Literary Letdowns

I’ve had a mixed relationship with Valentine’s Day. When I was dating someone and had plans, I loved it. When I was single, not so much. However, having been married for a dozen years, I’ve learned that love isn’t about one day out of the year; it’s about expressing how you feel about the person you adore the other 364 in addition to the one day popular culture tells us we should. I doubt I’ll get flowers today, but I never, ever doubt that my husband loves me. He tells me in other, more tangible ways that won’t wither in a vase.

The folks at The Broke and the Bookish, however, have decided to go the nontraditional route as well with their book list this week. They’ve asked us to share “the top ten books that broke my heart a little.” They all did for different reasons and at different times in my life. Here are the first ten I could think of in no particular order…

1. Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling—I got on the Hogwarts Express a little late, I’m sad to say. In fact, I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until the fourth book came out, and I whipped through books one, two, and three in order to catch up. Needless to say, I fell head over heels for Sirius Black. Rowling gave readers just enough of Black at the end of book three and sprinkled throughout book four to make us think, Maybe, just maybe, Harry can have a relatively normal home life with a kind of father figure. But NO! Rowling killed him off without a moment’s hesitation, and every death in this series after his (except for Dobby’s perhaps) didn’t faze me. If she could create a character only to bump him off less than two books later, I knew no one was safe.

2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton—Poor Ethan! Trapped in a marriage and on a farm on which he can barely scrape out a living, his one chance at happiness is utterly ruined, leaving him even more trapped than before. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet because it is a marvelous novel–stark and brutally beautiful. Just don’t expect a fairly tale ending; you’ll get the opposite.

3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer—This one broke my heart for two reasons. 1.) I realized that was a cranky old adult rather than a young whipper snapper after reading this book. I loathed Christopher Johnson McCandless, a true rebel without a clue, and saw nothing worth writing about in his life. Others claim he was a “rugged individual” who was truly a “non-conformist.” I, however, thought him myopic, heartless, and egomaniacal. 2.) I thought about how his parents felt when they heard what had happened to him, and a little piece of me died. Too sad…and so unnecessary!

4. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys—This one, I knew, would give me trouble. It’s the prequel to Jane Eyre, the story of Bertha Antoinetta Mason, and it’s a very unflattering depiction of my beloved Rochester. It makes you think about what the marriage might have been like for Bertha, how (like him) she wasn’t interested in getting hitched either. I don’t want to feel sorry for her. Why? I grew up thinking of her as an impediment to Jane’s happiness, but Bertha was pretty miserable, too, in her way.

5. Animal Farm by George Orwell—One word: Boxer. His repeated cries of “I will work harder!” and his eventual death and final journey in the glue factory cart literally broke my pre-teen-going-through-a-horse-phase heart. Never mind the overall negative view of human nature.

6. Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville—This one was a commentary on the dangers of being a little guy in a corporate machine before we even knew how big the machine was going to get. Bartleby, who has no last name beyond his job title, is a human being reduced to the role of a Xerox machine, left without free will or opinion beyond “I would prefer not to.” Such a sad tale, for both him and the lawyer who ends it all with, “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”

7. Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy—This book kills me every time I read it. True love totally broken up by stupid, sexist rules that are the epitome of hypocrisy. Angel isn’t worth Tess, and he only realizes it after it’s too late. She quite literally is sacrificed on the altar—for love and for the satisfaction of dictatorial propriety.

8. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya—I don’t even to know where to start with this one. This slim little book is a picture of a woman’s life, such as it is, in abject poverty. Reading it truly made me feel helpless. Her strength is beautiful and noble, but just heartbreaking.

9. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller—A sad story of ruined potential, a family broken by years of misunderstanding and the lack of a father figure. Every man in the Loman family is still a boy who longs to become a man but needs someone to show him how. Only Biff survives, but at what cost…and for how long? Such a great play.

10. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins—It was a letdown after books one and two. Highly unsatisfying letdown. The end.

8 thoughts on “Literary Letdowns

  1. You’ve done it again with a great top 10 (some of these I have yet to read). I’ll chip in any of the Dead Dog Classics: “Old Yeller,” “Where the Red Fern Grows” and more recently, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” When the dog dies I need two boxes of tissues.

    1. I didn’t even think about a dead dog book!!! Anything book in which an animal is harmed always makes me hesitant to read through to the end. I had a hard enough time when the horses were abused in Black Beauty, and the fact that a dog was killed with a BBQ fork in the first pages of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time almost made me not want to read it.

  2. Wow. I’ve only read two of those books. Harry Potter, and Animal Farm. Animal Farm was so long ago that I barely remember Boxer. If I were to make a list like that, it would have to include The Dark Tower (volume VII of the series). And I might as well put 11/23/63 on the list, too, another Stephen King book. Jasper Fforde broke my heart at the end of Shades of Grey. I could probably think of more, but I don’t have time right now. I need to save your lists…gets my interest up on books I should read.

    1. That’s the greatest compliment evah! 🙂

      You didn’t like book seven of the Dark Tower series? I adored it! That series was perfectly cyclical, marvelously postmodern, and utterly mindblowing. Sad, sure, but GREAT!

      The end of 11/23/63 was pitiful though. I didn’t think of it.

      1. Oh, I loved the last Dark Tower book. I nearly cried my eyes out when Jake died. And then I cried again when they were all reunited in Central Park. For me, the hardest part of 11/23/63 was when….wait…perhaps I shouldn’t tell. It was before the end.

      2. Ugh, Jake died…twice. That’s what made it so pitiful. You knew there was no coming back from the second one, and King killed him saving himself! Crazy!!

        11/23/63 was wretched when he realized he couldn’t go back. She was there, the way to her was still open, but he had to force himself not to go through it. That scene where he danced with her at the end was so bittersweet.

      3. King surprised me by making me cry several times in 11/23/63. One of the biggest was at the school play when the football player shone as an actor. That was so cool. Yeah…the dance at the end. Sigh. That book may rank in my top five of his. It was pretty good all the way through. Except for how he kept misspelling “Killeen.” I don’t get that. He spelled it “Kileen” all the way through the book. That really bothered me. 🙂

      4. I thought the personal story in Texas was fabulous, one of his best in recent memory. However, the Kennedy/political stuff was unbearably preachy to me.

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