I just read a post from Bona Fide Betty called Readin’ and Cryin’, in which she recounts the first book that made her cry: Little Women. And she posted a picture of her 20-year-old copy of Little Women, which happens to be the same edition that I first owned, the very first hardcover book I ever bought with my own money. And interestingly, the first book I downloaded to my Kindle. (That the download was only 99 cents didn’t hurt, but still…it was one of the first e-books I tracked down.)
Over dinner with friends a few months ago, we ate dessert and sipped coffee while talking about the most significant books we’ve ever read. Two of us immediately mentioned Little Women, which maybe isn’t surprising considering we’re both writers and editors. Jo March was an inspiration and (fictional) role model to both of us.
The thing is, I don’t think I’m necessarily drawn to books that I suspect will make me cry. In fact, which very few exceptions (Eat, Pray, Love among them), I steer clear of Oprah’s picks. Most of the time, my goal is to escape into a good happily-ever-after story, and I’m not a big fan of conflict. (Although without conflict, there’s no story, so there’s that. But I would argue that conflict doesn’t necessarily beget tears.)
One of my other all-time-favorite books is Jane Eyre (did I mention that I named my cat Charlotte Brontë?). But while I was sad at various plot points in that novel, I didn’t sob the way I did when Beth dies in Little Women.
But interestingly, two more books that fall in my personal books-I’ll-reread-over-and-over-again list do make me sob. Every time.
They are both memoirs, not novels, and they are both fabulous. One is Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle (author of the beloved Wrinkle in Time trilogy), and the other is Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Two-Part Invention is the story of Madeleine’s 40-year marriage to actor Hugh Franklin, and it looks back on said marriage in the wake of his cancer diagnosis. Yeah, from page one, you know how it’s going to end. With tears. But the journey is worth the pain of the inevitable loss. I have actually given this book to friends as a wedding gift, because the story of their flawed and imperfect love for one another, and perseverance through the years, is so inspirational. (I do, however, present it with a disclaimer, because some might find it odd to receive such a book as a wedding gift.)
Fifty Acres and a Poodle is a more light-hearted read, and I actually laugh my way through most of that book. Except for one part, where my heart breaks. But then I laugh again.
I’m not a big fan of weepy movies either, but one that I will watch over and over again — and which I think is far superior to the Nicholas Sparks novel upon which it is based — is Message in a Bottle. Again, the journey is worth the pain.
Which may be the point. Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. (Anyone know who said that, and in what movie? Hint: this movie did not make me cry.)
As my blog title suggests, I’m a fan of True Stories. And tears are cleansing and necessary. And if the story really is True? Well then, the tears are inescapable.
But the journey is worth it.