In my writing and my reading, I love those moments that move me to tears. Tears shake loose the things we hold the closest—and sometimes, those affinities even surprise us.
While I am a sensitive sort, I assure you I’m not necessarily an easy mark. As a developmental editor for a dozen years, it can be hard for me to turn off my critical brain while reading. The novels listed here flipped that switch, pulled me in, and made me feel deeply.
Forget about stuffing your pockets full of tissues—these ugly cries will be real as rain, so just sit beside an entire box. Yet spring showers encourage new growth, and if you’re anything like me, these reads will leave you feeling gloriously and gratefully alive.
1. The Art of Racing in the Rain (Harper Perennial) by Garth Stein. I once recommended this novel to a friend, who texted me during her train commute to blame me for not warning her and now she’s out of tissues and there’s snot everywhere. Sounded about right to me. Told in the voice of an old, infirm dog who is ready to part from this world so he can be reborn as a human and tell his owner, Denny, things he needs to know to get custody of his daughter—but at a time when Denny needs the dog’s unconditional love more than ever—this novel’s perfect conflict made me bawl buckets. Three times, when re-reading for different book clubs.
2. No Place I’d Rather Be (Kensington) by Cathy Lamb. This novel hooked me, didn’t let go, and then wrung me out with so many subplots peaking near the end that I cried for two straight hours while finishing. The half-hour before that had been full of laughter. Lamb somehow knit together themes of child abuse, bullying, Asperger’s, Jewish persecution, and megalomania with quirky characters and cake therapy to illuminate the nature of familial love. I closed the back cover with a new appreciation of the ways that humor, romantic tension, and legacy play a role in ensuring our will to survive. And two boxes of tissues on my grocery list.
3. Me Before You (Penguin Books) by Jojo Moyes. This was a case where a personal connection to the premise may have enhanced the story’s effect. Anyone who has read The Far End of Happy, my novel based on the true events of my first husband’s suicide standoff against a massive police presence, will get why this story, about a depressed quadriplegic and the upbeat caretaker who falls for him, hit close to home for me. If you are looking to be moved, do not substitute the film, as the foreshortened ending leaves out important scenes necessary to build the same emotional investment.
4. When Breath Becomes Air (Random House) by Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi positions his memoir at the juncture of science, philosophy, and literature, which promised to be right up my alley, so my husband and I chose it as the next book we’d read aloud to each other (we do this for fifteen minutes every morning). We choked our way through it. After years of sacrifice, while engaged in two of humankind’s most life-affirming preparations—finishing his residency in neurosurgery and starting a family—Kalanithi’s diagnosis of end-stage lung cancer gave him a laser focus on what was important. Perhaps we cried because he didn’t, but at times we simply couldn’t forge on and had to get up for more tissues.
5. Johnny Got His Gun (Citadel) by Dalton Trumbo. This novel is not new; it won its National Book Award back in 1939. With a direct hit from a German shell to his 20-year-old infantryman, Joe, Trumbo pushed the question of what it means to be alive to its furthest limit: Joe awakens in a hospital deaf, dumb, blind, with no arms and legs, and unrecognizable without a face. Yet his heart beats and his lungs breathe, and as he slowly orients himself to his realities, his mind stays sharp. Joe’s ultimate ability to solve the problem of how to communicate seems like so little, and yet to him, it is everything. The breakthrough moment will leave you blubbering and oh-so-grateful for the blessings in your life.
These deeply affecting books will help you connect more deeply with what life is all about. I couldn’t recommend them more. But consider this your public service announcement: you may want to schedule some alone time as you head into the final hundred pages. Reading them while commuting by train, grabbing lunch at your desk, or waiting at a doctor’s office has been known to create quite a scene.
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