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)