Craving All the Feels? These Five (+) Books Will Get You There

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When it comes to novels’ subject matter, I don’t shy away from the brutal. Many of my favorite books are the ones which march unswervingly into dark and painful realms. I find these types of explorations are the ones which often make me feel the most, the ones which stay with me for years.

I search for redemption in these tough books: in the beauty of language, in the depth of universal truths unearthed, in the intimacy of relationships, or perhaps in the strength of a main character.

The funny thing about books is that sometimes what determines how strongly we connect with a novel or memoir is the timing. Where we are in our lives and in developing our understanding of the world when we pick up a certain story?

These beautiful – and often painful – books found their way into my hands at just the right moment, when I needed them the most:


2016-10-5-image-little-lifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I’ve heard a number of friends complain that this novel is too sad and too tough for too long to finish. Not true for me. I treasured every page of this story which chronicles four college-aged boys, all friends, as they grow into adulthood. The redemption in this story? In the beauty of their friendships and the love they share with one another, often expressed in the smallest and most mundane of moments.

Favorite Quote –

“There’s not an expiration date on needing help, or needing people. You don’t get to a certain age and it stops.”

 

2016-10-5-image-luckyLucky by Alice Sebold

In this memoir, Sebold writes about her recovery after being raped on her college campus at the age of eighteen. Her strength of character and the wisdom of her words moved me so deeply somehow she strengthened me, too.

Favorite Quote –

“You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

 

 
2016-10-5-image-mercyA Mercy by Toni Morrison

If you’ve ever read Toni Morrison, you know that her work ought to be read slowly with the utmost vigilance. A Mercy is no exception. Perhaps this is my favorite of Morrison’s work because so much of the story is centered on a mother-daughter relationship, a relationship which lingered for so long in my consciousness. Or perhaps it is my favorite because I was the older when I first read it, with more experience and understanding than when I initially read Sula or the Bluest Eye, for example.

Favorite Quote –

“To be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”

 
2016-10-5-image-gussieAugusta Locke by William Haywood Henderson

Speaking of mother-daughter relationships, Henderson astounded me with his ability to write from a woman’s perspective in Augusta Locke. I love this novel for so many reasons – because of the strength of the main character, Augusta; because of the complexities in the characters’ relationships; and because of the beauty in Henderson’s depiction of the Wyoming landscape.

Favorite Quote –

“She heard a girl’s voice calling her name, a sweet voice. She heard soft footsteps, or the pulse of wings. Nothing flew in the sky, nothing moved beside the lake, not that she could see. She couldn’t attach the steps or wingbeats to anything. And then she knew the sound – it was her own heartbeat centered between her ears – and she knew that she could be near death.”

 
2016-10-5-image-without-mapWithout A Map by Meredith Hall

I’m pretty sure nearly every student of creative nonfiction has read the opening chapter of Hall’s memoir in which her character is shunned after becoming pregnant at age sixteen. (You haven’t? Look for it! It’s called “Shunned.”) But the rest of this memoir is every bit as moving. The images of Hall wandering aimlessly across the Middle East – grieving and searching – will always stay with me. As in Lucky and Augusta Locke, it is the strength of the protagonist which brings redemption to this story.

Favorite Quote –

“The world waits for you with all its beauty, but also its frights and its pain.”

 

 

2016-10-5-image-run-or-dieBonus: Run or Die by Kilian Jornet

Because I can’t help myself, here’s one more. Yes, it is a memoir written by a professional athlete, but don’t cut it short. It turns out Jornet is as talented with words as he is with running up mountains. (He’s a preeminent sky and ultra-runner.) This memoir isn’t as much a story as it is an homage to the religion of mountain running. Even though he leads the pack during ultra competitions and I bring up the rear, Jornet is able to capture precisely what moves all of us who are in love with this sport.

Favorite Quote –

“The secret isn’t in your legs, but in your strength of mind. You need to go for a run when it is raining, windy, and snowing, when lightning sets trees on fire as you pass them, when snowflakes or hailstones strike your legs and body in the storm and make you weep, and in order to keep running, you have to wipe away the tears to see the stones, walls, or sky.”

 

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Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.

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