A Few Books That Have Made Me Cry

FandomCryI saw this image floating around Facebook recently, and it got me thinking about the power a good story has.  There are many books that, over the years, have made me lose my composure—sometimes privately, and sometimes in public.

I’m leaving some books out, here–I mean, practically everyone cries when reading The Diary of Anne Frank or Where the Red Fern Grows.  These are mostly the genre books that have done me in, with a few literary bits, as well.

In no particular order:



Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

When I moved back to Napa after living for a year in Modesto, I attended Napa High School.  I immediately befriended the librarian, and asked her if there were any more Pern MoretaPern(1stEd)novels (I’d recently read the first three of them and loved them), as I’d heard there was another book.  She showed me that not only were there more, there were four more (this was 1983), and she had them all.  I devoured the Harper Hall trilogy, and asked for Moreta.  She had just got a new copy to replace a destroyed one, and I was the first student to get to check it out.  She assured me it was amazing.

I had an hour-long bus ride to get from my home on the rural outskirts of Napa to the high school, which is in the middle of the city, and I read the final chapters one morning during that ride.  The chapters where Moreta dies, and the survivors of the plague discuss her death (Not really a spoiler; Moreta’s death is broadcast in earlier books).

And every time someone mentioned Moreta’s death, I would start crying.  Over and over again.  When I got to school, I took the book back to Mrs. Sward and told her what had happened.  She apologized for not warning me, but also I could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh. In future, whenever I checked out a book, she would warn me if it was likely to make me sad.  I adored that woman.

Skybowl, Melanie Rawn

Skybowl is the final book of the Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies.  The Dragon Star trilogy concerns a war, and there is a LOT of death.  This isn’t the only book in the series that has made me cry, but it is the one that consistently does so, nearly 20 years after I first read it.  All that has to happen is thskybowl-coverat I read through the book, and when I get to the first line of chapter 37, “It took [SPOILER] five days to die,” it is over.  I am in tears.  And I didn’t even like that character!

Traitor, Matthew Woodring Stover

Yes, the Star Wars tie-in book.  What can I say?  Stover is amazing, and the death of Ganner Rhysode is one of the best moments in the entire Yuuzhang Vong war, which I loved.  I cried for the guy.  Sue me.

The Mageborn TraitorMelanie Rawn

Book 2 of the still unfinished Exiles trilogy. It is the perfect middle book of a trilogy—the heroes whose future looked so amazing in the end of the first book are on the run, in hiding as their enemies have risen to power.  They have no idea how they’ll go on, what they can do, or if they’ll even survive, and one of the best of them has fallen.

220px-Mageborn_Traitor-smThere’s a reason Rawn’s fans still live in hope that book 3 will come out someday, even as most of us acknowledge it probably won’t.  Sadly, none of Rawn’s recent work has thrilled me as much as her first eight books did, but I live in hope and keep trying them.

Incidentally, the cover of this book is one of my all-time favorite book covers.  The scene depicted never really happens in the book, but it’s thematically perfect.  One of my favorite Michael Whelan paintings.

Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey

As an adult, I see the huge problems in Lackey’s world, but I still love the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and the endings of both books 2 and 3 get me every time.

Book two ends with Vanyel having a conversation with Death, and learning what his future will bring him—he is given a choice, and full knowledge of the consequences.  It’s so well-written, the poetry and beauty of the moment reduce me to tears.

Book 3, of course, as it had to, ends with Vanyel’s sacrifice, and that, too, gets me very time.  The very end is sappy as hell, but before that is sorrow and rage and unfairness, and it pushes my buttons still.

Jumper, Steven Gould

It’s no secret that I love this book.  I first read it when I was 22, the year it was released. I’ve loaned it to damn near all my friends, I got my wife into it, I’ve loaned copies to many JUMPER_Steven_Gouldstudents.  My original copy, in fact, is probably in Russia now, as I loaned it to a student in 2010 who was on vacation in Russia when his family abruptly decided not to come back to the US.  I’ve used it in my American literature class when we get to the 20th century popular fiction unit. I’ve used an excerpt from it to teach units on stereotypes and how harmful they can be.

There is a moment when Davy thinks he’s lost everything, and he breaks a cup by accident, then loses himself in smashing every cup and dish in the set.  I know that guy. I’ve been him.

I’ve read all the books in the series, and enjoyed them all, but it’s Jumper I reread periodically.  For me this is one of those books that, once read, becomes a part of you.

Teckla, Steven Brust

TecklaThis is, so far, among my favorites of Steve Brust’s Dragaeran Cycle.  This is the book where Vlad Taltos begins the long and painful process of growing up.  The emotions of a man on the edge, whose life appears to be falling apart, and who has to look long and hard at himself and what he’s doing with his life, come across so well that even before I’d met Brust and learned the background of this one, I knew there was truth in the writing.

An honorable mention goes to Brust’s apparently non-canonical short story set in the same universe, “A Dream of Passion.”  Didn’t make me cry, but is very emotionally affecting.



And, lastly…

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I didn’t want to include this one, because there is SO MUCH I dislike about this book. But I, like many others, spent the last 20 or so pages crying.  For all this book’s problems (which I admit might be personal opinion more than craft), it was affecting and well-written enough I devoured it in a weekend.

10 Things I Probably Say Too Often (in my classroom)

  1. “That sound you hear?  That’s the sound of grades plummeting.”
  2. “How can you raise your grade?  Build yourself a Time Machine, go back in time, and slap the hell out of yourself for not turning in your work.”
  3. “Writing does not require the use of your mouth.”
  4. “Focus, young padawan.”
  5. “When I said ‘Times New Roman 12 point font,’ I did not in fact mean ‘Comic Sans 20 point.'”
  6. “I am arresting you for crimes against grammar.”
  7. “You do understand what teacher means, right?  I’m not just standing here for fun.”
  8. English does not mean reading.  There’s more than one skill I must teach you.”
  9. “Yes, you are writing an essay.  Welcome to high school.”
  10. “… yeeeeah. No.”

