Reader Friday: Emotional Wallop

 

What book from your childhood or adolescence hit you with such an emotional wallop that you’ve never forgotten it?

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17 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Emotional Wallop

  1. Cliched, but true: Lord of the Rings. I first read the one volume edition when i was 14. I think I read it in a three day frenzy. Quickly acquired the three book set and have been re-reading or re-watching every year since.

  2. Summer before ninth grade, I was riveted and saddened by the The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and impressed by the fact that Carson McCullers was only 23 when she wrote it.

  3. In 1979, I went to a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school for high school. I was an avid reader, but there was nothing like a lot of long lonely nights and limited access to books to make me fully appreciate any non-academic, non-religious reading material I could get my hands on. And getting my hands on such books wasn’t easy. I had to grab whatever paperbacks of my mom’s I could stuff into my suitcase on my infrequent weekends at home — she was partial to Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Frank Slaughter, stuff like that — or load up at my hometown library knowing that I’d never be able to return the books in time to avoid the sort of fines that quickly drained the change I kept in a Spalding tennis-ball can. Neither solution was very satisfying.

    But, my freshman year, I quickly learned about the underground library in the boys’ dorm. A few boxes of tattered paperbacks hidden in a little-used storage room in the basement, all forbidden reading material: horror, sci-fi, adventure, hardboiled crime. Mack Bolans and Nick Carters. Max Brands and Louis L’Amours. James Herberts and John Sauls. Gold Medals and Fawcetts and Pocket Books. Dean Koontzes and Stephen Kings. Novels beyond count with grinning skulls and glossy spatter on the covers. All made for marvelous reading long after lights-out — they turned off our lights at 9:30 p.m. on weeknights — with my Coleman camping lamp for pallid illumination. (What 14-year-old can make himself go to bed at 9:30 p.m., even after a long day of classes, dorm-janitor work, flag football and unrequited crushing?)

    Stephen King paperbacks were particularly hot properties, and as a freshman on the bottom of the food chain, those tomes were slow to come my way. But when they did … hoo mama. I went from not being able to sleep at 9:30 p.m. to feeling like I’d never be able to sleep again. NIGHT SHIFT was particularly mesmerizing in this regard, being full of homicidal laundry equipment, elephant-sized rats, psychopathic lawn mowers, and smiling fellows with flowers and hammers.

    Then CUJO came my way, and for some reason that book seized my imagination and squirmed into the marrow of my bones like nothing before. There was something terrifyingly relatable about the idea of an ordinary woman in an ordinary car in an ordinary driveway, just out of ordinary view, doing bloody screaming battle to the death with a rabid Saint Bernard. (Until I went off to school, I had a newspaper route, and many was the day I was chased by dogs as I frantically pedaled away as if I was being pursued by every post-apocalyptic plague imaginable.)

    But part of it was King’s mastery of creeping, incremental dread, and to this day I can recite this passage from memory like penitents can recite the Nicene Creed:

    “She looked out his window, saw the baseball bat lying in the high grass, and opened the door. In the dark mouth of the garage, Cujo stood up and began to advance slowly, head lowered, down the crushed gravel toward her.

    “It was twelve thirty when Donna Trenton stepped out of her Pinto for the last time.”

    Nearly forty years later, these few sentences make up the most deliciously frightening reading moment of my life.

  4. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, when I was fourteen. Nothing else comes close.

  5. I would have to say John Knowles’s _A Separate Peace_.

    I first read it because I “had to” (assigned in seventh or eighth grade); reread it a year or so later… third time… not quite the charm, but it still holds that first-adolescent-wallop-spot…

  6. My junior year of high school I chose Les Miserables from several required for honors English. Fortunately I didn’t drop it on my mom’s toe, and I actually finished the whole book. It was my first experience with that kind of raw emotion and human pathos. Saw the musical on Broadway, got the tee shirt, but nothing like Hugo’s sweep of character and dramatic conflict. I almost wish I could have read it in French.

  7. Wow. How far back do we go?

    Charlotte’s Web left me sobbing in 5th grade. In the classroom. Back when boys didn’t cry.

    Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes hooked me pretty hard there at the end. That might have been the first book I read where a main character died–and a kid, to boot!

    Lord of the Flies was a very important book in my life, and yes, that made me cry, too. Great last line: “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” To be honest, even then, I found the phrase, “the fall through the air of”, to be awkward.

    A Separate Peace didn’t hit me as hard as it did some of my buddies. I’ve re-read it since, and again, there’s something missing and I don’t quite know what it is.

  8. The Scarlet Ibis, a short story by James Hurst. It was my first introduction to the power of symbolism, and it packed a punch. I can still see the older boy hauling his brother around in the coffin converted to a wagon. And later, The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.

  9. I come from a family of readers. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” in high school. “Exodus” by Leon Uris was around 7th grade. “Night” was in middle school, so was “America’s Concentration Camps” about the Japanese internment.

    In high school I also started reading the Ian Flemming original Bond books. I still do from time to time. I don’t care for many of the newer stories. Slaughterhouse Five gets re-read from time to time too.

  10. When I was in high school, a school district in the St. Louis area made the news for banning the American Heritage Dictionary. My English teacher went to the school’s library and looked for all of the ALA banned books in the library. Our next assignment was to choose from: Black Like Me, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (another book that has stuck with me.), Slaughterhouse Five, Brave New World, Huckleberry Finn, and Fahrenheit 451 and write a book report.

  11. As a kid I sopped up classic science fiction like a crate of paper towels. Asimov, Clark, LeGuin, Delany, and so many more. But it was A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller Jr. that left the deepest mark. I took away so much from the story like the act of believing is important no matter what you believe in. Recently, I bought another copy to read it again.

  12. For me it was teenage schlock fiction. Chain Letter by Christopher Pike still rattles around in my brain.

    I read A Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall when I was in the fourth grade. That book creeped me out. I still remember key scenes from it and it has been over 35 years since I read it. And in writing this comment, I just learned that Disney made it into a movie. I now have to check that out.

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