Books That Have Left Their Mark Upon Your Heart

A good book tends to do two things in unequal measure:

It makes you think.

It makes you feel.

It’s the latter I want to ask about today.

Tell us about a book that made you feel something. That affected you deeply.

Tell us what it is, by whom, and how-slash-why it affected you.

To pause for a moment and to define “affected” — I don’t mean something glib like, “It bored me.” Yes, that’s technically an effect, but not what I mean. I mean a book that cut deep. That made you feel griefstruck or giddy, that somehow birthed in you an emotion or effect not normally expected. A book that punches hard. A book that leaves scars or tattoos, big or small. That broke your heart, or maybe mended it.

I’ll hang up and wait for your call.

NO CARRIER

85 comments

  • “City of Joy” by Dominique Lapierre. Read it when I was fifteen. Totally kicked me in the ass and permanently influenced my perspective on, well, a whole lot of things.

    (Incidentally, if you’ve only seen Joffé’s film starring Patrick Swayze, you owe it to yourself to read the book. The movie is okay, but the book is truly amazing.)

    Also, anything by Lloyd Alexander. Seriously, that man was my idol.

  • I read Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” shortly after my mother died, about 7 years ago. For some reason, her articulate description of her grief, and the path it followed, calmed me.

    Also, it introduced me to Joan Didion: a wonderful discovery.

  • Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. His unrelenting cruelty to the title character haunts me to this day. I wanted to crawl through the pages and have a little talk with Emma while reading the story. Spoiler alert, if that is needed for a book over 150 years old, when she drank the poison at the end I was relieved that her self built suffering came to an end.

    Gustave couldn’t let it go either. Did he really have to send poor little Berthe to the countryside to work in the cotton mill? What the heck is wrong with that man? An evocatively cruel story.

    Madame Bovary was by far the most powerful book that I have ever read.

  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It was a slow burn of a book, where I didn’t really know how I felt about it until about halfway through, when I couldn’t stop myself from reading it. It pulled at my heart, demanded my attention, threw me for a loop. And then the last page happened.

    It’s brilliant.

  • Well, up there’s my new expanded reading list.

    “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I was depressed for WEEKS after finishing that book and found myself unable to leave the version of Chicago created there. I even began re-reading it to try and get OUT of it. Eventually it all passed, but I still get a pang thinking about it.

  • While many books have touched me over the years, there are three that stand out from the crowd.
    1) Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Without exception, this book has grabbed my heart, squeezed it and refused to let go. I first picked it up after being diagnosed as gifted/learning disabled in grade school and shortly after seeing my parents break up with no warning. Needless to say, this book spoke to me. The plot is…heartbreaking, to say the least, the characters are fantastic, and the ending is perfect even after re-reading it a dozen times at least.

    2) On Writing, by Stephen King. Normally, I hate hate HATE celebrity success books (and especially books on writing advice- no offense, Mr. Wendig!) I’m also not a fan of Mr. King. But, the way this book managed to weave a (rather tragic) life story combined with sound advice on writing and life with a wit I would kill to sit down with over a beer and soak up for an hour. I can count on one hand the number of books I have devoured in one sitting, and “On Writing” is one of them.

    3) Dies the Fire, S.M Stirling. Coming from a family with a love of history, and with a personal love of nature and simpler living, my heart couldn’t help becoming attached to a world where electricity and firearms cease to function, where people’s lives slow down and appreciate an older way of life.

  • So many great books listed here! Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (especially the first three) touched me deeper than any books ever have in my life before or since. My son is named after the hero! The characters are as alive to me as friends or family I don’t get to see enough. Gabaldon’s obsessive attention to detail makes the whole story come alive. I felt a hundred different emotions reading those books and there is always more to discover on a reread.

    Other faves are George RR Martin’s series and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.

    All epic, complicated stories painted on a huge canvas with finely wrought characters.

  • Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series – first series I’d read where the hero really, really earns it. I remember reading the first book on a Girl Scout camping trip by flashlight, and me and my best friend reading it together on the bus ride back.

    I’d add L Frank Baum’s Oz books, too and Peter Beagle’s Last Unicorn as well. Maybe Narnia. These are the books that most influenced my childhood and early adolescence.

  • Back in college I had to read ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren in a single night, before an exam. The book tells the story of the rise of populist governor Willie Stark (inspired by Huey Long), told by his right-hand-man, Jack Burden. It’s really as much Jack’s story as Willie’s. As Willie gains power, Jack gradually loses almost every bit of his idealism. By the end I wanted so say, “You don’t have to suffer any more!”

    It’s similar in tone to novels such as Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES and Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE – a fatalistic protagonist who can get past what he’s lost.

  • “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst. A short story rather than a full length book, but the single most moving thing I’ve ever read. “A mark upon your heart” is about the right way to put it.

    It’s about two young brothers, their bond, how selfishly we treat the ones who love us, and the unintended consequences of that selfishness.

    I read it in high school english about a decade and a half ago. I assume it would hold up during a re-reading, but I haven’t done it cause it’ll make me cry like a little girl. Probably for too long.

