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3BoT Vol. 14: Three Great, Depressing Books

Thursday, December 6, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 14: Three Great, Depressing Books | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

It's winter here in the northern hemisphere, which in most places means lots of darkness and cold. It's a good time of year to curl up with a blanket, a mug of something warm, and a good book. With all the darkness and, in our area, lots and lots of rain, you may be in the mood for something a bit more somber -- perhaps a book you can have a good cry over.

So I'm here to oblige with recommendations for three books that are really quite depressing despite being exceptionally good books. I will try not to include too many spoilers in explaining why these books are great-but-depressing. Just trust me that it's worth reading through to the end of each of these books, no matter how dark things get.

If you're looking for a darker read you'll still want to recommend to others, here are my three picks:

#1: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
What makes this book stand out is that it's narrated by a dog, Enzo, the faithful, philosophical companion of race car driver Denny Swift. As more and more of Denny's life come crashing down around him and he has to fight for custody of his daughter, you see the brilliance of choosing his dog as the narrator. Enzo sees everything but cannot tell anyone. We see the injustice of what's done to Denny because we know from Enzo's witness that Denny is a good and truthful person, and because Enzo sees things and overhears conversations that no one else does. But Enzo is just as helpless as we readers are to do anything about it. The messages threaded throughout -- about what love is, about what risks are worth taking, about what it means to be human -- make this a powerful and recommended read.

#2: Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green's most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, (also a somewhat depressing but mostly amazing book) was just named the best book of the year by Time magazine. He is a fantastic writer, and he's been winning awards since his very first book, Looking for Alaska. The fact that the book is divided into "Before" and "After" sections should clue you in that something very big and, yes, depressing happens in the middle of the book that will have you desperately wanting to reverse time and undo it even though you know in your head it's just a book. The books centers on Miles, a socially awkward teenager who goes away to a boarding school for his junior year of high school. Through the relationships he builds with other students, particularly the larger-than-life Alaska Young, Miles begins to uncover the differences between love and sex, between living and existing, between finding inspiration from the past and living in the past.

#3: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
If you read The Kite Runner, you already know that Hosseini doesn't shy away from depicting some of the worst things that humans can do to each other, particularly when enabled by their culture or government. Whereas The Kite Runner was about boys growing up in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women in Afghanistan, both of whom eventually end up married to the same abusive man out of different kinds of desperation. To my mind, the author sets up the most hopeless situation possible, gives the reader a glimpse of hope, crushes it, and then dares the reader to hope again. It's a painful book to read, made more so by the fact that you know it's based on real circumstances even if the specific story is fictional. Nonetheless, it's an amazing book, and a good way to get a better understanding of the history of Afghanistan as well as a more nuanced view of what it was like to live there in the '80s and '90s.

Bonus recommendation: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Also a depressing book, and a much slower read with not quite as positive an ending as the others, but I found it an impressive and memorable illustration of how the free market doesn't cure all.

What books would you recommend to others even though they're depressing?

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  1. I recommend depressing and emotional books all of the time. I think I'm an emotional masochist. After reading The Fault in Our Stars - all of John Green's other books are on my "to read" list. Even if after I'm done reading them I want to crawl into a hole and die. The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns have been on my list for awhile now too.

    1. I totally get what you mean about being "an emotional masochist." Maybe it's something about being able to experience sadness and pain in a way that doesn't actually affect your own life?

  2. Well, now I know what to get my little sister for Christmas! No, really, she loves depressing books. She recommended The Art of Racing in the Rain to me a few years back, and once I was looking for some beach reading and she lent me her copy of Still Alice by Lisa Genova, which is a book from the point of view of someone who has early onset Alzheimer's. It is amazingly written, both scientifically accurate and emotionally gripping... but not my idea of beach reading, shall we say.

    1. See, that's what I'm saying -- some books are beach reading, and some are dark winter night books :) Glad you were able to get some ideas for your sister!

  3. I love, love, love John Green, though interestingly, I'm not sure I would have lumped Looking for Alaska in with depressing reads. (I wonder what that says about me.) Though his books are intense and serious, I feel like they exhibit hope in the strength of human relationships.

    I read The Kite Runner and swore I could not read A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was amazingly written but just too heavy and gory in parts for me.

    1. Looking for Alaska is definitely the least depressing of the books here (in my opinion), but it's still a pretty heavy read. But agreed -- as with all John Green's books, highly highly recommended!

      I can't blame you for not wanting to pick up A Thousand Splendid Suns -- it may be even darker than The Kite Runner.


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