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Unexpected Moments

The other night DH surprised me with tickets to see the movie Bright Star. He knew I'd been quietly languishing to see this movie about the relationship between Romantic poet John Keats and the young Fanny Brawne. I was certain we'd never find the time to go and I just knew it was one I'd want to see on the big screen, sitting in the dark, surrounded by other Keats readers. Then at the end of a long Friday I walked in to see tickets in his hand. *love* Now I know that with a master's in British literature I was predisposed to enjoy this film. But "enjoyed" is too tame a word. I absolutely loved it. And there's a particular scene that has stuck in my mind ever since. In this scene Keats is visiting Brawne's family at Christmas and, when asked for a poem, begins reciting the first lines of "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be." Folks, I literally burst into tears the moment he started speaking. And it took me completely, utterly by surprise. Up until then I'd certainly been enjoying the film, but I wasn't emotionally invested yet. Then somehow, in that quiet moment on screen, they seemed to capture how it would have been sitting there as the young poet composed that beautiful poem. It was breathtaking, both for its beauty and for its unexpectedness.

Naturally, I came home and started thinking about those passages in the books I've read that hit me in the gut. They come out of nowhere, steal the breath from my lungs with their beauty, and leave me dazed. They may come in the form of a debut book by a new author. They may come in the middle of the seventh book by an author whose style I'm so familiar with I wouldn't have thought she could surprise me again. Either way, they create in me an immediate and visceral reaction. Sometimes tears, sometimes awe, sometimes simply a smile of perfect contentedness. The truth is I don't often cry reading books. I'm much more likely to tear up watching a film and I'm not really sure why that is. Of course, poetry does seem to be the most effective way to get my tear ducts going and so in retrospect I didn't stand a chance at a movie like Bright Star. Which I highly, highly recommend. And whatever you do, don't even think about leaving before the credits are through, as sitting there with the rest of the audience listening to Ben Whishaw's beautiful rendition of "Ode to a Nightingale" is one of the highlights of the entire production.

Natasha over at Maw Books Blog wrote a post on crying while reading awhile back and the discussion in the comments was fascinating. Markuz Zusak's masterpiece, The Book Thief, came up on a number of people's lists of books they sobbed over. I, too, shed several tears over that gorgeous novel. The Harry Potter series, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles were a few others that popped up repeatedly. But this isn't really a post on whether or not you cry while reading. It's about those unexpected moments that give you pause, the passages, the words, the emotions they evoke. These are the passages that become favorites, that you go back and re-read to savor. Even if you're not re-reading the whole book, you'll pull it off the shelf and open to that certain page and let your eyes run over the words as you smile. Recently, I ran across one of these unexpected passages while reading Heroes at Risk. This is the fourth book in a series I'm very fond of. It's a funny, unique series and I'm attached to the characters. But I don't necessarily go in expecting big Wow moments, you know? And yet, I read this one paragraph at the end of a chapter and was, well, moved. It reminded me, in a way, of possibly my most memorable of these moments which occurred when I first read Middlemarch. I was going along, thoroughly enjoying myself, when bang! Eliot felled me in one clean sweep:
"You approve of my going away for years, then, and never coming here again till I have made of myself some mark in the world?" said Will, trying hard to reconcile the utmost pride with the utmost effort to get an expression of strong feeling from Dorothea.
She was not aware how long it was before she answered. She had turned her head and was looking out of the window on the rose-bushes, which seemed to have in them the summers of all the years when Will would be away.
Tears, awe, the perfectly contented smile. I was wearing them all in that moment and I have never forgotten it. Mostly I think it's a matter of kairos--when the words, the writer, the reader happen to come together in a single, serendipitous moment of oneness. I live for these moments. I never know when they will happen, with what authors, what characters, in what seasons of my life. But I live for them just the same. Do you?


  1. I've always loved Keats and have never heard of this film before... I'll be sure to check it out. I cry during movies quite often, especially movies I watch by myself. Coincidentally though, the best crying movies are based on books: P.S. I Love You, Evening, Feast of Love... they get me everytime!

    I don't cry a lot in books either. Many people said they cried at the end of SHIVER, but I just smiled... I did however sob at the end of JELLICOE ROAD. I seriously had to get water after, I cried so hard. Also books like BEFORE I DIE, but those makes more sense to cry while reading I suppose.

  2. I've cried reading some books, but soon after I completely forget that I did. I can't recall a book right now but I know I have.
    Which passage in Heroes at Risk? OH.. was it when she was sick? That was awesome. I loved that. Not sure if I cried but it was fantastic.

  3. What a beautiful post! I have been very intrigued about this movie too, and now I'll definitely have to see it.

    I always cry way more in movies - it is so much easier for me to become emotionally invested when I see things happen. But, I cry in books too.

    I love about finding those little parts in books that speak to me. I always feel like they are little pieces of truth scattered throughout literature - just waiting for me to come and discover them.