    If you had a younger sibling that looked up to you (especially when you were to young to appreciate the gravity of such a thing), and you can read this without tearing up, then the robots have already won.

  • @ K. P. Dawson

    Yeah! A fellow Animorph fan! I remember checking out the whole of those books at the library, and my brother giving me a whole 2 ft. stack of those books. There where tons of those books! I remember reading some FAQ about Applegate and one was how she wrote soo many books in so little time. The answer: Coffee, and lots of it.

    Tobias has got to be my favorite character. The fact that he’s an outsider for nearly the entire series and does not go insane says a lot being he was a teenager. Though strangely afterwards when I read literature with characters of the name ‘Tobias’, I feel that none ever natch up to the Animorph’s Tobias. The latest example of this would be Tobias from Cynthia Roth’s “Divergent”. Although Tobias is a formiddable character there, I still feel Animorph’s Tobias would hand him his ass in a plate… somehow.

    I loved the Andalites. I believe I still have the Andalite Chronicles. Who was your favorite character, if you had any?

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding made me think about human nature. I was an idealist before this book, so maybe this book flipping me on my head onto more of a realist type platform. Lord of the Flies made me take stock of myself, my beliefs and my alignment and put myself on the island with Piggy and the boys. I thought to myself “Am I really that different than them?” And the surprising answer I gave was, “no, not really.”

  • “Zombie” by Joyce Carol Oates was incredibly disturbing. Since I was reading it for a class, I wasn’t able to toss the book aside the first time I got nauseous. First person narrative from the perspective of a serial killer can be really creepy and Oates is such a good writer that you’re placed right in the midst of the guy’s rotting psychotic head meat.

  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

    It makes you feel like you’re slowly losing your own sanity while the MC loses hers. I read a lot of horror and I’m yet to read anything that emotionally affects me the way that did.
    I reckon anything that makes you feel like you have to question your own sanity is a good thing :)

  • My 14-year-old self would have answered this with Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook,” having spent nights crying and wondering if she’ll ever experience a love like Noah’s. But my present-dayself would probably scoff at such a choice and answer that Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” is the one book that has struck some powerful chords, and any attempt at articulating what the book did to me would only fall short of the immense realities that it introduced me to. I’ll let the last sentence of this classic speak for itself — “If you wanna fly, you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.”

  • Am I allowed two comments? Just sitting here on my lunch break reading through the comments and I thought about the one book that really changed my life. And I only realized that two years ago after being at the Slaughterhouse in Dresden (which is now used for trade fairs) to set up a music fair. I went and bought the book again and read the first chapter and saw how Kurt Vonnegut had changed the way I looked at the world and, of course, war. He was one of my favorite authors when I was in high school and Slaughterhouse Five was one of my favorite books.

    And the best quote: “I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.”

  • Having thought about this more; i’m going to wade in with a second comment too – “The Hobbit” woke me up to the possibilities of the written word – I don’t remember the exact age I was (deffo less than 10 based on the bedroom I was in at the time I read it) but I DO remember pretending to be sick to my mum so that I could take the day off school and finish it. It was such a rip-roaring tale that I was totally absorbed and HAD to finish it.

  • Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” I threw myself into that book. I was dragged along with every character, through every hardship and celebration. I love it because no matter how many times I read it, it always hits me just as hard. I love reading it, love talking about it.

    As for old friends, “Hit or Myth” is my go-to security blanket. It’s not the best-written book, but whenever I’m having a crap day, I pick it up and instantly feel better. My copy is so worn it’s held together primarily with duct tape and a scrunchy.

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. It is heartwarming and heartwrenching by turns. It really helped to drive home the concept of losing one’s faculties. Since then, that idea has become one of the major fears of my life.

    “And please, if you can find the time… please put flowers on Algernon’s grave for me.”

  • Oh books. Each of my favorites is a favorite for this reason, and many of them have already been mentioned. However, one that really struck me (flat out smoked me in the side of the head then laughed and laughed) was Feed by Mira Grant. I sobbed through the last 50 pages. Big gulping sobs. For all the books that I have read and loved for various reasons, this was the first to reduce me to that state – where I cared so much for the characters that I felt their loss, their pain, their *betrayal* so deeply. In fact, it had such an effect on me that I haven’t been able to read the rest of the trilogy yet. I want to and I will… someday. When I’m brave enough.

  • There is a great number…but I’ll pick the most recent book to have a deep emotional impact: “The Woman Who Married A Cloud” by Jonathan Carroll.

    It is a short story collection, and it contains a great many wondrous and exciting tales, many of which affected me very strongly on many levels.

  • Motorman by David Ohle. It was the awakening for me into the non-traditional writing and “underground” literature…writing that’s actually better than “mainstream” best seller list books.

    I took a class at the University of Kansas called, Strange Texts and Motorman was the culmination of the class. Ohle is also a professor at KU. That class changed my mentality towards writing, reading and books in general.

