What book goes well with my box of tissues?
May 5, 2014 11:25 PM   Subscribe

I want to cry my eyes out over a book. It's been a long time since I have and I need the catharsis.

I need something along the tearjerking lines of Old Yeller, but for adults.

Really anything goes, but I like literary fiction the best. I would prefer to steer clear from really "pop" book club of the month dramas, although if one of them particularly touched you, I'm open to it.

Stuff surrounding the themes of love and loss is a really obvious choice. I nearly always cry over really touching and unselfish displays of loyalty and/or love. (In either a platonic or romantic sense.) Bonus points for existentialism, bittersweetness, and/or touching on the theme of freedom.

But really, if it made you sob and sob and say at some point, "Wow I can't stand this" it's probably golden. Heck, even if it just made you tear up and stoically scrunch up your face, I'll take it.

I searched a bit and this question strangely doesn't seem to have been asked before, but apologies if I missed it.
posted by quincunx to Writing & Language (87 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
I think that The Bone People could very well do it for you. It's good, and it hurts. It'll also make you want to visit New Zealand.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:32 PM on May 5, 2014

Never Let Me Go had me in tears during one specific scene about mid-way through the book. I'm not sure if it was actually very sad or if it was because it tied back into a Big Life Event happening IRL. But boy, it got me right in the feels and I sobbed like a baby while listening to it on audiobook on my commute to work. Uber cathartic for me at the time.
posted by Tevin at 11:34 PM on May 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

The Time Traveler just about killed me, and I'm not particularly sentimental.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:39 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Bone People so so hard. Also: Tell the Wolves I'm Home
posted by charmedimsure at 11:46 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan.
posted by miles1972 at 11:55 PM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner will do the trick. It also has the benefit of being one of the best books ever.
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 AM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

May be obvious, but: Anne Frank's Diary.
posted by slater at 12:34 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

'That Eye, the Sky' by Tim Winton.

'Watership Down', by Richard Adams

'Sophie's Choice', by William Styron

'The Reader', by Bernhard Schlink

These are on my 'books I can't read again because they made me cry too much' shelf.
posted by Salamander at 12:41 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ooh, I forgot:

'Of Mice and Men', John Steinbeck

'Flowers for Algernon', by Daniel Keyes
posted by Salamander at 12:44 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński
posted by telstar at 12:45 AM on May 6, 2014

Seconding Never Let Me Go, and Crossing to Safety, although The Spectator Bird by Stegner was worse for me in terms of tear-age.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The English Patient, even if you've seen the movie the book needs to be experienced

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

The Year of Magical Thinking by Didion (oh gawd I just let out a big ol sniffle)

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Charlotte's Web - it is absolutely worth re-reading children's books as adults in order to discover they are not children's books after all

Poetry - all of these are books about the deaths of their significant others:

Without by Donald Hall
Evidence by Mary Oliver
Atlantis by Mark Doty

Books that might be considered book of the month types?
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
The Reader
posted by barchan at 12:46 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The last book I bawled about was The Fault In our Stars. Possibly pop-ish, maybe meant for teens, but just really affecting.
posted by nat at 12:50 AM on May 6, 2014 [19 favorites]

^ Agreed on The Fault in our Stars
posted by salvia at 1:00 AM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thirding the Fault in Our Stars. I read that for a book club and just bawled my way through.
posted by halcyonday at 1:21 AM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Once Were Warriors - Alan Duff
posted by h00py at 1:21 AM on May 6, 2014

Dude: The Book of Disquiet. Guaranteed.
posted by johngoren at 1:37 AM on May 6, 2014

posted by hal_c_on at 1:48 AM on May 6, 2014

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
posted by luazinha at 2:48 AM on May 6, 2014

Cleo by Helen Brown
posted by poxandplague at 3:13 AM on May 6, 2014

I cried big fat tears in public (on a bus) when reading Angela's Ashes many years ago.
posted by billiebee at 3:34 AM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
posted by h00py at 4:29 AM on May 6, 2014

Captain Corelli's Mandolin. A slow start for the first 50 pages and then totally absorbing. I actually ran out of tissues and had to blow my nose and wipe up hideous tears on my dress when on a bus in Morocco. My husband read it too and did the same [only he used his shirt].

