List by Tosca
"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."
- Anna Quindlen, Enough Bookshelves, New York Times, 7 August 1991
Ever since I was a child I have realised that my attachment to characters in books was probably not normal. I'm not talking about literary crushes on characters such as Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth. In that respect I am sure I am wholly normal. I'm talking more about having so much of your personal energy invested in one character (or a group of characters) that you feel every twist and turn of the plot as if you were living it with them. Every hope and every hurt is yours, too. And then there are the storylines that so creepily scary that you think the best defense is to read it quickly and never touch it again. But, as with anything else, out of sight doesn't necessarily mean out of mind. These are the top 5 books that I read as a child and have never been able to re-read since because they were too scary or too darn sad.
If you like or identify with this post you might be interested in another one I wrote in June of 2010: 'Top 5 titles I cannot bring myself to finish (for reasons logical and nonsensical).'
The day of the triffids / John Wyndham
When Bill Masen wakes up in his hospital bed, he has reason to be grateful for the bandages that covered his eyes the night before. For what he finds is a population rendered helpless, blinded by the bright green lights that filled the night sky; a population now at the mercy of the Triffids.
Tosca's comment: I used to sneak out of bed and watch the Sunday Horrors segment which was always, some of you might remember, on after the Sunday night family movie. I'd like to think that my parents didn't know but I'm pretty sure they did. I was never really all that scared of horror movies until a teacher chose Wyndham's 'The day of the triffids' as a read-aloud afternoon book. Suddenly, the idea of aliens invading earth and taking over - in this case huge plants that, to my rather feverish imagination, resembled giant walking venus flytraps - suddenly seemed like a real possibility. 'The invasion of the body snatchers' movie seemed to confirm it. Why a teacher would read something so scary to children I have no idea. I only know that I've never been brave enough to pick it up since. Ugh. I never snuck out of bed to watch a horror movie again, either.
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern / Anne McCaffrey
Moreta, Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr, struggles to save the dragons of Pern from a deadly plague and risks her life to destroy the lethal parasite Thread and to preserve the future of the planet.
Tosca's comment: If you've never read the Pern series then I'm about to spoil it for you forever. Moreta and Alessan fall in love but their roles dictate that they cannot be together because Weyrwoman are bound to the rider of whichever dragon mates theirs and Lord Holders must take wives. As if that wasn't sad enough Moreta, tired and exhausted from the travelling and helping people, goes 'beween' and dies. Her dragon, Orlith, is left to mourn Moreta's passing until she has birthed her eggs and can then fly between to disappear forever, too. I was a crying, blubbering mess by the time I finished the story. Whenever I re-read the series I skip this one. It's just too sad.
The tombs of Atuan / Ursula LeGuin
Arha's isolated existence as high priestess in the tombs of Atuan is jarred by a thief who seeks a special treasure.
Tosca's comment: My memories of this book are confused and jumbled (probably as good a reason as any to re-read it but I'm never that rational or logical) and the only thing I remember is feeling that the characters were so alone. Whether it's because Ged is trapped underground in the Tombs or because Tenar's life as a priestess seemed so sad and lonely I'm not sure. I adored A Wizard of Earthsea and, as I've been doing most of my life, foisted it off on my mum to read as well. I saw, a few years ago, that LeGuin released another book in the Earthsea series - The other wind - but I'm pretty sure I'd have to read them all over before tackling that one. Eep.
Dune / Frank Herbert
This epic tale is set on the desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange - necessary for interstellar travel and granting psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great influence. The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don't want to give up their privilege and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what is rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.
Tosca's comment: Dune was the first scifi novel I read that mattered and, though I went on to read the other books in the series (and have seen David Lynch's film version) I have never picked up this book since. My biggest fear is, I think, that it will never have that same impact on me again and I would hate for that to happen. I would also hate to have to relive Paul's political decision to take Princess Irulan as his wife instead of Chani. It just seemed beyond sad when he told Chani, "We must obey the forms. Yet that princess shall have no more of me than my name. No child of mine nor touch nor softness of glance, nor instant of desire."
Test of the twins / Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Defying the fate that claimed his evil predecessor, Raistlin opens the Portal to the Abyss and passes through. With Crysania at his side, he engages the Queen of Darkness in a battle for the ultimate prize--a seat among the gods. At the same time, Caramon and Tasslehoff are transported to the future. There they come to understand the consequences of Raistlin’s quest--and Caramon at last realizes the painful sacrifice he must make to prevent his brother’s success. Old friends and strange allies come together to aid him, but Caramon must take the last, greatest step alone.
Tosca's comment: My love of Weis and Hickman books is a secondhand love. Literally. When I had nothing left on my own bookshelves to read I would raid my parents ones. I was, perhaps, fortunate, that they did not keep books that snooping 9 year olds should know better than to read *tongue-in-cheek humour* Thanks to my parents, I lost my heart to the Dragonlance characters forever. Even though I own copies of both the Dragonlance Chronicles and the Dragonlance Legends I've never been able to re-read this particular title. I just found it so desperately, humanly sad. That's not an indictment against the character devlopment - if anything, the characters' actions and the decisions they make merely serve to emphasise how well drawn they truly are. The constant push-me pull-you of Raistlin's moral compass (is he bad? is he evil?) makes for compelling reading. Maybe that's Weis and Hickman's true skill: making you care for all of the characters. Even the ones who seem to be beyond all hope and redemption.