I received the following challenge from a writer pal of mine:
— Stuart Turnbull (@scturnbull) September 2, 2014
But Twitter is a terrible medium for such an undertaking, so I thought I’d post my response here. Note that I’m interpreting “moved” here to be any book that caused a strong emotional response from me, excepting a strong dislike for the book or a particular part of it. I could probably fill another list with books that have annoyed or frustrated me in some grand fashion, but that’s not what I’m discussing right here.
- The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Yeah, okay, it’s maybe a little hokey for a thirty-something person to be crying over a book about teenage cancer patients. But I blame the remarkable talent of Kate Rudd, who read the audiobook version I listened to. Her vocal characterizations of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters brought those characters to life. By the inevitable tragedy toward the end of the book I realized I had handed each and every one of my heartstrings to Ms Rudd, who then let Mr Green’s words yank on all of them with both hands. I regret nothing and I feel no shame.
- Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Granted, I read this book in fifth grade and haven’t gone near it since, so saying it’s the only other book (aside from TFiOS) that actually caused me to cry is maybe over-selling Red Fern a bit. But this book did a stealth move on me because it was an assigned reading book that I expected to hate, found myself wrapped up in, and did not see the end coming until it was too late. Whatever it was, it worked on me at the time.
- The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
This slim novel covers so much ground and draws such a gripping portrait of adulthood versus childhood in the context of just a few remarkably well realized characters, I spent days after finishing it trying to get others to read it so I’d have someone to talk to about it. This book stayed with me, and continues to inform the way I think about memory, truth, the effect of my actions and decisions on others, and the craft of a story. The process of reading the book felt very emotional, but not in an obvious wiping-away-the-tears fashion. I finished the book with a sense of awe and thoughtfulness, both for Mr Barnes’s talent and the ideas that frame the remarkable story inside.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
This book was moving to me because it was the first experience I ever had that brought a level of humanity to the abstract horror of slavery. And I mean that in the downward direction, in the way it highlighted the necessary self-deception and surrender to a base and selfish cruelty for a person to treat another human like an animal or a non-entity. Beloved is a profound and powerful book that pulls absolutely zero punches. The rewards are like hard-learned lessons. This isn’t candy-coated emoting, it’s abrasive and scarring. But it’s also beautiful in a sickening manner, and impossible to forget.
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
A non-fiction book that explores food and the food industry from a journalistic and historical perspective. The way this book affected me was less on an emotional level (although a lot of the discussion of the treatment of animals on corporate-run farms was upsetting and disturbing) than on an intellectual one. It prompted me to try vegetarianism, made me shop differently, and altered my perspective on how food is thought about and discussed in this country.
- The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Wise, uplifting, funny, and incredibly touching with such a pitch-perfect finale, this transcribed lecture is even better on video, but the messages are clear and the point Pausch makes about time being the only thing we really need to be concerned with is sobering.
- Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
It’s not really a novel full of a lot of heavy emotion, but I’m being a bit literal here when I say this book transported me into its setting. I live relatively close to Monterey, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit. My wife and I have spent quite a few of our anniversaries in Monterey. So maybe I was predisposed to liking this book, but I fell in love with the characters, the low poetry of Steinbeck’s prose, and the titular place he brings to life in these pages. It’s a short, easy read, but one I never wanted to end.
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
I laughed myself to the point of tears so many times while reading this book. Unfortunately, I did a lot of reading of it on public transportation, so a bunch of strangers got to watch me struggle to retain my composure while Lawson riffs on her eccentric family and assorted tales from her life, all told with her switchblade wit.
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
If you can consider being pulled to the last centimeter of your seat’s edge “being moved,” then this book has to be on the list. Sanderson’s metals-based magic system is clever and cool by turns, and his action, pacing, and sense of conflict are hitting on every cylinder in this book. However, it’s the strength of the characters he draws that makes this heist-novel-in-a-fantasy-world book really work. It’s certainly escapism, but it’s the kind that makes you care to the point where you’re practically cheering the victories and shouting warnings to the pages when things get grim.
- The Shining by Stephen King
I like other books in King’s catalog better, and there are specific parts of several other books (not all by King) that scared me more, but The Shining managed to drown me in its atmosphere of paranoia and mystery better than any other book so that I was constantly on edge the whole time I was reading this. Now, some of it may be that I was in eighth grade when I read it, but it’s still the book I think back on and remember trying to read it late at night and deciding, “you know what, I better just put this down and try again when it’s light outside.”