I also sobbed and sobbed over The Time Traveler's Wife.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:29 AM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thirding Never Let Me Go. It's exactly what you're looking for. It is so good and you will totally cry.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:29 AM on May 6, 2014

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
and seconding The Time Travelers Wife
posted by SyraCarol at 4:36 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I first read Where the Red Fern Grows many, many years ago, but it can still fill my eyes with tears if I think too much about it.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 4:41 AM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing Never Let Me Go but The Remains of the Day, an earlier novel by Kazuo Ishiguro is equally blub inducing. I'm swallowing hard right now *gulp* remembering (and it's a quarter of a century since I first read it).

A Town Like Alice and The Chequer Board by Nevile Shute

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Wonder by RJ Palacio
posted by humph at 4:44 AM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agree with Time Traveller's Wife. Haven't read the book of Never Let Me Go but the film made me bawl almost continuously from about half an hour in.

If you like speculative fiction: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Not so much at the beginning, but oh gods towards the end... It's set in a kind of alternate version of Italy. And Connie Willis's Doomsday Book. Time travel back to medieval England and everything goes horribly wrong.

Historical fiction: Hild by Nicola Griffith. Not constant bawling as it was also just fascinating, but plenty of good crying bits.

Graphic novel: Habibi by Craig Thompson. And Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore.

All (even the graphic novels) are literary though not strictly in the "literature" genre. Come to think of it, Time Traveller's Wife and Never Let Me Go are both spec fic too even though they were marketed as literature. Odd.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:58 AM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may involve more desolation and despair than you were looking for, but I wept inconsolably for forty minutes when I finished The Road.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 4:59 AM on May 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't care if they are BOTM possibilities, but I will definitely 2nd any John Irving, especially "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and "The World According to Garp".
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 5:08 AM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding The Road.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:10 AM on May 6, 2014

The first book that ever made me cry: Bridge to Terebithia.

Oh god, saddest book ever.
posted by Cygnet at 5:22 AM on May 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's a project for sure, but Les Miserables makes me cry like a baby several times. The Bishop! Valjean in the sewers! Enjolras! Fantine!
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 5:24 AM on May 6, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I sobbed, hard, for the last quarter of the thing and for quite a while after.
posted by mochapickle at 5:36 AM on May 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

And nthing Corelli's Mandolin. I thought I was going to be fine, but I was not.
posted by mochapickle at 5:40 AM on May 6, 2014

Hah! Thank you all for your answers so far- you're dead on because I've read about half of these and some are favorite authors of mine, too!

Love, love, love Kazuo Ishiguro- Remains of the Day and NLMG, both great, didn't quite make me cry though, I guess I'm just a tough nut to crack.

Crossing to Safety also beautiful, also didn't quite make me cry. Same with Safran Foer's stuff. Love Steinbeck, can't remember if his stuff has legit made me cry or not. And Time Traveler's Wife, Jude the Obscure, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Beloved, Algernon, The Road.

Les Miserables, however, HAS made me cry. Damn, that book is a masterpiece. An emotionally exhausting masterpiece. And so has some of Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's stuff. Maybe just needs moar Frenchness?

Anyway, this should definitely be enough to waste a few boxes of tissues. More suggestions welcome!
posted by quincunx at 5:42 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've read many of the books mentioned here and they were wonderful and sad. But Marley and Me had me sobbing myself into a limp, wet puddle of snot and tears, the kind of sobbing that makes you want to throw the book across the room because the author is so obviously milking the sorrow for all it's worth, and yet you can't seem to stop crying, or stop reading.

