Saturday, April 6, 2024

What Book Packed a Real Emotional Punch?


Scott D. Parker

When was the last time a book delivered an emotional response?

One of my science fiction book club guys texted me earlier this week. He had finished a book that he admitted wasn’t great, but the sad ending actually touched him. He recalled the book  REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi as one about which I very much had an emotional response. Heck, that response smacked me in the face so much so that I could barely relate the ending of the book to my wife without bawling. Later, when the book club met, I still was rather emotional in explaining why I loved the book so much.

My friend remarked that maybe the genre books lack emotional storytelling. If we are judging strictly by books the group has read—and not, say, the Harry Potter series that, for me, did deliver a wallop to the gut—then the number of times a book has given me an emotional response of any kind is quite rare. 

The Fundamental Reason to Read Fiction

Before we get too deep, let’s not forget that fundamental reason we read fiction: to be entertained. If a book tells a story you enjoy, then it has done its job. If a book entertains and also makes you feel, that book is special.

What Kind of Emotional Response?

When I hear that a book gave a reader an “emotional response,” I almost instantly think of crying first. But that’s not the only emotion out there. Thrillers quicken the heart rates of readers as they breathlessly turn pages as fast as they can read. Romances give you that warm and fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach as the characters fall in love. Horror books often terrify or sicken depending on the author and the subject. There’s always anger like when a character is treated badly for no good reason. Back in the day, after I finished reading A FAREWELL TO ARMS, I hated the ending so much that I threw the book across the room. 

So an emotional response can really be anything.

Visual Storytelling Seems Easier

Not sure what it is about the visual medium—TV and movies—but I tear up somewhat regularly when I’m watching TV shows or movies. My wife and I just finished season 2 of “Parenthood” and, for the most part, we are entertained by the story of the four adult siblings and their children. But every now and then, out of nowhere, boom! An emotional beat lands. Same with “Cold Case.” 

Movies, especially action and adventure ones, have my heart pounding in my chest. There are certain moments in movies that gave me chills in the theater (and every time I watch it again afterwards). 

But then there are the tearjerker movies, the gushy rom-coms, and let’s not forget the comedies that make you laugh so hard your stomach aches. Emotions from movies just seem easier.

A Short List of Books That Gave More Than a Story.

REDSHIRTS is still one of the gold standards of books that more than delivered but there were a handful more in the club. REPLAY by Ken Grimwood brought tears to my eyes. DEAD SILENCE by SA Barnes literally made the hairs on my neck stand up at certain parts. It was truly eerie and scary. THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel turned out to be my favorite book of 2022…and I didn’t even pick it. THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir had me nearly cheering at the end. 

Outside of the SF club, a few others come to mind. The ending of FALLING by TJ Newman gave me goosebumps and I pumped my fist in the air with triumph and jubilation. Her next book, DROWNING, scared the crap out of me because of the very real possibility of something like that happening. CHARM CITY ROCKS, a rom-com by Matthew Norman gave me all the feels I expect in a romance.   

But a book giving me an emotional response is rather rare. I just finished a book club book and, well, it was interesting, but it was not too invested into the story other than to know what happened next. So, that’s curiosity. And I was marginally entertained.

I guess that’s good enough, right? 

What are those special books that gave you some sort of emotional response?

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