May 24, 2012

by English Muse

I never quite know what book will start that tightness in my throat, the tension in my chest, the eyebrows rising and brow furrowing as moisture builds in the corner of my eyes.  Nor do I know how it’ll happen, or what will make me cry, or when–will I weep through a few pages, or will the book haunt me later, when I go to sleep?  When I read Where the Red Fern Grows in fourth grade, I pitched it across my bedroom at the end, then went to find my mother and sob in her arms for a little while; when I was even younger, I tried to read Old Yeller and couldn’t bear it.  Even now, a lost or dying animal kills me inside, which I realized reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

It’s not just the loss of a pet that brings me to tears, of course.  Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone and The Hand That First Held Mine both left me a teary mess, as did Jane Eyre, when I read it a second time in college.  I think it’d be crazy not to cry a little while reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, but a few unexpected and bittersweet tears snuck up on me during The Night Circus.  Loss is what drives me to tears in novels, whether I know it’s coming or not, and yet loss does not always make me cry, even when I feel it deeply.  Take, for example, Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love or Lisa See’s Peony in Love, two books that broke my heart and yet never moistened my eyes.  Even though some made me cry and others didn’t, each of these books are among my favorites, and I have felt these books within my heart.  Great books should make you feel, no matter how expressed that feeling needs to be.

When I read a book like this, and especially when I finish, I need a few quiet moments alone with a steaming cup of coffee or tea, a place to tuck my knees under my chin, and my journal and a pen.  Sometimes I have a few words to say, a moment of expressing the thoughts that a book has inspired in me; other times, I sit with a blank page and sip my tea until it’s gone and the world is okay again, and I return to my life.

So, dear readers, what books have broken your heart?   What do you do when you’ve encountered them?

Until next Thursday,

Katie (unwritten, untitled)


[image 1: Once Upon A Time… painting by Peter Käuflin/image 2: silent emotion print by Kelly Rae Roberts/image 3: Everything is going to be OK print by Jen Renninger]


This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 8:00 am. It is filed under Books, illustrations. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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21 Responses to “Heartbreakers”

  1. Wendy says:

    When I find a book that wrenches my emotions, I bring it up in conversation for the next month! The only book that has made me bawl was The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis, the final book in the Narnia Chronicles. Oh, the tears, and the sense of loss! I’m more likely to cry in movies than books, because the visuals bring me closer to the characters’ pain. Try not to cry in Shadowlands – gosh! xx

  2. kathy says:

    There’s nothing worse than crying and reading at the same time…I hate when that happens. Since I wear glasses while reading it’s esspecially annoying. The worse times is while on a bus, plane or doctor’s office, and there’s no kleenex ANYWHERE!!!!
    I read so much, that it would be hard to specifically mention one lately, but the one that made me angry, and cry and still annoys the heck out of me for the shear waste of a life and a great author, not to mention “what happens next” has got to be ” Suite Francaise “. I read a library copy when it first came out and then had to buy it …but everytime I saw it I was heartbroken, sad or very angry – I had to give it away

  3. Sorry, I simply cannot read a book that involves the loss of a pet or the poor treatment of an animal. My heart can’t bear it, although human heartbreak is completely managable and quite stirring. One book that left me sad and a bit stunned was Atonement.

  4. Dorothy says:

    The first movie I saw was Old Yeller and I couldn’t stand it, I can’t to this day watch or read about animals dying. The saddest book I have read lately was Sarah’s Key, and I didn’t really know what it was about until I read it. It was heartbreaking. But a beautifully written book.

  5. Katharina says:

    Love the blog.
    There’s a balance between the restorative power of a good book, and the energy consumed by the heartbreak in the story. Could you write about that sometime?

  6. Hannah says:

    I think one of the most upsetting books i’ve ever read was 10 thousand sorrows. I cried all the way through.

    I know exactly what you mean, i always need a few moments to myself after I finish a book


  7. Tina says:

    I admit that I cried when I read “One Day”.

    However, the book that saddens me more than any other book is “The Catcher in the Rye”. And, there is irony in this statement.

    When I was a teenager, I could not relate to Holden in the least…in fact, I couldn’t stand him. I felt he was privileged, out of touch, and, even though this wasn’t a term in my lexicon during my teenaged years, entitled. Having to read Salinger’s novel annoyed me and was definitely only a fulfillment based on the fact that I was a good student and English was my favorite subject in high school.

