When books make you feel

There’s a secret about adult life:

It’s boring as hell sometimes.

Yes, there are wonderful, exhilarating moments like graduations, weddings, children, travel. And there are terrible, stressful moments like losing family members, getting fired, children (yes they belong in both lists), unexpected emergencies.

But in between those moments, life settles down to a steady, even pace. For me, it was wake up, go to work, come home, watch several hours of television while mindlessly surfing the internet, go to bed, repeat. It was comforting, familiar, and easy.

Sometimes it was a relief from the stresses of life. I’d go through upheaval, good or bad, and then with a sigh, sink into my cozy routine. After my wedding, after my car crash, after a big trip, after my grandfather’s illness.

Other times, it went on too long. The comforting became suffocating. The familiar became dull. The easy became mind-numbing. Day-to-day life transformed into a quagmire of boring nothingness. I’d go days without feeling truly strong emotions. I wasn’t depressed, mind you. I still could feel. I would laugh with my husband, get frustrated at the dog’s early morning whining, and so on. But nothing in my regular life stimulated the excess of emotion like the highs and lows did.

In these times, I turn to books. Not every book can inspire emotion, but some can. Here are some of my favorites (spoilers ahead):

  • Mistress of the Empire by Janny Wurts and Raymond Feist
  • This is the third book of the trilogy, which features Mara of the Acoma as the main character. She struggles to preserve her family and the Empire itself against those who would destroy both. One dick in particular targets her again and again. Jiro of the Anasati makes it his life’s mission to destroy Mara because she snubbed him in a marriage proposal. He succeeds in killing two of her children and her father-in-law. In the final parts of the book, Mara’s husband Hokanu lays a trap for Jiro to destroy him once and for all.

    Hokanu attacks Jiro’s honor guard. Jiro escapes, running into the woods. Hokanu chases him.

    This is when my heart started to pound. I loved Hokanu. Jiro had proven himself twisted, murderous, and clever. The writers were willing to kill characters. I was so scared that Jiro had a knife hidden or a trick up his sleeve or something. I didn’t want Hokanu to die–

    And he didn’t! Hokanu strangled Jiro at last (a dishonorable death, in their empire), avenging his father and two lost children.


    I had to get out of bed and walk around the house, I was so damn worked up about this scene. I had never been so terrified or so relieved.

    2.  Sethra Lavode by Steven Brust

    I discovered Steven Brust through a suggestion algorithm. I liked Jim Butcher, so it suggested Steven Brust. What it should have specified was Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, which makes sense in terms of style, tone, writing. Instead, the algorithm proposed The Phoenix Guards, which is actually equal parts homage to and parody of The Three Musketeers. Rather different from the Dresden Files, but I read them anyway.

    The Phoenix Guards are the first in a five-book story that tells of Khaavren, Aerich, Tazendra, and Pel as they rise to power, watch the Empire fall apart, survive the Interregnum, and restore the Empire once more. We had a lot invested in these characters by the end, is what I’m saying.

    And in the final battle, two of them died. Tazendra and Aerich. And oh how I cried. I loved them. So very much. And unlike new trends in fantasy fiction, this wasn’t a grimdark tale where death could come for anyone and everyone. Only one main character had died and, if you’d read any of the Vlad Taltos books, you knew that was going to happen. These deaths came out of nowhere and hit me right in the gut. It makes me sigh just to think about it now.

    3. The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien

    There are certain things I’m a total sucker for. Epic love stories. “Thank the hero” moments. Honest conversations in the quiet before the storm. Good death scenes (see above).

    And hope.

    You know what I’m talking about. The Enterprise E sweeping in to save the day in Star Trek: First Contact. Buffy catching Angelus’s sword in her palms in Becoming Part 2. 

    That moment when all hope is lost and the night is darkest. When the forces of evil are closing in and seem sure to win. When our heroes are at their lowest. When they are about to be overcome. And at that exact moment —

    Hope arrives.

    “In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.

    All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dínen.

    “You cannot enter here,” said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. “Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!”

    The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
    “Old fool!” he said. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!” And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.

    And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the city, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of war nor of wizardry, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.

    And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing.

    Rohan had come at last.”

    I must have read that passage dozens of times and every time I tear up. (Also show this to anyone who says Tolkien was “great at world-building but didn’t know how to write”).

    That moment of hope is so essential. We are dragged down into despair. How can we overcome this? How can we succeed against such evil? And then —

    Hope arrives.

    The sun rises. The cavalry charges into the fray. The tides of battle turn. The day, the battle, is won.

    I just love it. I keep a little selection of moments like this to reread (or rewatch) when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life and its awfulness.

    There you have it. Just a few moments that recently made me feel quite a lot from three great books.

    Moments like these in art (in this case books) reminds us of what life is capable of, both the good and the bad. It is one of the great purposes of art in general: to make us feel alive again. These are some examples of my favorite moments in books that had me feeling deeply emotional.

    So what are your favorite emotional moments from art? I used book examples, but it could be movies, comics, TV, paintings, video games, whatever. Let me know in the comments.

    Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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