    As an aside The Story of Edgar Sawtelle really got to me emotionally. Its a dog story and you know “it’s” going to happen but the way it happens seems so unfair and at the same time it fits so well that I was conflicted over whether I loved it or hated it. It’s a good one.

  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – It tore my heart apart every time I sat down to read, and at the end it took all the pieces of my heart and tossed them into the wind. Beautiful, haunting, horrible, lovely story.

  • Wow. I can think of several books that just about clocked me upside the head.

    The Riddlemaster of Hed (trilogy) by Patricia McKillip is a series I read every few years and the sheer beauty of the language floors me every time. There’s a line in the story “They were promised a man of peace” that leaves me teary eyed EVERY TIME.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife. I have only read this book once, but it destroyed me for months and months. As a metaphor for staying in relationship with someone, I have never seen its equal. Cried the final chapters.

    And it’s not a novel, but a poem. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. http://www.panhala.net/archive/wild_geese.html I find great solace in her words and have read the poem hundreds of times of the years.

  • NOTE – There is a SPOILER below for anyone whose not read all the A Song Of Ice And Fire books.

    A comic led me to my first book. Marvel’s Savage Sword Of Conan blew me away, mighty barbarian = check, scantily clad women = check, monsters and evil wizards = check. From the comic I progressed onto the Robert E Howard books (edited by Lin Carter & L. Sprague de Camp) and collected nearly every one. It was my first taste of fantasy, from there I went onto Lord Of The Rings, then Shannara. But as mighty as those epics were I always came back to Conan. Last year I bought the leather bound centenary collection and it has pride of place on my bookshelf.

    During the 80s, 90s and 00s I moved away from fantasy and read mostly SF & Horror, but then early in 2011 another book came along that had the same effect on me as that very first Conan story did. GRRMs A Game Of Thrones dragged me in, chewed me up and spat me out. By the end I was left feeling what-the-fuck? as I tried to get my head round Ned loosing his. Reading A Clash Of Kings I felt safe, everything was rattling along nicely, then came A Storm Of Swords and…..SPOILER…The Red Wedding…what-the-fuck didn’t cover it, nothing covered it, how could an author do that? But He did and still I read on.

  • I’d have to say “Checkmate”, the last volume of the Lymond series by Dorothy Dunnett. The ins and outs of the emotional connection between Lymond and Phillipa Somerville are like knives to the heart. But the whole series is astonishingly good. (Historical fiction).

    In the non-fiction realm, “Alone” by Admiral Byrd, has quite an impact. Surviving alone through the winter in Antarctica — just!

  • All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy has that ridiculously affecting gut-punch of a sentence near the end: “He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.” There’s something uncannily exact about that. It the exact sort of thoughts you start to have when you cross over from child to adult like the MC in that book.

    Also was also sanded down by The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Just the epilogue mainly, all that brutal description of how all their lives end up in stasis after the events of the novel. Super great writing.

  • These are constantly shifting sands, for me. What affected me then doesn’t have the same viseral effect on me now that life has marched on and moulded me into a slightly newer, different version of myself.

    The most recent (this week, actually) punch in the guts was Jodi Picoult’s HANDLE WITH CARE. The main subject of the book is this tiny girl with brittle bone disease. Each time one of her bones broke, I’d look at my own infant daughter and thank deities I do and don’t believe in, that my child is healthy and normal, her potential limitless.

    Picoult, of course, loves to put a rug under the reader’s feet, then jerk it away. When I read the ending I was glad to have only the dog as my witness. I cried–pardon my French–fucktons.

  • I have two as well:

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: I don’t entirely agree with her philosophies but to put it mildly, that book MOVED me deeply. It is what made me fall in love with philosophy intermingled with fiction. (also something Ray Bradbury like to do) She made me fall in love with all her characters and know them deeper than I would with most.

    The Stand by Stephen King: I read this in my early twenties when I still wasn’t sure what kind of books I liked, but I knew I liked his writing. This one is one of his more science fiction (y) books, instead of his more supernatural fictions. I liked the ultimate good/evil battle. And this book made me absolutely fall in love with post apocalyptic fiction. (It is also what inspired me to begin my own post apocalyptic novel)

  • Starship Troopers informed a lot of my youth. The cost of our freedoms and how they can be taken for granted. The wonders and terrors of technology, how aliens could be completely inhuman.
    A lot of Jules Verne and HG Wells gave me a thirst for adventures and new vistas around every corner.
    The Ring’s trilogy gave me a world I could lose myself in and inspired me to make up my wonderlands.

  • Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott. I recently reviewed this book on my blog. It just blew me away. It’s heart-breaking in places and deals extremely realistically with depression and self-harm, as well as being a beautifully-written fantasy novel.

  • Two … Really did me in.
    The first was “The Bell Jar”. At that point in my reading life I really enjoyed books, but I never realized how they can really dig into your mind.
    The second was “Million Dollar Baby”. I saw the movie and had to get the book. The book has just about every different level of emotions you can think of and swings quickly between them. Talk about tearing your heart out with grief and pity.

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