    As an adult, I have had COUNTLESS encounters with Holden, as I am a teacher. I have taught this novel to 8th graders, 10th graders, and 11th graders for the past 12 years. This year alone, I taught it three times in the past 6 weeks. I’m pretty much done with the story!

    However, all of my angst toward this piece of literature aside, there is something so deafeningly painful in learning of any child that has been neglected, left to his own wits, trying to figure out his life, without the tools to heal himself. There is so much troubling about Holden’s life. And, to have such a young life be represented with so little hope of actually being able to make it to adulthood – mostly because he has learned that adults just become automatons and passionless in his estimation – I feel that this story does have relevance on an emotive level with, unfortunately, many teenagers, regardless of the fact that Holden was a privileged kids in the late 1940s, absent of resources for outreach to help him or absent of his independent desire to seek help in those willing to offer it.

    To me, the sadness of the reality of how teenagers feel sometimes lost and almost hopeless is something that is present today, just like Salinger tried to represent that feeling during a time period when teenagers weren’t even recognized as a transitional age group between childhood and adulthood.

    And, as much as I don’t particularly, personally care for Holden, nor do I care for the story from a personal perspective (mostly because I wasn’t “that” teenager), I do see the value in teaching the story and reserve my judgment, sad as it may be, until after I hear my students assessment of Holden and Salinger’s work as a whole when we finish reading it.

  8. Katie says:

    Gladly–though I think it’d take up more than one post. Perhaps you could help me brainstorm?

    and have you been reading English Muse for awhile? If so…how have we not chatted about it before? 🙂

  9. Katie says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard of Ten Thousand Sorrows, but judging by the title, it sounds like something one’d cry through. Was it a worthwhile read?

  10. kayla says:

    I did that same thing when I was in about 5th grade reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I cried like a baby. And I wont even touch Marley and Me or Water for Elephants.

  11. Katie says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye (even though I majored in English), but it’s one of many on the list of books I’ll probably have to teach when I finish my grades 5-9 teacher certification next year in the winter. I’ve wondered about how to deal with frequently teaching books I don’t love…and it sounds like you’ve found a way to handle that.

    I also cried when I read One Day. That should’ve been on the list, too!

  12. Katie says:

    I cried my eyes out watching Old Yeller! Once, while I was babysitting as a high schooler, the kids wanted to watch the movie. I refused. I get a little sad whenever I’m near the pet food section in the grocery because one of the brands has a picture from the movie on its bags!

  13. Katie says:

    I felt so similar after reading Suite Française. I haven’t been able to go back to it since I first read it. Have you read the Fire in the Blood novella? That one wrapped up a little more. It’s available on Paperback Swap. It was a surprising little book, and I rather enjoyed it.

  14. Katie says:

    I feel exactly the same. I cannot bear it.

  15. Katie says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever cried reading CS Lewis, except perhaps when I read an excerpt from A Grief Observed. The space trilogy enchanted me, though! I had to read the first one for school once and raced through the rest of the series afterwards. Shadowlands is on my to-read list. I’ll be sure to stock up on the tissues before I take on that one!

  16. Katie says:

    Oddly, Water fo Elephants was not among the books that made me cry, but it is so good!

    I absolutely refuse to touch Where the Red Fern Grows ever again, however. I can only hope and pray it’s never on any curriculum I have to teach!

  17. kathy says:

    I just put it on my reserve list @library (i love my library – it never fails me), thanks for the suggestion I look forward to getting a chance to resolve my issues with this book.

  18. kathy says:

    I thought I would mention….I can’t seem to put your website into any bloglists I hold, I keep getting virus notifications whenever I try. Just thought i’d mention it

  19. Lilliana says:

    Beloved by Toni Morrison
    The Sound and the Fury, but I couldn’t tell you why.
    Joe Sacco’s graphic novel-Safe Area Gorzade

  20. christina says:

    the fault in our stars by john green, people! i drowned in tears and i never cry over fiction. really really really great book (don’t think its just for teens, i’m in my 20s!)

  21. Kat says:

    The first book I have ever cried over, was the ending to Lloyd Alexander’s ‘The High King’. My Godmother had just sent me the boxed set – signed even! After following Taran and Eilonwy through five books of adventures, watching them grow up and fall in love only to be told she must be sent over sea “forever” was absolutely heartbreaking to my ten-year old self.

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