The Resonance of a Book

Hannah: Do you remember the first book you would say, “resonated” with you?  You know that book that plucked at all the right cords within you, making you laugh, cry, awaken a hidden reality or even bring up memories or dormant emotions?

For me it was “So Young to Die: The Story of Hannah Senesh.”  It wasn’t a great piece of literature or even all that good of a book, but I was in middle school and it was about a real life story of someone with my name…so you know, it made an impression.  In seventh grade, at Horace Mann Middle School we had to read Newbury Award winning books and in my rebellion against all things “authoritative” I decided I would read this book, NOT a Newbury winner, about a REAL person, with MY name! I was such a rebel…(insert eye roll pa-leeese).  I honestly have no idea what happened in this book (though I might buy it and reread it now) but I remember that for the first time, consciously at least, a book could be the conduit for feeling what other people are feeling; I could see the world through another person’s eyes, experience their lives for a time.  And ever since, for a book to resonate with me it has to hit these particular cords.

Haddi: One of the first books that really hit me hard and continues to resonate with me is Charles Dickens,’ A Christmas Carol. I remember sitting in my bedroom in our house in New Hampton reading this book on a dark December night after watching the movie, the version with George C. Scott (it’s black and white and pretty great really) which was scary in places but beautiful in others. I was hooked! Ebeneezer Scrooge is a constant reminder to me to never emotionally detach from the world and the plight of those less privileged than myself, even though it oftentimes seems an overwhelming problem and apathy would be a much easier path. So, for the past 20+ years, I have read A Christmas Carol at Christmas time and while I can literally recite the book line-by-line, I still enjoy traveling the road with Scrooge while being reminded that apathy is not an acceptable option. So, while for a book to resonate with Hannah she has to be able to understand the world through the characters’ experience/emotions, for me, resonance means identifying with characters and seeing my own tendencies brought to light (for good or ill) and examined through the characters story. 

Of course not all books resonate on these levels.  Many books I love are just great stories of people or places that I find fascinating, moving me through characters and events in fun, interesting even poignant ways but every once in a while I’ll read a book and remember the power they can have over me …and Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing” was heartbreakingly resonate…for me.

As Hannah and I chatted about Sing, Unburied, Sing, we came to the conclusion that one must ‘feel’ this book, ‘feel’ the characters and their particular emotional situations to fully engage with the story. This may be why the book resonated with Hannah in such a profound way and fell a bit flat for me. I wanted to understand/identify with these characters and even felt guilty that I couldn’t sympathize with them, especially the mother, Leonie. She is the mother of two children who basically have to fend for themselves because Leonie is incapable of making the decisions necessary to care for/parent them. I had no way of identifying with a woman who knows what she needs to do but is so consumed/overwhelmed by her feelings for the children’s father that she is incapable of acting in her children’s best interest. 

I give all the credit to Ward’s talent in writing these characters and their experiences in such a way that they become incarnate for me. From Leonie, to Kayla to Pop and even to Given, Ward spun their lives into a tale that allowed me a glimmer of their emotional reality feeling it literally in my body.  It was such a “gut” book.  Sometimes it was getting punched in the gut, other times overwhelmed with love, frustration, powerlessness or even agency right from the gut.  As I entered these characters lives, the good and the bad. allowing myself to stand in their truths (such as any white middle-class overly educated woman is capable of) their realities shifted my realities; their stories impacted my story; their lives impacted my life.

I’ll admit, after I finished this book I told Hannah that I didn’t know what to say about it (which is pretty surprising as I almost always have something to say!) I felt like I didn’t have anything constructive to say so I should probably just keep my mouth shut. But, after chatting with Hannah I found I did have a few things to say after all. 😉 Surprise, surprise!! While I cannot say that this book resonated with me I can truly understand why it resonated with Hannah. This story was emotionally raw and the characters were vulnerable which is what makes ‘feeling’ this book possible and I would argue essential to fully engaging with the narrative. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that I was not able (willing) to fully engage with this book while Hannah most certainly did and it definitely paid off for her. I am still glad that our book club chose this book and I look forward to reading more books that challenge me and make me stop and think before I can figure out what I want to say. 

Read on my friends!

Hannah’s Goodreads Review  – Happy Reading!