Marley and Me - a great work of fiction it's not. Cathartic it most definitely is. And I don't even particularly like dogs.
posted by hairy terrarium at 5:45 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. A gorgeous book, and really quite sad.
posted by cider at 6:02 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you ever read Childhood's End? Based on love, loss, loyalty, existentialism, bittersweetness, etc. criteria, it might fit. I'd forgotten I could cry over a book until I got to the end (in the car, parked at a strip mall.)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 6:14 AM on May 6, 2014

Ugh Blackout had some moments that when listening to the audiobook I had to pull over and cry. The end of Doomsday Bookgit me too. They're both time travel books by Connie Willis.
posted by spunweb at 6:17 AM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in here to say Time Traveler's Wife -- but for god's sakes not the movie. If you saw the movie, wipe it from your brain and see the film.

Also, Never Let Me Go. The movie is fine, but start with the book.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:28 AM on May 6, 2014

One more I haven't seen mentioned - and this one I really loved. Bittersweet literary fiction featuring love and loss. Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles. You'll weep like a baby!
posted by hairy terrarium at 6:29 AM on May 6, 2014

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
posted by mani at 6:44 AM on May 6, 2014

Worst ugly cry of my reading life: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Memoir, not fiction, but otherwise checks off everything on your list--especially love, loss, loyalty, freedom, "Wow, I can't stand this"--and including a pretty essential element of Old Yeller.
posted by lampoil at 6:47 AM on May 6, 2014

The Book Thief didn't make me cry, because I don't seem to have a soul, but my wife bawled through the last 1/3 of it.
posted by bondcliff at 6:54 AM on May 6, 2014

Nthing The Fault in Our Stars. Supposedly YA but even though I send my niece books all the time, this is one I sent to my sister instead. I don't normally read YA and I Don't often cry enough to obscure the text but this was like whoa.
posted by janey47 at 6:57 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sobbed outrageously at Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear duo. The first and second times I read them. Themes of loyalty, self-sacrifice, bravery, and family. Ugh.

Also, I have yet to read it myself because I keep hearing how heart-rending it is, but I hear that Code Name Verity is great.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:59 AM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh god: House of Mirth
posted by dizziest at 7:01 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Atonement and Watership Down.

A Fine Balance is also devastating.
posted by apricot at 7:06 AM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Home by Marilynne Robinson. Quietly, philosophically devastating. I don't know if everybody would cry, but I did. A lot.
posted by ostro at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2014

If you've got time - and you love Les Miserables, I would suggest Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. I laughed, I cried - it's an epic, and epically touching book, covering an astonishingly wide swathe of life.

And on preview: YES YES YES to A Fine Balance. I guess it's whether you want your heart to be torn out and then restored (A Suitable Boy is, essentially, a cheerful book, though there are tear-jerky moments) or you want to just sit there, sobbing and reflecting on the meaninglessness of existence. A Fine Balance is CRUSHING.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:40 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

2nding A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, it's really really good. And I know YA is designed especially to make you cry (see all the John Green recommendations above), but Just One Day by Gayle Forman really destroyed me. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell also had me sobbing.
posted by jabes at 8:50 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Brewster made me cry as if I'd been shot, multiple times. I'd pull it together for a bit, get to the next chapter, and then collapse again. It is a really striking portrayal of loyalty and friendship between tough-talking teenaged boys in a blue collar town, and I can promise intense terrible sadness. I see Booklist editors felt it would be good for young adults (and it would probably be amazing for wise-beyond-their-years world-weary seventeen or eighteen year olds), but it doesn't have a YA feel -- it definitely pulls no punches. So good.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2014

I second Eleanor & Park. That might be the most I've ever cried of a fiction book.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:20 AM on May 6, 2014

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
posted by kmr at 9:24 AM on May 6, 2014

I cried early and often during The Lovely Bones. Back when I still read Orson Scott Card, Lost Boys did it for me.

