I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but I’m not known for being particularly perky or cheerful.
I have been told by many that I have a very “dry” sense of humor, but I honestly do not understand what that means. I do know that I tend to be introspective and highly value my solitude (aka Laura practically requires applications for in-person interaction). Accordingly, (and thanks to Sarah’s nudging) I veer towards books that feature angst, in all its pensive glory, with a heaping side dish of sarcasm.
So, after reviewing my Goodreads “read” list, I’ve compiled a list of my all-time favorite—but not already heavily featured here on CEFS—angst-filled books.
Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
“Finishing Year Twelve had been a blessed relief. Although, having read Looking for Alibrandi several times since Year Eight, I was disappointed when Year Twelve did not bring me a handsome, salt-of-the-earth boyfriend and ultimate emancipation from all that ailed my teenage soul.”
Holly Yarkov has mid-twenties ennui. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her life, but neither is there anything profoundly fulfilling. She grieves for relationships fading or faded away, while trying to decide if her current job and boyfriend are enough. Rewind my life a decade and you have me, albeit with a different job and a different boyfriend on a different continent, frightened of becoming stuck, frightened of making a change, and frightened of what I mistakenly believed was a winding down of options the further I inexorably moved into adulthood. With terrifically sarcastic wit and poignant dialogue, author Laura Buzo skillfully depicts the crossroads between the nostalgia for youth and the tentative embracing of adulthood.
(Holier Than Thou is only available in Australia, but can be purchased from Fishpond with free shipping.)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
“We have found you and we love you.
You will never be alone.
I will sing to you of morning,
I will stay until it’s light.
I will sing to you of laughter
on the other side of night.”
Matt Pin is twelve, two years removed from being transported from his native Vietnam as part of Operation Babylift, a program in which the U.S. military airlifted some 3,000 Vietnamese children (mostly, but not all, orphans) to the United States as part of the military withdrawal at the end of the Vietnam War. He has been adopted by a loving family, but is haunted by memories of war and the family he left behind. He finds comfort in playing the piano (which always leads to brownie points with me) and as a talented pitcher for the school baseball team, but also faces racial discrimination from his peers. With a perfect recipe for angst, Ann E. Burg captures in haunting verse Matt’s struggle to find his place amongst his American family and school while coming to terms with a past chock-full of horror and guilt, but also snippets of love and beauty.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
“Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.”
Featuring a cameo appearance by Sarah’s aunt Sue, Into the Wild tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who went in search of a transcendent experience and instead found hardship and tragedy in the remote wilderness of Alaska. Disillusioned by what he viewed as the shallow materialism of his upper middle class upbringing, McCandless donated his life savings to charity upon graduating for college and joined the fringes of society under the pseudonym Alexander Supertramp. Author Jon Krakauer, himself an accomplished mountaineer, traces McCandless’ transient, ascetic journey while skillfully weaving in his own observations regarding the enduring allure that risk, exploration and the Great Outdoors can hold.
A Romance on Three Legs by Katie Hafner
Legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould angsted over J.S. Bach’s keyboard music, public performance, and most of all, Steinway concert grand piano CD318. In this vivid portrait of the intimate relationship between musician and instrument, author Katie Hafner chronicles Glenn Gould’s obsession with the piano, from his relentless technical demands (that poor piano technician!) to his heartbreak when the piano was irrevocably changed after a fall from a loading dock, to his struggle to find an adequate replacement that could meet his stringent needs as a concert pianist. Glenn Gould’s angst as he touched a keyboard, desperate for a particular sound and touch, is palpable, as was his joy when the ideal response from a piano was achieved.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
“I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.”
Forget that symbolic mumbo-jumbo they tried to cram into your head about this book during your high-school English class (uh…no offense, Sandra). Then read this book about friendship, and what happens when friendship goes wrong. Gene Forrester has returned to visit his alma mater, the Devon School in New Hampshire. As a 16-year-old, he and his best friend Finny found themselves safely ensconced at their New England boarding school far from the European war front in 1942. But misunderstandings and envy infiltrate their sheltered world of classes, sports and teenage hijinks, leading to a tragedy of colossal proportions.
Boy21 by Matthew Quick
“You can lose yourself in repetition—quiet your thoughts; I learned the value of this at a very young age.”
Finley is surrounded by violence in a poor town divided and run by black gangs and the Irish mob. A devoted, but not necessarily talented or athletic basketball player, Finley accedes to his coach’s wishes and befriends the new boy in town, Russ, a star on the prep school circuit who has lost his mental stability and interest in playing basketball due to tragedy. Knowing that if Russ’ interest in basketball is rekindled means losing his spot as starting point guard, Finley wrestles how much he should be willing to give up for other people who may not care as much or work as hard as he does. While Boy21 has moments of sheer implausibility, especially for anyone who knows how the college basketball recruiting system works, it is also liberally sprinkled with lovely moments of warmth, connection, and understanding for Finley and those he loves most.
Are you an angst fan too?
What are some of your favorite angst-filled reads?