I came across a facebook thread earlier today that was about books that make you cry. Someone had challenged themselves to read a book that would make them cry, and was struggling to find one.
I added my own contributions to the thread (Lily and the Octopus and A Man Called Ove), and, of course, since it was a post about books, I looked at what other people had to say.
And as I read through the list of books people had added, I found myself really surprised. One book in particular that came up, over and over again, was The Book Thief.
The Book Thief is one of my favorite books EVER. It’s like, in my top 5 for sure, if not my top 3. I’ve read it multiple times, love pretty much everything about it, and gush about it to anyone who will listen when it gets mentioned. But…I have never cried while reading it. Yes, it’s an emotional book, and deals with heavy things, but it just hasn’t tugged on the heartstrings that make tears flow from my eyes, I guess. That doesn’t make me love it any less. It does make me wonder, though, what other people find so affecting about it that it causes them to shed tears, while I don’t.
Another book that showed up on the list multiple times was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I had heard about that book for years (and it’s now a movie that I will end up watching one day, if for no other reason than Felicity Jones is in it), and finally read it last year. Not only did I not cry, but I just really didn’t like the book much at all. Yes, it was sad in the way that books that deal with a serious illness are sad anyway. But I clearly did not feel the emotional connection to it that other people did, and I was shocked to see that people connected to it so much that it made them cry, since I felt a serious disconnect between myself and the story.
It may sound like I’m judging other people for feeling emotions that I didn’t with these books. I’m not. In fact, since this post got me thinking about books that have made me cry, I went through my “read” list on Goodreads to evaluate my books. As much as I’d like to admit I’m above it, I have to say I’m clearly a sucker for the books that are pretty much emotionally manipulative. Is the book about a dog? I will cry (the person sitting in the room with me when I finished Marley and Me thought something was legitimately wrong with me). I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain, which, if you are not aware, is narrated by a dog. I didn’t love the book as much as I expected to overall, and was certain I was going to make it through the book with no tears…..until a small moment at the end, which caught me off guard and had me crying on my way to work. In fact, when it comes to books about dogs, sometimes I only need to read the book jacket start crying, which is the case with Dean Koontz’s book A Big Little Life, which is about his dog Trixie. I have never read that book, but came across it at work one day while sorting books, read the jacket blurb, and started tearing up. I don’t know if I can ever actually read the book, if I can’t get through the jacket description.
I had a fairly long phase during which I was obsessed with Nicholas Sparks, and I finished pretty much every one of his books crying. Message in a Bottle is, for some reason, the one that stands out the most in my mind, though The Notebook is another obvious one. It’s cliche, but of course I allowed John Green manipulate me to tears in The Fault in Our Stars (come on, that pre-funeral funeral scene? I’m not so cold-hearted I can ignore that…). I was also not immune to the effects of Me Before You – the book or the movie.
Switching gears for a moment (I’ll bring it all together, I promise. I think…) –
Thinking about the books that both did and didn’t make me cry, I found myself thinking about the time I went to see the movie Celeste and Jesse Forever with a friend of mine. The movie was still in theaters, we were fans of Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones, and it looked cute. Samberg and Jones are both pretty funny, so I thought it would be enjoyable. And it was, except….
When the movie ended, I was sitting in my seat in the theater, sobbing. No one else had this reaction. My friend asked if I was okay. I could not explain my reaction — the ending wasn’t particularly sad, and there was nothing that should have caused such an extreme reaction in me. The goal of the movie clearly wasn’t to manipulate people to tears. And yet there I was, having a very emotional reaction that I couldn’t quite explain.
I’ve thought about that moment a decent amount in the years since that awkward movie-going experience. I still don’t know why I reacted the way I did — but I have an idea. And what I think is that the story struck a nerve for me, a nerve that I wasn’t even aware that I had. I think it struck on something that was super relevant to my own life, but that I had not yet faced, or even knew was an issue in my life or my relationship. But I saw something in Celeste and Jesse that hit on something obviously very close to home, whether I was consciously aware of it or not.
So what does that have to do with books that make you cry? I think it speaks to why some books spark such strong emotion in some people, and not in others. The thing about art is that, even though it is produced for and disseminated to the masses, it’s so personal. The author (if they’re decent) is sharing a personal story, sharing some kind of truth, and regardless of how they feel about the art they’re putting out into the world, they can’t control how other people are going to react to it.
As an animal lover, I know books about animals (and dogs in particular) are likely to make me feel very strong emotions. My friends who are mothers are sensitive to stories that involve something bad happening to children in a way that I am not, because it hits closer to home for them. Our life experiences affect how we react to the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to. What cuts right through me might barely phase someone else. And I think that’s what is kind of great about art — no two people ever interact with it in the same way. I can read A Man Called Ove with 10 other people for a book club, and my experience with the book will not be the same as anyone else’s in the group. Which is part of what makes talking about books so much fun — seeing what other people latch onto, gain from reading, and what makes them feel something.
What have you read that’s made you cry? Have you had your own Celeste and Jesse Forever experience with something? Please tell me I’m not alone….