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Five Unromantic “Hearts”

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Today is a day for hearts: Ones that are given, ones that are won over and ones that are filled with tasty chocolates. But if I may, here are five more hearts that are worthy of consideration. They aren’t romantic, but they’re full of soul.


There’s a very good reason that everyone from Louis Armstrong to LeAnn Rimes has recorded this song. It has a plaintive purity drenched in heartache. As performed by its author, Hank Williams, it’s also a masterpiece. He reels everyone in by the second line, “You cry and cry and try to sleep,” and has us nodding knowingly by the time he gets to, “Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you.” The song was released in 1953, after Williams’ death.


Truly an inspiring piece of work, “Young @ Heart” is a 2007 documentary about a senior citizen chorus in Northampton, Mass. The film is both hilarious and heartbreaking. There is a moment when an old man sits in a chair and sings the Coldplay song, “Fix You,” that will give your emotions a profound workout.


Young artists also inspire. In this case, Carson McCullers was only in her early 20s when her great novel was published in 1940. It is the story of a deaf man, John Singer, and his encounters with various people in a small Georgia town, including an awkward girl and a union organizer. The book was revelatory for me, as it was for so many readers, detailing the degree to which we yearn for human connection while being tragically unable to clearly see even the people directly in our midst.


If you have kids, at some point or another they come home from high school and mention they’re reading this book for class. You know what this means: In the near future, you will need to sit down with your sweet kid, put an arm around their shoulders and say, “Yes, this happened. It was awful, and it happened.” Dee Brown’s book about what happened to Native American tribes in the late 1800s was published in 1970. It will leave you reeling long before you get to the fate of the Sioux at Wounded Knee, S.D.


Short stories don’t get any better than Edgar Allan Poe’s classic take on murder and guilt, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” If you haven’t read it since you were a kid, take another look. The writing is miraculous in its pacing and heightened tension. It’s just as effective now as it must have been in 1843.

So that’s five and we’ve barely scratched the surface. What are some of YOUR essential “hearts”?

8 Responses »

  1. Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” comes to mind, Jim. I was a huge fan and that song was sooo sad about a guy with a broken heart. I think one line went “goin to lonesome town, where I’ll learn to forget.” 🙁

  2. “Where do Broken Hearts Go?” sung by the late Whitney Houston is another heart-rendering one!

  3. “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. The novel that was adapted for one of the most romantic comedies of all time — “Apocalypse Now.” I still howl at Duvall shouting “Because Charlie don’t surf!” 🙂

  4. Let’s toss in an obscure animated entry. From the old Saturday morning cartoon Fat Albert & the Cosby kids. Thump thump…thump thump….The Chicken Heart that ate up New York City… thump thump…thump thump.

  5. And don’t forget “Heart of a Woman,” the continuing saga of a remarkable woman, the late great Maya Angelou!


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