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Sweatpants & Books | AskReddit: What Books Made You Go “Whoa!” After Reading Them?

By Emily Parker

At Sweatpants & Coffee, we love a good book. It’s even better when you’ve found a book that really makes you think, or surprises you in a great way, or even scares you! We looked at the AskReddit thread on which books have surprised people the most, and here are some of our favorite answers! We’ve even added the plot summaries, so you can decide for yourself which of these you’d like to pick up next.

Share a book that made you go “whoa!” in the comments!

Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity. Plot summaries provided via GoodReads.


1. “Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. The Scholar’s Tale was probably the only time a piece of text had me in tears.” – PrimeYearsFlyFading

“Hyperion. Holy f-ing shit. Books don’t do things to me like this book did. I love to read, but never has a book stuck with me like Hyperion. I plan to read the rest of the series, but the experience of Hyperion is something I didn’t know could exist. On its own, it’s the greatest book I’ve ever read.” – windblown_knight

Plot Summary: On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

2. “Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. So creative, so unlike anything I’d ever read before.” – BaronIncognito

“I am glad this is the top answer because it immediately popped into my head when I saw this thread. Vonnegut is an incredible writer and I love his other books but there is something about that last third of Slaughterhouse that almost makes you have to put the book down, except you can’t.” – randyboozer

Plot Summary: Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

3. “House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. It has to be read in paperback, due to the format. It has multiple narratives with different fonts. There are pages where the words are sideways or formatted really oddly. And there are footnotes upon footnotes.” – AraianrhodSeesYou

“My friend swears there was a page he read that he could never find later on. I was afraid one day I’d come over and see him trapped in the cover artwork.” – beatscribe

“Yeah I stopped reading it at night because I would freak myself out. It’s the only book that has ever really scared me. I still think about it 8 years later and I will never read it again. Although I do recommend it but not for the faint of heart.” – MrCool427

Plot Summary: Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth—musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies—the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story—of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

4. “His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), by Phillip Pullman. I thought it was incredibly creative and questioned a lot of the institutional thought processes that I was already starting to question when I first read it. I remember finishing it and thinking “I can only dream of writing a story like this.”” – auntieabra

Plot Summary: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass are available together in one volume perfect for any fan or newcomer to this modern fantasy classic series.

These thrilling adventures tell the story of Lyra and Will—two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them.

Phillip Pullman’s spellbinding His Dark Materials trilogy has captivated readers for over twenty years and won acclaim at every turn. It will have you questioning everything you know about your world and wondering what really lies just out of reach.

5. “How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. [It] opened my eyes to so many things I was doing wrong in my daily dealings with other people. As soon as I implemented just a small fraction of what he teaches, I saw an immediate difference in the ways others acted towards me. I feel this book should be required reading for high schoolers.” – xxBeef_Cake_xx

Plot Summary: Dale Carnegie’s common-sense approach to communicating has endured for a century, touching millions and millions of readers. The only diploma that hangs in Warren Buffett’s office is his certificate from Dale Carnegie Training. Lee Iacocca credits Carnegie for giving him the courage to speak in public. Dilbert creator Scott Adams called Carnegie’s teachings “life-changing.”

In today’s world, where more and more of our communication takes place across wires and screens, Carnegie’s lessons have not only lasted but become all the more critical. Though he never could have predicted technology’s trajectory, Carnegie proves a wise and helpful teacher in this digital landscape. To demonstrate the many ways his lessons remain relevant, Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc., has reimagined his prescriptions and his advice for this difficult digital age. We may communicate today with different tools and with greater speed, but Carnegie’s advice on how to communicate, lead, and work efficiently remains priceless across the ages.

6. “Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I wouldn’t say my response was “WHOA” immediately, but rather as time passes it makes me react more and more. I read it in high school. And while I wouldn’t say it was the best book ever, the scenes it lays out in the dystopian future and the way reality is getting ever closer to them definitely freaks me out. As I become more adult, it reads less like fiction and more like a bizarre prophecy every day.” – Sousaphonehero

Plot Summary“Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ’em to ashes, then burn the ashes.”

For Guy Montag, a career fireman for whom kerosene is perfume, this is not just an official slogan. It is a mantra, a duty, a way of life in a tightly monitored world where thinking is dangerous and books are forbidden.

7. “The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. I just finished it last weekend, and reading the last few pages literally sent chills down my spine. It was an incredible experience.” – MaleCra

Plot Summary: Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

8. “Invisible Monsters, by Chuck Palahniuk. He’s better known for Fight Club or Choke but this one is a must-read. It’s about the life of a maimed beauty queen and the brutal reality of how we value people (told in a deeply f-ed up Palahniuk way.) Can’t recommend it enough. “I hate how I don’t feel real enough unless people are watching.”” – spidermon

Plot Summary: She’s a catwalk model who has everything: a boyfriend, a career, a loyal best friend. But when a sudden motor ‘accident’ leaves her disfigured and incapable of speech, she goes from being the beautiful centre of attention to being an invisible monster, so hideous that no one will acknowledge she exists.

Enter Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme, one operation away from being a real woman, who will teach her that reinventing yourself means erasing your past and making up something better, and that salvation hides in the last place you’ll ever want to look.

The narrator must exact revenge upon Evie, her best friend and fellow model; kidnap Manus, her two-timing ex-boyfriend; and hit the road with Brandy in search of a brand-new past, present and future.

9. “All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. I love history, particularly WWI history, so All Quiet on the Western Front always struck me on a emotional level. The very end and how it ties the title of the book back into the story, I may have audibly said “whoa” the first time I read it.” – RoberttheBruce89

Plot SummaryThis is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the hatred that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another – if only he can come out of the war alive.

10. “A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s soooooo good, I couldn’t put it down.” – brickwallwaterfall

“More recently, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Incredible book.” – prematheowlet

Plot Summary: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.


Have you ever read a book that made you say, “Whoa!”? Tell us in the comments!

Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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