On the 16th August 2017, Penguin Books Australia asked a question on Facebook: What is the last book that made you cry? The question was couched in terms of tears of joy or sadness. I thought of three books … for the latter. And here are my top tearjerkers!
I read this book while being “Mr Mom” for my then toddler son. I had my own home office software consultancy and the plan was I would catch up on project work during my son’s morning and afternoon sleeps. However, my son’s morning sleep rarely happened and he wouldn’t settle for his afternoon sleep unless I pushed him around the block in his pram … and then I couldn’t get the pram back in the house without waking him!
In the end, I gave up trying to squeeze in work in the afternoons and instead enjoy an hour or so in the park, reading. And it was during this period I discovered Tuesdays With Morrie. This is not the place for an in-depth review of the book, save to say, the writer, Mitch Albom, learns his old college professor is dying from ALS and spends Tuesdays visiting and philosophising with his old professor … until the inevitable conclusion.
I wanted to avoid the “conclusion” for as long as possible. So when I got to the final chapters, I stopped reading the book and started another one instead. I read several books on my afternoons in the park, with my son asleep in his pram. And then one afternoon, I braved Tuesdays with Morrie again, read the final chapters and burst into tears. I had been right to hold off reading about the death of Albom’s old professor, but it felt good doing so and shedding tears now, and I was ready to move on.
I’ve had Labradors! I know the joy of owning a dog turns into sadness at the end of its life. Why would I want to read Marley & Me? I knew how it would end! And yet every dog owner and lover I knew would ask me, “Have you read Marley & Me, it’s all about a Labrador, you’d love it?”
So I risked the book and I didn’t love it, because the writer, John Grogran, and his family annoyed me with the way they let Marley run and, at times, ruin their lives. You see, I’m a weekend dog training instructor and I could see what the dog needed were boundaries and a fence! But I stuck to reading it (shaking my head and tut, tutting) … until the last few chapters.
You see, I had an old Labrador when I was reading Marley & Me and Marley’s ageing in the book triggered emotions I wasn’t ready to deal with, with my dog. So like Tuesdays with Morrie, I put the book aside, until I felt I was ready to read the final chapters of Marley’s life.
Only I was wrong this time, I wasn’t ready to read about Marley’s death, nor was I ready when my old Labrador passed away. There are some things dog owners are never ready to deal with, and this proved one of them!
I’d read many books about WWII, fact and fiction, seen countless films and documentaries, visited war sites and concentration camps, but the Book Thief by Markus Zusak was the first time I’d read about the life of a “normal” German family during the war. And it confirmed what I knew to be true in my heart and head, that not all Germans were Nazis.
That the book was set in wartime German and the narrator was Death, didn’t augur well for the main characters, who I grew to know and care for, thanks to Zusak’s skilful writing. So as the Allied bombing raids pushed further and further into Germany, my fear for my fictional friends grew. This time I didn’t put the book away, but read it to the end and let the tears flow.
Of the three books that have moved me to tears in recent times, The Book Thief stands alone in being a work of fiction. It is a prime example for aspiring writers of what they should strive to do with their writing: to engage and move the reader. Whether to tears of joy or sadness.
© 2017 Robert Fairhead
NB: Blog post also published on TallAndTrue.com blog.