Often someone asks me to recommend a book, usually with the caveat, “not a sad one, please.” Unfortunately, I then have to grimace and confess that almost nothing I read is not sad. They’re all sad! Almost everything good and lovely I’ve read is too human and vulnerable to be considered a cheery read.
Of course not everything I read is depressing. I love the most funny women, Amy Poehler (Yes Please, love of my life book), Tiny Fey (Bossypants, the ultimate girl power, real talk, you can do it book out there), and Mindy Kaling (hi, is this me talking in Why Not Me? No? I wish I was so self-aware and strong? Fine). And I love an uplifting tale of geriatric love (Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, duh) or a classic romance with a predictably happy ending as much as the next girl. I mean, stop it right now if you think I don’t love Jane Austen with all my heart.
And, most importantly, I don’t expect something to have to be sad to be good. In fact, there’s nothing I hate more than a strikingly bleak book where everyone is an awful monster and, ugh, what’s the point of even telling stories if everything is destined to be so disgustingly dreary? (I’m looking at you, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.) (Also, sidebar, can you please stop copying this story title for your essays about movies, pop culture writers of the world? Have you even read this story? I literally cannot with Raymond Carver and I don’t care who knows it).
But ANYWAYS, as I was saying, usually, though the novels I love dearly are quite sad, I don’t feel depressed reading them. Most of the time, I just fall into the world created by the author quite happily and though my heart will break along with our protagonist, I can emerge from their world into mine a normal, bubbly person.
But there are times when I come across a book that affects me so deeply that I’m turned into a kind of depression mush who does not feel like talking at all and only wants to sit and obsess over how perfectly and beautifully a story can capture the power of love, the power of heartbreak, the power of loss. These books, they put me in A MOOD.
I’ve got to tell you: I love these moods dearly.
The thing is, for one of these moods to strike, the novel has to be really, quite sad, but most importantly, really, quite beautiful. They sometimes happen when you least expect them and not when you do expect them. (No, for me they don’t come from the books that are entirely based on grief- like Blue Nights or A Single Man [duh, of course I still cherish these]). (Yes, one strikes so strongly every time I reread The Time Traveler’s Wife, one of my most favorite love stories of all time.)
The strongest I can remember came from Never Let Me Go, which you know, isn’t even one of my very favorites but just WOW does that book gut punch you. Or actually, it’s less of a gut punch and more of a slow and steady sort of emotional torture. You’re reading along, well aware of the hopelessness that lies ahead and you’re thinking, “Man, I’m doing so well, I’m still not even that sad,” and then at the end you’re like, “Wait a second why do I want to cry for hours for no reason?” (I mean, just please make sure you’re in a strong mental health state before you add this one to your to-read list.)
One just hit me, of course, or why else would I be writing this? It came from Fates and Furies, Barack Obama’s favorite fiction of 2015. This is clearly it’s most ringing endorsement- the second most being that I am having trouble resisting the urge to reread it again right now, literal minutes after finishing it.
At first, I didn’t recognize the mood, because for them to be so magical, they can’t come that often. And then all of a sudden I did and I knew I just had to say thank you to all the authors who can make me so cranky.
Honestly, I love these moods and these books that cause these moods so much. Not because I’m a glutton for self-punishment (I’d just read Raymond Carver if I was) (no seriously, I do not like him). I actually really quite enjoy being cheery most of the time and have an impressive ability to block out the things in the world that should make it hard to wake up every morning (looking at you, Donald Trump supporters).
But I love them SO much because I know when one hits that this author crafted something so magnificent that it resonated to my very core of being human.
That despite my unlikeliness to ever face the same circumstances, I can connect so strongly with someone I just met (duh, novel characters are real people, real friends, real enemies). That though my new friends face a sorrow I hope to never understand, they also face something too beautiful to put into words. That there’s someone- in fact, many someones!- in our world putting all of their effort into telling a magnificent story that will hopefully make just one person feel strongly.
Thank you to all of the story tellers who make these moods possible. My friends and family may hate you (poor Warren always encounters these moods and knows immediately to just back away warily), but I am so grateful to your craft.
You can break my heart all you want because, yes, I will love it.