On twitter yesterday I was briefly embroiled in a conversation with the lovely Kim Curran, regarding what makes a good opening paragraph; when you start reading a book, what is it about those first sentences that keeps you reading? I’d just started reading The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and it had occurred to me that I like books that start with dialogue, or with characters doing things – I also like a good descriptive passage of course, but it has to be really good. My priority when starting a book is finding out if I want to go on a journey with these characters, and dialogue or action can be a good indicator. “The opening of a book has to up and kick you in the eyeballs” I said.
Anyway, it got me thinking, on this, World Book Day, about books that kick you in other parts of the anatomy. Namely, your guts. Your heart. Books that leave you shocked and diving for the tissues in your bag, or bravely attempting to keep a stiff upper lip on the top deck of a bus. Which books, in short, make you cry? In no particular order, my top three (there may be mild spoilers for these if you haven’t read them yet):
The chances are if you’ve read this book, then you will know which bit made me cry. And you will know what a punch to the gut it was too. This series is chock full of shocks and surprises, a series where no one is safe and the worse could always happen. It’s one of my favourite things about it, actually. In the first book, A Game of Thrones, sure, everything looked quite bad for Ned Stark, but I was still confident he would be okay. He was the hero, after all. Even more so, he was a good bloke. ASOIAF is a brilliant lesson in how effective a book can be when it decides to a) ignore the tropes and b) not give a fuck about your feelings on the matter. I didn’t cry for Ned as such, it was almost too much of a shock, but I cried for Arya and Sansa. As for A Storm of Swords, well… let’s just say I can’t wait to see this series depicted in the HBO series. It’s going to be amazing.
Gosh, these are some emotionally exhausting books. I’ve actually had to give myself breaks between them because I am a wimp and couldn’t quite deal with it all at once. Ness’ brilliant YA series about a world where men’s thoughts are broadcast out loud is a tremendous piece of work touching on all sorts of very important subjects – I genuinely hope they are being taught in schools, because the truth in this fiction is devastating and real. Ahem. Anyway. The relationship between Todd and his dog Manchee in the first book is so well crafted it absolutely cuts you to the core. I’m still a little bit heartbroken over that book, to be honest.
I’m a huge fan of everything Sir Terry does, of course – he is a genius and one of our greatest writers – and I think the Tiffany Aching books are pretty special. They’re “Witch” books, which immediately puts them above everything else for me of course, but they’re also terribly wise books about growing up and making your own way in the world. I imagine they’re incredibly important to young people experiencing that right now, but as an adult reader remembering that time, I Shall Wear Midnight struck a deep chord. It’s also an incredibly brave book, willing to speak about things that are rarely discussed by adults, let alone in children’s books; domestic abuse, old age, euthanasia. I’m not too proud to admit I cried several times reading it, but at least I had a watery smile on my face by the end of it.
That is the power of books; they take us on journeys, and they make us care, and sometimes when they’ve broken our hearts they mend them too.
Which books made you cry?