Over the years of my fairly literary academic career, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not merely the assumed greatness of any given book you read that has an impact. Rather, it’s the stealth with which it manages to kick you right in your emotional balls that really makes a book stand out from the rest. It’s the unexpected and out-of-character book that shocks you into being impressed. While this effect by its very definition can come from nearly anywhere, I have three favorite sources.

The first falls under the category of children’s books; that shattering content disguised as innocence. Sometimes I sit and read children’s books — just curl up in the aisle and take in the pictures and nostalgic goodness while parents and children step around my inappropriately adult-sized body. I was in the process of this relaxing meditation on my own mental age when I came across “The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit” by Christopher Wormell. It’s not very nicely illustrated. It looks unremarkable. But it managed a bookish little nip at my tender underbelly. It tells the story about a monster so hideous that all of nature retreats from him in disgust, leaving the lonely monster talking to rocks. Then the monster dies, and immediately all the plants and animals return, leaving it “a beautiful place now, perhaps the most beautiful place in the world,” Wormell writes.

Could there be a more simplistic yet unspeakably cruel and sad book floating about? Possibly. However, feeling like my storybook guts had been pulled out my throat was not what I’d expected from the children’s aisle of Barnes & Noble. And that’s what made it fantastic. “Strega Nona” and it’s disturbing Italian noodles, “The Giving Tree” with whispers of one-sided needy relationships and the ever-poetic “Frederick” all share a similar magic.

The second category comes with a dose of academic pain. Most have had the experience of having to read an assigned book of biblical length. Everyone shares in the pain when they put the book off till the last minute, reading it all at once in a sickeningly slow dose. And while you make that torturous journey, you hate the book. You hate reading it: You hate each and every hour, each page a bamboo shoot under the fingernail in your tired and dragging mind. But the moment you come to class there’s an explosion of passion — everyone wants to talk about the book. For a brief moment you’re all the same person with a million voices cathartically listing off everything you hated and how painful and terrible and long the whole experience was. But, having been brought together through trauma, each begins to discover merit where once only hate could be found.

For me, it was reading James Michener’s 688-page novel “Caribbean” overnight in high school. It read like wading through a mental mud of historical fiction — generations of characters dying off, political facts and sludge. But by the end of class that day, I’d transitioned through my hatred, and found myself inexplicably loving it. Like a book tattoo, it had to hurt to leave an imprint, and once that imprint was made, it became tough to forget. Yet part of me couldn’t comprehend why I liked it. So many hours of loathing its existence, wishing the author nothing but a fiery libido and an influx of watery rejection and suddenly I was turned on, as it were.

The last in the trio to bruise those bookish family jewels is the quirkily translated and anciently filthy — those prehistoric texts whose interpreters go wild with their word choice, or whose original authors, born in, say, 446 B.C., still slathered their works with the most modernly dirty innuendo. Examples abound here, from the description of a woman’s “high arching caverns” and Aphrodite’s shout of “Don’t vex me bitch!” in “The Iliad,” to Aristophanes’s “intestinal insight” into the status of the gnat’s anus as a wind tunnel “trumpet.” Now that’s classic literature, and classy classic literature to boot.

My point is not that of a literary hipster. I’m not saying that because a book is well known it can’t be that dose of magic you’re looking for. I’m simply suggesting that every once in a while it’s O.K. to put down your copies of “Lolita” or the sprinkle-covered “A Million Little Pieces,” remove your cup and open yourself to the possibility of a swift and startling read from an unthought-of source. Sit down with a picture book, hate something into greatness and remember that if aged wines get you drunkest, age may have a similar effect on books.

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