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In between sobs

I recently finished reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids (wayyy late in the game, I know) and you’d really think I’d have learned by now not to read particularly emotional things in public. It only leads to me pretending I’m not crying in coffeeshops. Or on the subway. Or in the park. Or on a bench.

Not so. Instead I ended up just kind of putting my head real far down into the book. Which looked totally normal, I’m sure.

I never used to be a book-crier. It’s only been in the past several years that I have become acquainted (well acquainted) with this phenomenon. I’ve always been a song-crier and a movie-crier, however, so I suppose this was only inevitable. Every part—no matter how clichéd or expected—that a movie director aims for tears, I’ve got them. In both books and film, it’s not always the saddest things that make me cry, but often it’s the most profound or deeply touching in any manner. In my many readings of Harry Potter, I never cried at deaths, but lose it completely every single time in that horrible epilogue when Harry names his son after both Snape and Dumbledore. It’s a terrible and trite construct on Rowling’s part, but it never fails to trigger the waterworks. Knowing it’s far from the deepest or saddest part of the series really only makes it worse.

I say worse, but I suppose I don’t really mean that. A book that can trigger that kind of emotional response, for whatever reason should be lauded. As much as it’s mildly embarrassing to tear up in front of a roomful of strangers, there’s always a bathroom to hide in. Too often people aren’t affected enough by the humanity in everything—life, literature, music—it doesn’t matter, so when the waves come over me, I always kind of love it. Simply being able to feel things in a world where people have come to pride themselves on their thick skins and jadedness makes me just fine about being a weeper.

In case anyone else shares in this, here are a few books that have made me well up satisfactorily lately: Just Kids by Patti Smith, There is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Do you have any to add?

21 Responses to In between sobs

  1. I cry every time Tiny Tim dies- on paper, on screen, audio… doesn’t matter. I cry.

  2. Jen Daiker says:

    I’m a crier. In those emotional moments I feel them all. Harry Potter is a big one and with the release of PT 2 coming out next week I can already feel the tears welling up knowing the true ending is near.

    My sobs:

    If I am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus
    My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
    Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
    A Walk to Remeber by Nicholas Sparks

    Too just name a few.

  3. Sheila Hurst says:

    The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey. I was in an airport and had to do the book-shield trick.

  4. Donn says:

    I’ve been interested of this lately – I started writing a small story that ended up being a real weeper. Is something more artistic if it can produce an emotional reaction? Or is the artist preying on our vulnerabilities in order to grant the work a literary weight which it doesn’t really deserve?

    But then…can bad writing provoke an emotional reaction? Doesn’t there have to be some genuine skill involved in producing even the most cynical tear-jerkers?

  5. Laura says:

    Ooh, I’m also late in the game because I haven’t read JUST KIDS yet but intend to soon. Many books have made me feel like crying. Right now I can best recall tearing up a bit on the bus while reading THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss. On one hand, it’s mortifying to start to cry over a book in public…and on the other hand, I want to say, “See, SEE??? Now stop playing Angry Birds and go out and buy this book right this second.”

  6. Lisa Marie says:

    My eyes well up at any book by Sarah Bird (women’s fiction). Her sense of humor is so amazing … and then she turns the plot to “poignant.” If her books weren’t so witty and if she didn’t make me really care about her characters, this probably wouldn’t strike me. Shameless plug: She recently released a new book, “The Gap Year.” I can already tell that it’s going to cause me to leak a few tears.

  7. Laura says:

    …not that there’s anything wrong with Angry Birds. Just sayin.

  8. Kim says:

    Since I worked in HIV services and prevention, I definitely found Just Kids very moving and choked up. Sadly, though, before that the only time I can remember getting upset was when the psycho in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo offed the cat. I’m sure there were many other books that elicited emotion, I just can’t think of them.

    • I think I’d be crying every day with that job, but maybe things are a lot better than they used to be for people with HIV. You reminded me of something though: dead pets always choke me up. I was so mad at my husband for recommending A Wizard of Earthsea without warning me about what happens to Otak :-(

  9. Robin Weeks says:

    The first time I was caught crying in public over a book was with Tale of Two Cities. More recently, after I read Odd Thomas, I couldn’t talk about it for days without needing a moment.

  10. I don’t usually cry when I read, but Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts got me. Also, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree gets me every time. Children’s books in general seem to be particularly hazardous to book criers. You know what else gets me? Beautiful paintings and Pixar movies.

    • Rowenna says:

      Like Amy, I can’t make it through the Giving Tree without crying–or the Velveteen Rabbit. But what really gets me are poems–Yeats rips at my soul with ‘The Ballad of the Foxhunter.” Which makes me a complete, total corndog.

  11. Gill Avila says:

    I was 13 when I read “Roads” and I cried. A German mercenary saves a couple and their infant from bandits. In his mind he hears the infant tell him that for what he’s done his name will never be forgotten. Even talking or thinking about (like now!) it makes me tear up, and I’m 62. For sheer power and emotion it easily matches “A Christmas Carol.”

  12. Gill Avila says:

    I forgot mention that “Roads” was written by Seabury Quinn and was published in–of all places–Weird Tales.

  13. Janice Palko says:

    The first book that ever made me cry was “Little Women” when Beth died. Other weepers: “Outlander,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” and “Harry Potter.” When Harry looked in the mirror and saw his parents, I lost it. That happened when I was reading the book to my seven-year-old son, and he thought I was crazy.

  14. Teri Carter says:

    Ann Patchett’s TRUTH AND BEAUTY.

    Short stories by Amy Hempl. In fact, Amy did a reading at AWP in February that I barely survived, a new essay she was working on about how dogs at the SPCA see the workers there. Jesus.

    Iris Chang’s THE RAPE OF NANKING.

    Jane Hamilton’s A MAP OF THE WORLD.

  15. katiecoops says:

    Whenever I think of crying from reading a book, Beloved by Toni Morrison comes to mind. That book WRECKED me. I shook and sobbed and was generally pitiful. The Old Man and the Sea and Of Mice and Men always makes me cry, even when I was teaching it five periods a day. I just cried every class when we got to the part where the old man comes back or George tells Lennie the story of the rabbits for the last time.

  16. Ronni says:

    THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. I was reading it at/for work, and I lost it right at my desk.

  17. Mrs. S says:

    The Time Travler’s Wife and The Amber Spyglass, read within a month of each other, were the first two that got me. It was no coincidence that I was finishing TTW on a Greyhound bus taking me back to college and away from my now-husband! Basically anything with a separation will get me.

    Later, I found that several times in The Hunger Games series I didn’t so much get teary as I got the wind knocked out of me, but I did tear up reading the first book aloud to my classes.

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