The Well-Readheads: On Tearjerkers


LH: So, we’re going to talk about books that have made us cry. My list is short: I cry at movies all the time, but not many books have made me shed tears. The first book I remember weeping over was Where the Red Fern Grows – animals dying get me every time. The next summer, I stayed at my aunt’s for a week, and I stumbled upon a copy of Bridge to Terabithia. I read the whole thing in an afternoon, and I was so upset by the time I finished, my aunt put me to bed early with a cold washcloth over my swollen eyes. I love that not-real things from other people’s brains can have this effect on me.

RJS: Confirming all of your suspicions about my cold, dark heart, I have to confess that I’m not really much of a crier. It sounds like I have the opposite pattern from you, though. I remember crying at an episode of My So-Called Life in sixth grade (probably because I wished Jordan Catalano would make out under the stairs with ME), and I do get teary watching movies sometimes, but books are more likely to get to me. Island of the Blue Dolphins was my first really sad book, and I’m pretty sure that The Giver made me teary, then there was a looooong dry spell. I don’t remember crying over anything I read between ages 12 and 22. Then The Things They Carried came into my life, and I became the crazy woman sobbing into her book on a crowded airplane.

LH: I can’t say I’ve ever cried over a book in public – I do all my reading at home. I, too, have a Monsieur Valentine-black heart machine, so this is good – if the books we’re talking about can make us self-professed ice wenches cry, you know they’re great. So, back to books: The only book I cried over, not just because I loved it, but because I was sad that it ended, was Lonesome Dove. I felt like I had lost a friend when I finished it – I slept with it under my pillow for a week.

RJS: I learned my lesson with The Things They Carried, believe me. It should come with a Surgeon General’s warning: “Reading this book in public could be hazardous to your street cred.” Now that I think about it, it’s always the war books that get me. Matterhorn turned me inside out. I sobbed so hard at one scene that it woke my husband up. And that was FAR from the only scene that made me cry. Karl Marlantes, you push all my buttons. And oh god, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I’ve re-read it more than any other book, and its big reveal wrecks me very time. Do you really do all your reading at home?

LH: True story. I couldn’t afford to go out, even if I wanted to, since I spend all my money on books. Or as Tomcat says, “All your wages go toward pages.” Plus, it makes it easier on my stalkers – I’m considerate like that. Love Matterhorn, love The Sparrow – have you read Father of the Rain by Lily King? I bawled my eyes out from beginning to end. It’s amazing. It made for an interesting hand-sell: “I have never cried so much at a book. Er, but you should read it, you’ll love it. Trust me – I’m a professional.”

RJS: I don’t know this Tomcat yet, but I love him for “all your wages go toward pages.” A girl’s gotta have priorities! I can understand not paying to go out just to read, but I can’t go out without a book in my bag just in case. And you know what, businesses should pay us to show up and read! “Attract intelligent clientele by hiring a Well-Readhead to woo your customers with bookish banter.” But where was I? Oh. Haven’t read Father of the Rain, but I think it’s somewhere in one of my piles. I’m so interested in what you said about handselling it. How do you convey emotional complexity in short bursts with your bookstore customers?

LH: Mostly, I say “OMG!” a lot and wave my arms like Kermit the Frog…it is entirely possible people buy the books I recommend because I frighten them. But like with Father of the Rain, I tell customers it made me cry, but that it was a good cry. Sometimes, you just need one of those. And I, too, always have my book in my bag when I go out: I do read in line at the bank, or buying lunch, or walking down the street. (I could go on Let’s Make a Deal with my book bag. “Who has a hard-boiled egg? How about a shiv? You? Okay, now, anyone have a live meerkat wearing a sombrero?”)

RJS: Muppet arms can speak volumes! *makes mental note not to go digging in your bag without permission* Oh, I do love a good cry, but I don’t ever think of books for that. When I want to be weepy just for weepy’s sake, I go straight to the movies. Reading takes effort, and I don’t want to have to work for the cry, you know?

LH: I understand – I never look for a book to make me cry, either. If it happens, it happens. And sometimes it’s from a completely unexpected source. The last book that made me cry was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, when someone cut off the cat’s head and left it on Blomkvist’s motorcycle seat. POOR KITTY. I was so relieved when they left that part out of the movie. (Tom at RiverRun joked that they would have it in the DVD extras.) What was your most recent reading waterworks experience?

RJS: Of all the horrifying stuff in that book, it’s the dead cat that makes you cry! I think mine was Matterhorn, so not very recent. I get teary here and there, but it’s generally unremarkable. I don’t think I’ll be staying in the No Sob Zone much longer, though–chances I’ll survive my Toni Morrison backlist binge without at least one breakdown are slim to none.

LH: I’ll pray for you.

Tell us readers, what are the books that break you down?


AdvertisementPut a book in your ears. We recommend Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Get it or one of 250,000 other audiobooks free when you begin an Audible 30-day trial. audible_scifi_570x147