Seven books — fiction, nonfiction and a graphic novel — that cue the waterworks.
It's easy for a book to produce a tear or two from me, but I can only recall a couple that led to full-on heaving and ugly-crying: Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" (duh) and current bestseller "Hello Beautiful," by Ann Napolitano.
Napolitano wrote the blockbuster "Dear Edward," which I liked, but it's nowhere near as good as "Beautiful," which is about four adult sisters in suburban Chicago. Set over the course of decades, it charts marriages, births and family rifts. But what makes it great is Napolitano's gift for capturing the tiny behaviors and reactions that make us human. Several tragic things happen in the book — although I should mention that it's also funny — but Napolitano's characters are too focused on getting through challenges to spend time crying about them. Which means that job is left to us.
If you like a good cry, I'd also recommend Rob Delaney's "A Heart That Works." The comedian and co-creator of the TV series "Catastrophe"'s sense of humor is intact but his subject could not be less funny: the death of his 1-year-old son, Henry. It's an unflinching and beautiful memoir because it insists that, despite his brief time on this planet, Henry has a story to tell.
Not to spend too long in that category of tear-jerkers-about-the-dying-infants but another fantastic, very different book about a child's death is Tom Hart's graphic memoir "Rosalie Lightning." When little Rosalie died unexpectedly, her parents were angry and confused. "Rosalie" shows how they found their way back to each other, in stunning words and drawings.
Young people who die before their time is always sad but I love the restraint of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go," in which three teenagers gradually become aware they're destined for early and — spoiler alert-but-not-really — unhappy endings. Promise unfulfilled is a theme in many of these books but "Never Let Me Go" is especially heartbreaking because Ishiguro underplays it so expertly (again, leaving the crying to us) and because the characters' lives are cut short when they should be learning how many things they are capable of doing.
There's an untimely death in "A Prayer for Owen Meany" — and, yes, tears — but it might be the most hopeful and joyful book on this who's-cutting-the-onions list. I think that's because John Irving's masterpiece is like a puzzle for the reader to solve. The endearingly odd title character does confusing things throughout the book, but their meaning is revealed in the book's big-hearted final scenes.
Hope-amid-tears is also what's happening in two final sad ones:
Carson McCullers' lovely "The Member of the Wedding" is about outsider Frankie, who yearns to belong to a "we" like her older brother, who's about to be married.
And Toni Morrison's "Beloved," for which the Nobel laureate earned a Pulitzer Prize. Its characters are mostly enslaved people, including Sethe, who has to make the kind of terrible choices many did in the era when Americans owned other Americans.
Morrison, by the way, said it best on why we need books that make us cry: "I want to feel what I feel. Even if it's not happiness."
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