End-of-the-year book lists are all over the place lately, with editors, authors, and even movie stars pontificating about their favorite titles of 2010. I found myself unreasonably jealous of an NPR correspondent today, as she ticked off a list of at least 15 books that were her favorites of the year; I was imagining (wrongly, I’m sure) that this woman’s full-time job is to read books all year long – and think of how many she must have read to have culled out the 15 best! I’ve only read 16 this year, all together. I know this because I’ve started keeping a list of the books I read. Apparently, I am turning into my grandmother, who also kept meticulous lists of everything she read, making notes of whether or not she liked it, and whether or not it contained too much sex and violence for her taste.
Anyway, two books have popped up in several lists. I am intrigued by both, but I really don’t want to read either. I have no doubt that they are excellently written, with compelling characters and stories. It’s just that they both sound so heart-wrenchingly sad.
The first is Room, a novel by Emma Donoghue. As I understand it, it’s told from the point of view of a five-year-old who has been imprisoned for his entire life, along with his mother, in a backyard shed with only a skylight. It’s the only world he’s ever known, a safe and nurturing place created by his mother, despite being terrorized by their captor.
The other is Half a Life by Darren Strauss. It’s a memoir in which Strauss relates the experience and the aftermath of accidentally killing a classmate in an auto accident when he was 18 years old. It’s a grief and a responsibility he carries with him throughout his life.
Whey do we read these? Isn’t there enough grief, horror and tragedy in the world, without going and reading about more? I guess that’s the thing about good writing – sometimes it has to be sad to be true. And I suspect that these books didn’t end up on everybody’s list because the stories were sad. I bet that the authors do a pretty good job of getting us through the sadness to some kind of hope on the other side.
Well, darn. I think I just talked myself into reading them.