season. It had to wait until after New Year and read during long nights and days off with blankets and many, many tissues. I thought Everything Beautiful was a tear jerker, but I have never cried so much in my entire life. I think I cried through every page. I was a mess.
The thing is, one page you’re reading about Jude, crippled and skittish, and the terrible things that happened to him as a child – horrible, cruel things – and you’re crying because POOR JUDE! And then on the next page one of his friends is bending down to tie Jude’s shoe, or walking just close enough to catch him if he falls – and you’re crying again because YES, FRIENDSHIP!
You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.
I may or may not be tearing up reading that quote.
At first I worried that I’d be the only one crazy enough to love such a heartbreaking book, but it has now made the rounds among my coworkers and they agree: this book is life changing. Months later I’m still thinking about Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm like they’re my own friends, living lives of their own, and I just haven’t seen them in a while. I want to go to JB’s art shows and see Willem’s plays. I want to sit down to dinner with them.
“They” say the books we read as children are the ones that stay with us and I do agree. Harry Potter, Ella Enchanted, Lord of the Rings, Narnia – there are dozens and they’ve all stuck with me for 20 years. It’s so much rarer to find that as an adult and when I do, it means all the more.