I 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 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 that 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 Traitor, Melanie 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.
There’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 students. 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
This 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.
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.