Dogs, Loneliness, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches: Books that Made Me Cry


Books that make me cry? Frankly, it’s the one I’m writing right now. Where are the WORDS?

But really…

A friend of mine, Chicago writer Lee Reilly, did a project for her master’s of fine arts program about books that made people cry. She researched among her friends and colleagues, among friends of friends on Facebook, etc., and found the same books came up again and again.

Few writers might not declare that their goal for a story is to make the reader cry—but should writers ignore such an honest and engaged reaction from a reader? There was something instructive there, she decided, and set out to see what it was she could learn from the books that pinged readers’ emotions so strongly.

Of course, many of the books her sources sent her to read, she hated.

The book that makes me cry might make you mad. Or laugh.

We’re all wired differently, and we bring all our individual experiences to the page when we read. That’s the beauty of reading. It’s also the beauty of writing. As writers, we have the chance to connect with so many people, in completely different ways. I mean with the same words—we write one book, and each reader experiences it in a unique way.

We may be Muggle-born, but we’re magic.

The books that have made me cry?

red_bern_bookcoverWhere the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
My elementary school teacher read this aloud to us over a period of days. It’s a sad story about dogs. Look, I can’t tell you anymore without losing it, so just look it up yourself. Dogs. Do you know why dogs ever enter a story? Right.


blackice_coverBlack Ice by Lorene Cary
You might not have heard of this one. I was assigned to read it in college. Hey, I did my homework.

The book is about race and privilege in America, primarily, but there’s a very small quiet moment when the author mentions in passing a big, strapping college student who eats care-package peanut butter sandwiches because the dorm food leaves him wanting. The sandwiches are wrapped in wax paper, and the paper crinkles in the still night of the dorm. That crinkling wax paper is what loneliness sounds like.

HeartIsALonelyHunterThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
I stumbled across this book a long time ago, and a lifelong fan was created. But it’s right there in the title, friends. The heart is lonely; it seeks. Things are not going to end with a teddy bear picnic in this one.



To_Kill_a_MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is the example I gave to my friend when she asked. There’s a moment when Atticus Finch loses the case he was always going to lose, and justice has not been served. But the people he was trying to do right by give him a show of respect for how he handled the losing battle. It gets me every time.

The list is short because I’m a tough customer when it comes to tears. Unless, of course, there are dogs.


What was the first book that made you cry?


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Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

30 Replies to “Dogs, Loneliness, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches: Books that Made Me Cry”

  1. I’m weird – I didn’t cry over books as a kid. As an adult, well, that’s different. I don’t remember the first one, but I remember the latest. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, when
    Gus leaves Hazel’s eulogy. I bawled – at 3am, all by myself in the living room. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

      1. Well, true confession, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird. I saw the movie, though. I read a news article today that said it’s going to be available in ebook soon. Guess I’d better get on that.

  2. The Art of Racing in the Rain. Sob fest for me. On the el leaving for vacation, all I could do was hiccup cry through the first chapter. Yes, the first chapter. Dogs always get me.

  3. OMG, To Kill a Mockingbird, YES. I got chills just reading your paragraph on it. I love this book soooo much. And I never read it in high school; I read it for the first time a couple of years ago, when I decided to read books from high school summer reading lists that I’d missed out on. TKAM was by far, my favorite (and I’d say it’s now one of my top 5). I only wish I’d read it sooner.

    1. I read it in high school, but of course I got way more from it when I re-read it a couple of years ago. Same for Gatsby. Sometimes they make you read stuff far earlier than you’re equipped to get much from it.

  4. First one was probably Old Yeller. I can remember reading it in elementary school along with the vinyl that read it aloud.

    Most recently, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. A truly lovely book that you should all read.

    So, so many in between, because books that can make me cry are my FAVORITE.

  5. Also, I think there is a list going on Goodreads of books that make you cry.
    I totally agree with Bridge to Terabithia and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Also, Dogs of Babel (another dog book).

  6. Great post, Lori! I’m not much a crier when it comes to books, but I’ll tell you what I’m not going to read: the dog books mentioned above! I can’t take any animal stuff. Gillian Flynn has a pig scene in her first novel (I think) that got to me. I still can’t get the image out of my mind. In fact, I went off pork right then and there.

  7. I can’t recall crying over a book, though I’m sure it’s happened. Movies, definitely. The most recent was probably Les Misérables. Tears were definitely streaming during “I Dreamed a Dream,” and after that I was under control until the end (spoiler? 🙂 ) when she appears and I lost it again.

    I’m a little concerned that the next time I see Anne Hathaway in a movie that I’m going to start bawling, which will be embarrassing if it’s a comedy.

  8. A bit cliche, but there’s Tuesdays with Morrie. “We don’t say good-bye, we say ‘I love you.'” Oh god…

    The one I am embarrassed about: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I have no idea why but when Harry’s parents pop of out Voldemort’s wand and tell him how proud they are I got weepy.

  9. Jane Eyre. When Rochester confessed why he tried to trick Jane into a bigamous marriage — and his still undying love for her — I wanted to find a nearby moor where I could cast myself out into the freezing rain and die sobbing on Jane’s behalf. Fortunately, there weren’t any moors on Staten Island. Others on my list: Tai Pan (the end, where they both perish holding each other in a taifun), Flowers for Algernon, The Secret Garden, The Count of Monte Christo, Our Mutual Friend, Little Women, The House of Mirth, Mila 18, War and Remembrance, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and the World According to Garp (when little Walt dies). There wasn’t much YA around when I was a kid, but I also shed some tears over the Outsiders and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.

  10. Great post! Dogs… ohmygod… the dogs. And I MUST read those books. Why do I do it to myself? Ditto to “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Thankfully, that swollen face tearfest happened while alone in my fourth-grade bedroom. (My teacher was fixated on wagon train cannibalism stories…. seriously!).

    “The Language of Flowers” had me hiccup crying in at least two places last year. And I’m 30 pages from the end of “The Fault in Our Stars.” Why do I not have stock in Kleenex?

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