Look, Gentle Reader, I make no secret about the fact that I prefer to read happy and humorous books. But sometimes even I need to read just to have a good cry. There is something almost spiritually cathartic about sobbing your way through the end of a really tragic story (or story moment). Below I have compiled a list of my top 10.
Now, please be aware that there may be spoilers in the very fact that some of these books are sad, but I (for one) like to know when exactly I’m due to tumble into the waters of wailing. Not all of them have actual unhappy endings, but some do.
One of the things I always notice in these books is that moment when I’m crying over something that if I tried to explain it to anyone else would make no earthly sense. I call these “the biggest unexplainable sobs” and I have also listed them for your morbid amusement.
1. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
I have both read and listened to this book. I think it is better on audio (although not currently available, curses) but wonderful either way. Renault’s writing style is very abrupt (not unlike Judith Tarr), it translates well to the spoken word, but can take a little to process as a reader. Essentially, this is the story of an Athenian boy with a disinterested father growing up (and into) the Peloponnesian War. A fictional character, he encounters many of the famous men of his time period, including Plato and Socrates.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? A broken sandal.
2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Correctly hailed as the scion of Mary Renault, this is a retelling of The Iliad in first person from Patroclus’s perspective. As I have always found Achilles’s foil the most interesting character, I loved the idea behind this book. I wish we had a little more insight into why Achilles loves Patroclus so devotedly, but their relationship is believable and quite sweet. There is a great twist as to how Miller manages to finish the story of the war even after the inevitable you know what.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? Angry sea nymph.
3. Theirs Not To Reason Why (4 book series) by Jean Johnson
Being told from the get go that this is the story of “Ia and her Damned” it’s pretty clear that this sweeping epic space opera will be the tale of a martyr. There are so many things that trouble me about these books if I stop to actually think about them: Ia’s Mary Sue qualities, the religiously cult-ish nature of her followers (yet they are the good guys), a woman who actually knows all probabilities, the abrupt literary switches between intimacy of character and huge sweeping concepts, and the feeling in the final two books that this is all set up for a different series… and yet. And yet… they are UTTERLY ADDICTING. I struggle to explain why I enjoyed this series so much. Why I sat on the couch for hours sobbing through the final book (30 tissues, I counted, the AB was very worried about me). In the end, I gave up and just accepted my fate (much as Ia accepted hers) and simply read. Some additions cannot be explained.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? 8 people who do not get the black heart of death.
4. Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
A serious and emotionally crippling take on the Robin Hood myth. Despite the fact that the vast limestone caves below Nottingham yet again make no appearance (why are the Robin Hood myths so lax on this count?) this is my favorite retelling. And yes, I include the various TV series in this statement ~ and Richard Armitage. McKinley’s characters are wonderful (Little John’s romantic thread is the bestest). Her final tree-borne battle scene is genius and brutally sad. It’s been well over a decade since I read this book, partly because of its darkness, but I’m thinking of sticking this under-appreciated gem on the reread list for the book group next year.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? The awful hair cut.
5. Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce
The final book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet is also the saddest. The love story is fantastic, for it is the romance of attraction (but not cohesion) that most of us have had at some point in our lives. To suffer the consequences of breaking up not for lack of love but for lack of compatibility is a marker of emotional growth. In this book, Alanna is fully an adult and as such facing war means not glory but loss, betrayal, and absolution.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? A cat constellation.
6. Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
This is one that tackles loss as a marker of immortality and eternity. I’ve made no secret about the fact that I prefer The Blue Sword over this book, but this is the one I reach for when I want a good cry.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? Living forever.
7. A Princess of the Chameln by Cherry Wilder
(out of print, she died in 2002)
The first of The Rulers of Hylor series, this is the only one I really loved. As with the next book on my list, this is the story of exile. Wilder perfectly captures the lingering loss and loneliness of being unable to go home. This is what I call a “distance” book. Written more as if one were being told a legend around a campfire than with the “awful intimacy of I personal” that so often characterizes urban fantasy. (McKillip is another mistress of this style of writing.) If you don’t like that feeling of almost floating above a story as you read it, then this may not touch you as much as it did me.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? A horse race.
8. In the Caves of Exile by Ru Emerson
This is The Second Tale of Nedao (the first of which is To the Haunted Mountains) and both are sob-worthy but it is the poignancy of the romantic through line that gets me the most. Yes, I cried at the end of the first book, but it is the tugging on the heartstrings from that book to this one, which highlights love lost and love’s possibilities in a much more abrasive form, that really makes me cry. Like Wilder. Emerson is a distance writer. There is a lot of atmosphere in these books, but when we do get those flashes of intimate focus they are all the brighter for her style.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? A man recognizing a dagger.
9. Down from Ten by J. Daniel Sawyer
Perhaps an oddball on my list as this creepy sexy story at first appears to be something like a cabin fever mystery (not my thing) but evolves into a superlative scifi. It’s very hard to categorize. You can read it or listen to it, but I prefer to listen. I didn’t expect to cry at the end, but I did: happy gulping blubbers.
Biggest unexplainable sobs? The idea that you can take them with you.
GAIL’S DAILY DOSE
Your Infusion of Cute . . .
Your Tisane of Smart . . .
Vampire grave found in Bulgaria
Your Writerly Tinctures . . .
Portable Robot Printer is Like a Roomba That Squirts Ink
That’s What She Read says of Waistcoats & Weaponry,
“No Victorian custom or fashion is safe under her pen, as she cleverly exposes the hypocrisy or ludicrousness of them. Without a doubt, Waistcoats & Weaponry is quintessential Ms. Carriger. Because of that and the added personal growth and development Sophronia shows during her train adventure, the Finishing School series keeps getting better and better.”
Quote of the Day:
“In general, mankind, since the improvement in cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires.”
~ Benjamin FranklinBook Rec List