Last week, we looked at books that make you laugh, so this time, I figured we might as well look at the exact opposite–a book that might make you cry.
Now, depending on how given you are to crying while reading, this challenge could be really hard or really easy.
I don’t usually cry when reading (or watching movies or actually much in general), even if the scene is very sad, and when I do cry , it’s usually at some odd scene that’s probably not supposed to be the one that makes you cry. So, it’s probably just as well that, rather than crying, I am more likely to respond to sad books by just feeling incredibly hollow and depressed for days afterward. But every now and then, a book will make me sob uncontrollably.
And so to honor sad books, here’s a round-up of books that might make you cry. As always, be sure to check our online catalog for more details.
If you prefer contemporary fiction:
Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Never Let Me Go (2005)
Ishiguro’s novel ends up on a lot of lists of books guaranteed to make you cry. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but let’s just leave it at it’s the story of students at Hailsham, a reclusive boarding school in England, who are curious about the outside world, which they are prevented from experiencing or even really learning about. One student, Kathy, runs away with two friends and soon learns the startling truth of their lives and time at Hailsham.
David Nicholl’s One Day (2009)
If you like romances and want a good cry, you might give this book a try. It tells the story of Dexter and Emma, whose paths crossed the night they graduated from college, and they spend the next twenty years doing a lot of thinking about the other and their brief time together. The book has a somewhat unconventional structure, dropping in on the two for one day a year for each year they’re separated.
Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002)
The Lovely Bones is another popular pick for those looking for a good cry-inducing read. The book is narrated by Susie, a 14-year-old girl who has been murdered. That’s not a spoiler–she’s already dead and speaks from that perspective as she watches the investigation into her disappearance unfold and observes her family attempt to cope with the tragedy.
If you like young adult/children’s fiction:
Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller (1956)
I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the classic 1957 movie based on this book, but the original novel is every bit as good and poignant. I’ve read it a few times, and it just gets better and better with each read. In fact, even though this book is classified as a children’s book, I think it holds up well just as frontier fiction in general, with its tale of teen-aged Travis Coates and his adventures with a stray dog in 1860s east Texas. It’s also, at 158 pages, a very quick read.
John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (2012)
I’ve had a lot of people tell me this book left them emotionally devastated, but I’ve never read it, primarily because I’m not much of a John Green fan. (I can acknowledge he’s very good, but he’s still just not to my taste.) In any event, his tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars is the story of two teenagers battling cancer who fall in love. The book is their love story, as well as their shared interest in a reclusive Dutch author. After you’ve read the book, if you’re up for it, you can check out the movie from the library and cry even more.
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005)
When people talk about books that make them cry, I immediately think of The Book Thief. I read it a few years ago, and it ended up making me sob uncontrollably in a shoe store because I took it with me to read while I waited for someone else to pick hiking boots. Everyone pretended not to notice the crazy woman crying in one of the aisles, which somehow made the whole thing even more shameful to me. As a result, I am much pickier now about which books I read when I am waiting in public places. My litmus test for selecting such books is still “What are the odds this will make me embarrass myself in a shoe store?”
In any event, this lovely but heartbreaking book is about Liesel Meminger, a foster child who passes her time in World War II-era Munich, reading, stealing books, and talking to the Jewish boxer hiding in her family’s basement. As you can imagine, complications ensue.
If you want to read a classic–
James Joyce’s Dubliners (1915)
I am not sure whether anybody else agrees with me, but I always found James Joyce’s short story collection about characters in his native Dublin absolutely heartbreaking (as well as quite a bit more accessible than some of his other works while still preserving his lovely style and sense of character). I don’t know that this book would make anybody cry necessarily, but it always left me feeling devastated. At the very least, I recommend reading the final story, “The Dead,” which concentrates on a dinner party that is probably more awkward than any social engagement you’ve been to that made you feel uncomfortable. It gets bonus points from me for having my favorite ending paragraph in literature.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937)
This book never fails to make me cry. In fact, I get a little weepy just thinking about Depression-era drifters George and Lennie, the former shrewd and sharp-tongued and the latter simple-minded but well-meaning, and their ill-fated stay on a California ranch. I’m assuming quite a few of you have read the book, especially for school, but if you never have (or if you just feel like revisiting it), this novella is another quick read, clocking in at just a little over 100 pages. We can debate about the ending in the comments!
Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road (1961)
I don’t remember where, but I once saw this book described as being like the television show Mad Men, what with its focus on a well-to-do suburban couple whose seemingly perfect lives are gradually unmasked as an empty facade. But unlike Mad Men, it is actually written during the time period it depicts. Incidentally, I have read the first 100 pages or so of this saga about the dissolution of Frank and April Wheeler’s lives, and what I did read was excellent and haunting. In fact, that’s why I stopped reading it–I suspected I would be emotionally curled up in the fetal position for days if I continued reading to the inevitably tragic end. And I say that as someone who loves a good tragedy. But I couldn’t handle it, so I took a break that has lasted a good four years. I’m going to try to work up the nerve to reread and actually finish it this year.
Honorary Mention–Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)
I’ve already written about this one, which you can read more about here, but I had to mention it again, if only because the book and movie both succeeded in making me cry rather shamelessly.
Is it easy or hard for a book to make you cry? What’s the saddest book you’ve ever read? Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post? Tell us all about it in the comments!