I see that A Prayer for Owen Meany didn't do it for you, but it sure knocked me sideways. I finished that one while standing in line at the bank. I'm sure everyone wondered what was so terribly upsetting about my financial transactions.
posted by rekrap at 9:29 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding Watership Down. I read it while camping, and the bawling coming from my tent was downright embarrassing.

If you're okay with YA books, I'd also recommend the His Dark Materials trilogy. I was kind of "meh" on the first book when reading it on its own, but by the end of the third book I was completely swept up and crying a ridiculous amount. The ending still kind of haunts me.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:32 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, Code Name Verity, yes! And Rose Under Fire, which in many ways is even more heart-wrenching.

Also the Montmaray novels by Michelle Cooper: especially the last one, The FitzOsbornes at War. If I were a crying type, I would have wept copious tears over that.
posted by suelac at 9:38 AM on May 6, 2014

I just need to say one more thing about The Fault in Our Stars. It's not a spoiler to tell you that the protagonist is a teenage girl with terminal cancer. So the thing is, I read a TON of books about death, fiction, nonfiction, you name it. I am often moved. But I rarely cry (and I didn't cry while reading the books you named as ones you read without crying). But The Fault in Our Stars is so true and so touching that, well, yeah, believe me, you'll need that box of kleenex. And possibly not for the reason(s) you expect.

I also cried in a few places at Richard Powers' great book (or should I say one of his great books) Plowing the Dark.
posted by janey47 at 9:55 AM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I completely forgot about His Dark Materials until just now. Yeah, that definitely wrung a tear or two or of me, I'm petty sure.
posted by quincunx at 10:33 AM on May 6, 2014

Suzanne's diary for Nicholas by James Patterson. Bawled my eyes out in public.
posted by JujuB at 11:05 AM on May 6, 2014

Seconding A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I listen to audiobooks for my long commute. Towards the end of this one I had to pull over because my eyes were tearing up to a point where I had trouble seeing the road.
posted by tckma at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2014

The Shock Of The Fall totally got to me. (They changed the title for US readers, so you'll want to search under Where The Moon Isn't.)

Also heartily adding my voice to those who recommended The Book Thief and The Fault In Our Stars. (I'll confess to not being a fan of the narrator conceit in The Book Thief, but the main story once it begins is so worth it.)
posted by the latin mouse at 12:26 PM on May 6, 2014

A couple I read recently that might have the effect you're looking for...

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Sarah's Key
posted by Shadow Boxer at 12:50 PM on May 6, 2014

I don't often cry while reading books, so when you say you are a tough nut to crack and Never Let Me Go didn't do it for you, I can relate (though that one did make me tear up a little at the end).

So I was thinking about the last book that really made me cry and I realized to my surprise it was Hana's Suitcase. It's one of the books we use in our adult literacy class--we read it out loud together. Despite my extreme dislike of crying in public and the fact that I've read it several times, I end up crying every time we read it. But so do most of my students, so it's a bonding experience.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:42 PM on May 6, 2014

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

nthing Time Traveler's Wife
posted by anotheraccount at 2:54 PM on May 6, 2014

First Comes Love by Marion Winik is a non-fiction memoir. I cried when I read the ending.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2014

Oh God, Code Name Verity made me sob. Same with Rose Under Fire, by the same author -- not a sequel, per se, but has one or two of the same characters, and takes place after the events of Code Name Verity. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:50 PM on May 6, 2014

Two Mary Doria Russell books: The Sparrow (SF but liked by people who don't read much SF) and Thread of Grace (historical fiction)
posted by kbuxton at 4:23 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding Doomsday Book. I cried my eyes out.
posted by augustimagination at 5:09 PM on May 6, 2014

Could not let this thread go by without mentioning The Little Prince. Bah to anyone who says it's just a book for kids. Such deceptively simple language belies the complexity of the concepts of the story and the purity of its emotional depth. ALL THE FEELS.
(Bonus if you can read it in the original French, but obviously not a necessity.)