Students Then and Now

One of the things people say often when they find out I teach High School English is that they can’t imagine teaching “kids today.”

To some extent, that’s generational–in many ways, students today are very similar to the students of the past.  There were always disruptive clowns in class, and there were always arrogant students who thought they were smarter than the teacher, and there were always kiss-ass students and students who wouldn’t pay attention to the teacher if you paid them to.  But there are some differences between students of the 80s, when I was in school, and students today, and they can make the classroom fairly challenging to control.

To be fair, I also went to a nationally-recognized good school in an area that, at the time, was solidly middle class (we had poor students, and we had rich students, but most of us were in the middle to upper-middle of the socioeconomic strata), so my perceptions of then and now may be a bit off–but I’ve spoken to many other teachers who grew up in different circumstances about this over the last few years, and most of us are seeing the same things, regardless of where we came from.

When I was in school, we knew and accepted that it was our responsibility to bring paper, pencils, and our backpack with books.  Sure, sometimes we were out of paper, or we forgot a book, but for the most part, at least in the classes I was in, we all had our supplies.

By contrast, today’s students often come without anything other than the clothes on their back, regardless of their socioeconomic status.  When they do have backpacks, they’ll refuse to put them on the “dirty” floor, but insist on keeping them on their desk.  Girls, I’ve noticed, often won’t put their purses down, but keep them on their desk, using up valuable space and then complaining they don’t have enough room for everything on their desk.

When I was in school, cell phones were virtually unknown, and mostly limited to car-phones.  My aunt had an early mobile phone in her car, and later one of the brick-shaped handhelds, but no students had one.  Some had pagers, but those weren’t generally allowed in school.

Today’s students are always on their phones.  The official school rule is that all electronics need to be shut off and put away, but kids will pull them out the second they have a spare moment, no matter how many times you’ve taken their phone from them.  If they get a text, they want to answer it NOW, and they use the phrase “It’s my mom” as if it’s some kind of magical passphrase that allows them to ignore rules.  I’ve caught kids playing games during activity times, sexting, taking pictures, and even watching movies–including porn.  And even though they were suspended, they do the same things when they return to class.

Very few of my peers read as much as I did, but many of them read, both for class and outside of it. If they didn’t read the assigned pages, they at least pretended to be ashamed that they’d blown the assignment.  Today’s students don’t read at all, and more worrying, they’re proud of that.  Where my friends might have said “This book is boring,” today’s students declare that all books are boring.  To be sure, I have a few bookworms in my classes, but very few compared to the classes I remembered in my own high school days. Getting them to read even the shortest of stories is a pain; novels are often excruciating, even if they claim to like the story.

This lack of reading shows itself in numerous ways.  Because they don’t read, their grasp of grammar is atrocious.  Many of my students are writing several grade levels below what they should be capable of based on their general intelligence.

Then there’s the laziness.  For example, this picture is 100% accurate, and I fight it all the time:


I mean, can you imagine?  I try to explain to them that studies have proven that we remember what we write down far better than things we’ve only looked at, but I might as well be telling them that my father was born in 1949.  They just don’t care.

And, finally, the most insidious change–and this one isn’t the fault of the students.

This one’s on their parents.

When I didn’t do my homework, or got in trouble in class, my teachers called my parents, and I caught merry hell.  Sure, it didn’t always work–teens are teens, after all–but my parents tried. 

Today’s parents–well, there’s a mixed bag.  About half of them are on their kids all the time–the other half either say they’ll deal with it and don’t, or they outright don’t bother.  I once had to call a mom to explain to her that her son had been clearly high in my class (don’t get me started on why I had to call; that should have been an admin job. Suffice to say the admin wasn’t doing their job).  Her response was “What do you want me to do about it?”  Other parents have told me their kids are my problem when they’re in school; one parent told me to never call him again and that if I couBad-Parentingldn’t handle his kid, I shouldn’t be a teacher.

Fortunately, that sort of thing is rare–but many teachers have the experience of parents blaming them for their kids’ terrible grades.  One of my colleagues just this week was accosted by a parent who came on campus without signing in to yell at her.  Parent drop their kids off in areas where there are huge signs asking them not to.  They bring their kids pizza or McDonald’s for lunch nearly daily.  They get them out of class because the kid texts them that they’re bored and want out.

In all fairness, however, I have to say that it’s not always the parents’ fault.  I’ve talked to parents who are at their wits’ end, desperately trying to help a child who doesn’t want their help.  I’ve had a student who was the son of a school district superintendent who wanted desperately to be a gang member, no matter how many times he got his ass kicked.  I’ve listened to a mother talk about how many times her son had been in jail and heard the quiet fear in her voice that he wasn’t going to live to adulthood if he didn’t get a clue.  I’ve sat there in impotent rage when a kid called his mother a “stupid bitch” to her face, and seen the tears in her eyes.*   I once called a father to talk to him about his daughter telling me to “fuck off,” and he laughed, then got very quiet and said “I’m sorry.  It’s just that that’s mild compared to what she says to her mom and I every day.  We’re trying, but we can’t get through to her.”

And that’s the last thing–respect seems to be a thing of the past in many of my students.

All in all, it’s an interesting job–sometimes it’s amazing and cool, sometimes it’s death.

* We did call him on that, but there was little we could do other than tell him that was unacceptable.