Books that will haunt me to the grave

… in a good way (sort of 😉). Because these are some of the most poignant, heartrending, memorable reads I’ve ever experienced. Let’s just get right into it!  

The Book Thief– I’ve been meaning to reread this for years, but I’m so haunted by the first time, I can’t quite bring myself to pick it up again. It completely broke my heart.

Heart of Darkness– the writing that is so hauntingly beautiful, it’s hard to forget. More than that, the story is such that every reread gives me a different impression. It’s a puzzle that I don’t know if I’ll ever solve.

The Stranger- an unusual book, I can’t quite shake it from my mind. When I look back on this book, I feel like I’m in a haze of mismatched thoughts. I don’t know what to think of it- and yet I can’t not think about it!

The Trial– it’s not just the weird, surreal atmosphere that gets to me with this book- the shocking part is how true it turned out to be. Kafka acted as a prophet with this book, reflecting the absurdity of Soviet-style show trials before they ever took place.

Homegoing– this is another story with exquisite writing- yet it’s the overarching narrative that lives in my heart. A disquieting story, it shows the intergenerational ghosts that haunt a single family, coming full circle at the end to put them at peace.

Beowulf– I don’t know what it was- the ancient words or the powerful translation by Heaney, but I felt this story thrumming in my bones. I don’t know if it was the obscurity or the familiarity of the epic- but it’s seized my imagination now and will not let it go.

Wolf in the Whale– this is a story that captured me with its sense of place, I feel like the visuals are imprinted in my mind and the harrowing tale is hard to shake. Fantastical, mythical and yet all too real, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you do read it you won’t forget it in a hurry.

Between Shades of Grey/Salt to the Sea– yes I’m doing 2 for 1 here, because I frankly can’t choose between Sepetys most celebrated works. These evocative novels shed light on events a lot of people (including me) don’t learn about- and I love that they managed to be subtly interlinked as well.

All That Still Matters at All– I talk a lot about this poetry collection, because I just don’t feel like it gets enough attention. A hidden, Hungarian gem, this has a heartbreaking background and is well worth sampling.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky- ever since I read this book, I can’t quite get the plaintiff tune of Nessum Dorma, floating through the alps, out of my head. I will never forget this story of heroism in WWII and I salute the real life inspirations for it- they should not be forgotten.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles- Hardy stole my heart from the moment I read this, introducing me to his characters and world. I suppose I should be annoyed at how he toyed with my emotions, raising my hopes, only to lead me off into dark woods and dashing my dreams on a rock. But as devastated as I was, I’m not bitter about it! To my mind, it’s the perfect example of how a tragedy should be written.

So, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And do you have any books that will haunt you forever? Let me know in the comments!

42 thoughts on “Books that will haunt me to the grave

  1. I’ve read a couple of these and hated them, with a passion. To the point that I avoid the authors now. Specifically, Conrad and Hardy. What they wrote made me want to dig up their graves and desecrate their corpses.

    It’s really hard to talk about things like this when one feels so strongly. I intellectually understand that you like these books/authors, and I am not feeling like that changes how I perceive you as a person (I’ve known you’ve like at least Hardy since almost the time I started following you though, so that helps!), but trying to talk about this without flying off the handle and start frothing is tough.

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  2. I think I read most of them. The Scarlet Sky one…I had a problem with the narrator…I’m not sure how much of those details are true…there were things that made me go hmmmmm

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  3. Beneath a Scarlet Sky was an extraordinary story. Especially when you know it was real! And Salt to the Sea had me in tears. It was the first book that I read from Ruta Sepetys and since I have read them all!

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  4. Beowulf, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Stranger, Heart of Darkness – have read all, and all made a deep impression on me. We had fun traipsing through an original version of Beowulf – with a group of friends reading aloud, it’s a hoot. Several other titles on this list have just been added to my TBR list – if they weren’t there before. I’ve recommended other books to you so I’ll suggest a few more that I’ll never forget: The Overstory by Richard Powers, a novel about the crucial place of old growth trees in our world, how much they’re necessary to human survival, and how badly we abuse and neglect them. One of the most powerful and important books I’ve read in a very long time. The Human Stain by Philip Roth flips what you think you believe about racism and prejudice and makes you realize: we are all complicit in dividing this country. La Rose by Louise Erdrich tells the story of an Indian child and the two families that love him desperately. Shows how much the good government of the USA destroyed the culture of the Native Americans who were here first. Once Upon a River by Dianne Setterfield is another story about the communities that live along the Thames River and how they create an elaborate story about a child found drowned and then lives again to be claimed by multiple families as their own lost daughter. Finally, Apeirogon by Colum McCann, a fictionalized memoir about an Israeli and a Palestinian father, each of whom lost a young daughter to the violence in the Middle East. They each realize that the only way to build a safe future for all the children of the region is to make peace, always to make peace.


  5. I love this post. I haven’t read all of them, but of those I have, I agree they are powerful.

    I had a uni teacher who insisted that Beowulf just did not sound the same in translation so she read us a few paragraphs in Old English to give us the flavor of it. It begins with Hwat!

    I am glad you like Heart of Darkness. So many people hate it. I believe it is about the experience of being an expat in a situation that is so foreign to you that it is truly impossible to learn fast enough everything that you need to know. I think it should be read in a series, the first being Heart of Darkness, then Things Fall Apart, then The Poisonwood Bible, which is also haunting.

    Other books I find haunting: I Heard the Owl Call My Name, Indian in the Cupboard (that whole series, actually).

    I guess the ones that really get me are stories of culture crossing, often in a missions context but not always. I love The King and I, and Bruchko.


  6. I definitely agree on the ones I’ve read: Heart of Darkness, The Stranger, The Trial, & Beowulf. Can’t say that I particularly enjoyed all of them (though Beowulf is a favorite), but they leave an impression!

    My personal experience with the Trial gives it an extra strange vibe. I happened to see it laying on an end table at my Grandma’s house, picked it up and read it, assuming it belonged to one of my brothers. The next time I visited they asked me why I’d left “my book” behind. Turns out no one has any idea where it came from…spoooooky 😀


  7. Salt to the Sea really shook me. It amazed me how this maritime tragedy was never covered in school ect and so little coverage has been given to such devastation. It really stuck with me.
    The Book Thief will forever haunt me. Having death as the narrator is possibly one of the best decision Zusak ever made and that line on how death is haunted by humans is just bone chilling.


  8. Homegoing was superb! For a relatively short book, the author expertly weaves together the painful memories of the past and how even generations out, the legacy of captivity continues to affect families today.


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