  4. Fabulous post today. I'm plotting a movie date with my sisters.

    One of my favorite moments of kairos happened in Madeleine L'Engle's memoir Two Part Invention at the end of the story when she revisits Aiken's lines that her husband read to her just before he proposed:
    "Music I heard with you was more than music, Bread I broke with you was more than bread."

    So lovely!

  5. I want to see this movie so bad I was excited when I first heard about it... sadly I doubt we even get it around my small town. This movie looks so beautiful.

  6. Anonymous5:13 PM

    I've been dying to see this movie too-I'm so glad to hear you loved it!
    I don't cry so much while reading either-but I remember crying very vivedly when I was reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Also, there's a recent commercial involving a little girl and her lost puppy and a group of thoughtful and kind college-age-kids that I seriously cannot even hear from another room without tearing up!

  7. Iona Moon by Melanie Rae Thon was like that for me." It is the broken heart that makes us human in the end." It was such a heartbreakingly simple and sympathetic line, mother telling daughter a story, and you just knew that there were stories mom was never going to tell daughter.

  8. Sara, definitely check it out! If you love Keats I think you'll love it. And you're right, some books are made to tug at your heart. I know what you mean about JELLICOE ROAD. What a book.

    Janice, yes it was! When they finally let Taro in and she sees him through her fever haze. *sigh* I actually cried. Caught me completely off guard. And showed how much I care about these two now.

    Melissa, thank you! And definitely see it before it disappears from theaters. That's how it feels to me as well. I'll read something at just the right time in the right place and it's magic.

    Sally, I think you would love Bright Star. Hope you and your sisters make it to see it! I'm so glad you mentioned L'Engle as her books are where I first encountered the idea of kairos and I have always loved the notion. I read TWO PART INVENTION ages ago and had forgotten that beautiful line. Thank you for reminding me!

    Caitlin, I was afraid it wouldn't come here as well. And then suddenly it was playing on one screen in one theater and I was thrilled. Truly, it's a gorgeous film.

    Rachel, yeah, it's not a regular occurrence for me so that's probably why the few times I do stand out in my memory. And that is hilarious about the commercial. I want to see it now!

    Jena, I have not heard of that one. I took a gander and it sounds gorgeous!

  9. Wonderful post! I also tear up much more easily when watching a movie (ie. Bridge of Terebithia? Which all of my friends said wasn't even that sad), but if the book is really, really good, it can make me cry too.
    And the movie sounds so romantic. *sigh* I'll definitely have to watch it, though I don't know if it's coming over here.
    And, btw, I nominated you for an award over here:

  10. The end of Looking For Alaska got me that way. I think it was the sudden hope in the darkness - I literally had tears dripping onto the book, and I don't think that has ever happened to me before. "Love your crooked neighbor..." Gah.

    And the whole final third of Doomsday Book. I read it last year on a car trip, and I was trying very hard not to audibly sniffle so my kids wouldn't hear me from the backseat. I still can't think of the final line without tearing up.

  11. I really want to see Bright Star too, so I am glad to see you give it a rave review.

    Doomsday Book got to me too, Molly!

  12. Huhn. I've never even heard of this one - shows how many new movies I've seen lately. It does sound wonderful though, I'm always up for an unexpectedly wonderful movie.

    I'm not really a cryer either but after reading the Road Home, I bawled my eyes out - I knew it was a war novel, but I really wasn't expecting to get that close to Rebecca and Michael. Just so wonderful.

  13. Jenn, thank you so much for the award! And you definitely have to see it. If not on the big screen then when it comes out on DVD.

    Molly, oh man. The end of LOOKING FOR ALASKA is one of my favorite endings ever. He absolutely nailed it. And it's so fun to hear someone else who loved DOOMSDAY BOOK. I read that book in high school and completely fell into it. Such a cool story.

    Lenore, and you too! It's an emotional end, that's for sure. And definitely a rave review for Bright Star!

    Michelle, I know. I rarely get out to new movies, either. But I saw a preview for this one online and just knew it was something special. So I was thrilled when it came to the Wynnsong. Only place in the state, it seems...

    And THE ROAD HOME will get me every time. I was a complete wreck the first time I read it. In a good way. In a I'll get up and read the whole thing again tomorrow kind of way. You know what I mean. ;)

  14. What a lovely post. I have had those same feelings about the Emily series by L. M. Montgomery.

    And this clearly looks like a movie I need to see.

  15. Janssen, I am embarrassed that I've never read the Emily books. They and THE BLUE CASTLE are on my list of books I've got to catch up on.

    And you simply must see Bright Star. :)

  16. Anonymous10:20 PM

    Great post. I'm going to have to see Bright Star now. As for those gorgeous moments in books, Megan Whalen Turner is the master of them for me. There are certain paragraphs in her books that are so perfect I want to memorize them, where she doesn't say too much and hardly even enough, but hints at something profound and moving.

  17. nikki, yes! MWT is the definitive master. My word, some of those scenes in QUEEN absolutely reduce me to a pool of mute adoration.


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