(on preview, I see that you have read some of Saint-Exupery before. Everything I said is still true.) :)
posted by bookgirl18 at 5:58 PM on May 6, 2014

By Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia: Jacob Have I Loved, her other Newberry award-winning book. I still cry when I get to the end (having re-read it so many times)--but with relief, for the protagonist's finding her own way.
posted by apartment dweller at 7:41 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Speaking of children's books: Plain Kate. The ending makes me sob like a baby every time. Although maybe that's just because I love cats. That cat in particular.
posted by valoius at 8:15 PM on May 6, 2014

I cry to Connie Willis, specifically Lincoln's Dreams. Vasty, tearing sobs.
posted by PussKillian at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

A little left-field (it's non-fiction) but touching heavily on themes of loss and loyalty as well as freedom (though maybe you meant that last in in a slightly different sense): Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives.

It's not schmaltzy (it's based on a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper article. It's more like a punch in the gut) and it made me sob like a baby as I was boarding a plane (so, so embarrassing--but exactly what it sounds like you're looking for).
posted by librarylis at 9:08 PM on May 6, 2014

Oh yeah, forgot about Lincoln's Dreams. I love that book so much but really have to be careful with rereading it. Connie Willis really does it well. Passage and Blackout/All Clear do it too. Oh, and another book that had me swollen and snotty for ages was Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? which is non-fiction but made me cry because of how bloody much it resonated. May not work for you.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:37 PM on May 6, 2014

Nthing The Fault In our Stars, The Shock of the Fall, and Doomsday Book.
Adding Cutting for Stone and The Houdini Girl.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2014

And Passage.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:14 AM on May 7, 2014

The last book that made me cry was Pack Up The Moon by Rachael Herron.
(Full disclosure: the author is my own lovely wife. But you don't have to trust me - it also has great amazon reviews!)
posted by smartyboots at 2:39 PM on May 7, 2014

The Plover by Brian Doyle made me cry, like, every other page. This should be the author's theme song. It's also a tremendous book, especially if you love stories about the sea.
posted by moons in june at 3:40 PM on May 7, 2014

The Old Curiosity Shop _- Dickens
posted by SemiSalt at 5:11 PM on May 7, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon made me cry great rasping sobs.
posted by Quilford at 5:41 AM on May 9, 2014

My Sister's Keeper
posted by cherrybounce at 9:55 PM on May 11, 2014

Birds in Fall and Eternal on the Water
posted by hippychick at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2014

Us by Michael Kimball is one continuously harrowing tear-jerker about a man who wakes up to find his wife has had a seizure and has gone into a coma.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:00 PM on July 4, 2014

Here belatedly because of the Meta thread.

Also, I have yet to read it myself because I keep hearing how heart-rending it is, but I hear that Code Name Verity is great.

Oh yes. Oh indeed. Kiss me Hardy. Devastating. Rose Under Fire is more complex and sophisticated; if anything more powerful, but less painful.

The last book that left me actually sobbing-- as in frantically wiping the tears away so that I could see to keep reading-- was A.S. Byatt's Still Life. It's the sequel to The Virgin in the Garden, and for maximum grief you have to read that first, so as to fully love all the characters before Byatt brings the hammer down. Byatt herself, in her Art of Fiction interview in the Paris Review notes: "Every two or three months, I get a letter from somebody saying, How dare you do this to me. I sat and cried all night. You know, you can’t do that in a novel." So if you do become invested in that world, those characters, know that you will end the novel gasping. And you may not forgive her.
posted by jokeefe at 11:44 PM on July 4, 2014

Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers is about love, loss, and whether anybody can ever know anybody else. It's also about teaching a computer the western literary canon so it can pass a Turing test of a master's lit comp exam. It is wonderful and will make you cry.
posted by gauche at 5:42 PM on July 6, 2014

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