Closure from Haunting Books

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Anyone who’s ever read a book they had a hard time getting over, raise your hand.

A book that leaves a lingering ache in your gut, just by being over. A book that breaks your heart not with a sad ending but by ending, period. A book that hurts to close and set on the shelf, so maybe you leave it around for a few days, on the kitchen table or by your bed, so you can open it again, and reread a scene, and prove to yourself that The End doesn’t have to be forever.

I mean, when a book really grabs you, really tears up your insides with suspense and angst and star-crossed romance and whatever, it’s so hard to walk away from that.

One of the first times I remember being haunted badly was after Jane Eyre. It was like breaking an addiction. I couldn’t quit cold-turkey. I couldn’t just shut the book and be done with those characters. Not after everything we’d been through together!

So I hunted down two movie versions: a black-and-white with a pretty, blond Jane; and a ’90s film with a brunette Jane so plain-looking that I spent the whole movie deconstructing our fundamental need to have attractive lead actors. Neither movie “did it” for me. Nothing could–except reading the book itself on endless repeat.

Goodreads helps a little. At least I get to “talk” about the book for a minute, read what other people thought of it, maybe get a few comments from friends who enjoyed it, too.Shiver

This weekend I got sucked into a book so haunting that even the cover and the title and the color of the text inside (same as the dark blue of the cover) fit the mood I’m in after. (I put a picture of it here because I think just looking at it can give you the idea.) There’s a melancholy I can’t shake off, even though one of my goodreads pals chatted with me about our predictions for the sequel right after.

The melancholy is frustrating sometimes.

I have other favorite books that feel just right at the end, that feel like a satisfied sigh, where I close them happily and give them a hug before fitting them snuggly back into their space on the bookcase, giving the spine a last look, thinking, “You are great. I’m so glad you get to live here at my house, available whenever I want to hang out with you again.”

And that’s it. No remorse. I can move on to the next book easily, whereas the books I’m haunted by make it hard to pick up something else.

But on the plus side, haunting books stir up something that intensifies my love of writing. Strangely, the lingering attachment to what I’ve just read often transfers to my own work-in-progress, enhancing my emotional connection to my own characters.

Yeah, crazy; I know.

I’m not sure how many comments I can coax out of readers (or even how many readers I have at this point), but I’d love to know what books wouldn’t let go of you and how you feel about that versus the happy-sigh variety.

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14 responses »

  1. Because I generally view books as a source of knowledge rather than entertainment, which I why I mostly read biographies and historical non-fiction, I rarely feel this way after reading a book. However, I definitely feel this way after watching a great movie.

    Maybe my imagination isn’t as powerful, but movies and even some TV shows evoke emotions that are hard to let go and move past without replaying the scenes in your mind over and over.

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    • Yeah, it’s like when we watched Moulin Rouge three times the first week we saw it. I’m not sure that necessarily translates into it being a great movie, though!

      Maybe it’s just the emo-ness of some storylines. I’m still trying to figure that out. I mean, Jane Eyre and Twilight don’t belong in the same literary circles, and yet both those books clung to me for a while (and I’m embarrassed about admitting that with Twilight, but oh well).

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    • I have to be careful about my movies because I will have dreams about what I watch for a week or longer. Quality and genre don’t matter. But books and audio dramas are less commanding and I’m fine with being haunted during my waking hours.

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  2. I definitely agree with Dave in that this happens to me a lot with movies. I tend to get ridiculous sometimes. Like, I still get really emotional and can’t let go of this one episode of Boy Meets World (the one where he kisses that stupid girl – I didn’t watch other shows/movies with her for a while, haha).

    As far as books I really only remember this happening to me with the last Harry Potter (dumb, I know). I just felt so involved in the story. I was perfectly happy with how J.K. Rowling tied it all up. I had no concerns or questions that I thought should be addressed. I was just… I dunno… I kind of walked around for a couple of days in sort of a trance or daze or something. I had no idea what to do with myself.

    On the one hand I’d like to have more experiences where books draw me in like this, but on the other hand I don’t think I can handle it too often.

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  3. Probably not unique, but I totally felt haunted after the Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Also, Ann Dee Ellis’ book Everything is Fine. And Emily Wing Smiths book The Way He Lived. Those both stayed with me mostly due to their subject matter, and the way it was slowly revealed throughout the book. Great post!

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  4. Are you even kidding me? I felt that way with Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I actually didn’t feel that way with The Way He Lived. But then there’s Harry Potter. Every time I reread those I wish I was a wizard. The Thief and its subsequent novels did that to me. I think series in general must have that effect on me. I will refrain from sharing the rest of those. But I also felt it with David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities. A Tale of Two Cities because it’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. And David Copperfield is wonderful but I think that one was partly due to how much time I spent reading it. Oh, and The Robe was one of those as well. I’ll stop now.

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  5. Most of the time that I feel “haunted” from a book, it’s from just being sad that the book is over because I so enjoyed being in that story that I didn’t want to leave yet. That’s when I start thrusting it into the hands of all my friends so that I can talk about it with them when they are finished with it.

    But occasionally there is the book that leaves me “haunted” and feeling very emotional (usually sad). I just finished one that was absolutely heart-wrenching & gut-wrenching and I couldn’t get it out of my head for a week after. But I was so in love with the story that I kind of didn’t want to let it go yet, even though it still made me a bit teary-eyed for a few days after when I would think about it.

    At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether the ending is good for the story. I prefer gloriously perfect happy endings, but if a sad ending (or less than perfect one) is the RIGHT ending for the story, then that is the most important part to me.

    The reverse is also true … I’ve read a few books lately where the MC basically lost a lot of things in the end, and it just didn’t feel right … more like it was all taken away by the author so that it could be a tragic ending, not because that was the way it was supposed to be. Do you know what I mean?

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    • Yes, I think you’re absolutely right. The right ending is more important than a happy one. That can be so tricky! Like with Robin McKinley’s Beauty, I LOVED it all the way until the last ten pages, and then I felt mad because it wrapped up too fast! What happened at the end was fine; I just didn’t like the pace. When an author can hit on a perfect ending it makes a huge difference.

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      • Interesting … I read BEAUTY recently and I don’t remember feeling that way at the end … but then again, I also am having trouble recalling exactly how it ended.

        It just goes to show how subjective reading is. Every reader brings a different lens through which to view the story and their own set of expectations for that story. And to be fair, I fully believe that the authors of the books whose endings I don’t like worked hard to get their endings “just right”.

        I know that there are books whose endings I thought were perfect for the story even if it wasn’t quite the way I wanted it to end, but friends of mine didn’t like the endings at all. (Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison, The Actor & The Housewife by Shannon Hale)

        And there are probably people who disagree with me on which books I didn’t like the endings to. (The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan)

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