Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Ch. 4: Read ‘Em and Weep

Sorry that this post is late but welcome to week four of the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project (project sounds so stiff. Adventure? Diversion? Vacation? Book Bender?) in which we a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s book memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and talking about the books she includes in each chapter.

Chapter 4 is “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing Up the Pages,” on the books that made us cry. Like the Kids-in-Danger trope of chapter 3, the Sad Book trope got me thinking: what is it that drew us to these books? What buttons did they push that were so alluring that we returned to these books again and again, knowing they made us sad? Is it like scratching a mosquito bite, or poking at a sore spot? Why did we watch The Champ and Terms of Endearment over and over? How did Lurlene McDaniel build a franchise on Dying Girl books?

For this week, I re-read Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved. I marveled, though, that I couldn’t remember why it had made me cry. After reading, though, it makes sense. The book made me cry because it was complicated, and it didn’t have easy lessons, and because the narrator, Sara Louise, unkindly nicknamed Wheeze by her prettier more talented twin Caroline, struggled with ugly and awkward emotions and no lessons were spelled out. There wasn’t AN EVENT, as there was in books like Bridge to Terabithia, A Taste of Blackberries, A Summer to Die, et al.

As the older, good-grade getting sister of a younger, cuter, more attention-earning sister, I had a fierce love and identification with Louise. I knew what those ugly emotions felt like. I’d enacted some of those nasty behaviors, like telling my sister she was adopted (absurd if you see our family together) and that on family trips she should stay awake, as Mom and Dad didn’t love her as much, and the rest of us just might leave her in the middle of the night. (Some of this might be apocryphal, but it’s entered into family lore as Truth, so I’ve stopped trying to defend myself.)

So, what weepies did you read as a girl/teen, and why do you think we were drawn to them, often over and over? What are the modern weepies? John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? Wonder by Palacio?

Hey, if you’re reading along, remember to comment, as Lizzie Skurnick has a signed copy and maybe a prize pack for one of you co-readers. And I HIGHLY recommend friending Lizzie on FB, to see many more covers and join the old-book lovers club.

9 Responses to “Summer of “Shelf Discovery” Ch. 4: Read ‘Em and Weep”

  1. Kate Says:

    We ARE living slightly distant, parallel lives, as your comment about your role in your family rings strong and true for me as well.

  2. Amy Says:

    Funny, although I read and loved some real weepers, they didn’t make me cry back in the day. But Beat the Turtle Drum just about sent me off the deep edge this time around. Having the parent’s perspective is brutal.

  3. shannon Says:

    oh, how i loved the weepy books! maybe because i liked a good cry. maybe because the bad things were not happening to me. maybe because it sounded like REAL life with all that heartache and as a preteen, i was so eager for my real life to begin.
    in grade 7 i burned thru the non-fiction biographies of sick and/or dying children (Eric, Karen, With Love from Karen are the titles i can remember now - but there was a whole shelf devoted to this subject: fat hardcovers with pictures of sunsets and mountains and other wistful things)
    when i finished the shelf, i was at a loss what to read next. maybe that’s when i started with vc andrews… melodrama

  4. thalia Says:

    The two books guaranteed to make me weep, as I think you remember, are Diana Wynne Jones’s ‘Homeward Bounders’ and Philippa Pearce’s ‘Tom’s midnight garden’. Both cries are about, I think, the loss of childhood innocence and the burden of being the child who has to make everyone else ok (in different measures in the two books). I’m a crier, though, so I may not be a good bell weather.

    Have to say I never managed to finish Jacob Have I loved or indeed any other of her books. Didn’t do it for me for some reason.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Shannon, I forgot about the non-fiction ones. I remember reading Brian’s Song and I know there must have been others like it. Amy, I definitely cried back then, too. Thalia, I remember not receiving Homeward Bounders in the same way you did, but “getting” how that touched a nerve. Interesting the difference how what moved one of us didn’t move the other.

  6. Amy Says:

    Shannon, did you read Ellen: A Short Life Long Remembered? That’s one I read many times. I even wrote to Ellen’s mother, and bless her heart, she wrote back.

  7. crystal Says:

    I read Bridge to Terabithia and I found myself again being reminded of my own experience as a young girl -although I would say I was a conglomerate of Jess and Leslie.  I was that weird kid always drawing and struggling with low income trials while running towards something unknown asking friends to take me to their respective churches searching for answers yet also the only girl in the Grand Forks city wide wrestling tourney.

    Paterson achieves the soul searching, child-mind evolving, finding one’s place in the world, heart-wrenching, ache of life feeling all wrapped up in 128 pages.  I don’t recall reading this book as a kid but as someone pointed out My Girl paralleled this story and I agree there are similarities.  

    These stories are so fun to read and be reminded what childhood was like and take the time to sort of commiserate with our kids.  We forget all too easily our childhood and how it is to traverse the adult world anew.  I am really enjoying this trip back in time.

  8. Buried In Print Says:

    Just wanted to say that I have been wholly enjoying your posts on these books. I was quite smitten with a project like this shortly after the book was published and it also inspired me to revisit some shelf discoveries that were on the shelves of Canadian libraries and bookstores that the author wouldn’t have been reading but which were still great favourites of mine. (My list is here</a., but 2010 sure feels like forever ago.) You’re making me want to re-re-read now!

  9. shannon Says:

    i saw brian’s song but don’t think i read it. if i did, i would have gained an insight (or tolerance) to football i don’t have (like i thought i hated formula one racing but then the dog narrator of ‘the art of racing in the rain’ made me rethink that sport)
    as for ellen, i vaguely remember another dying child/ book called ellen or helen (they all had name in the titles)
    that’s amazing you were moved to write to her mother, amy. i wish i’d done the same with some of the book i read back then. i’ll bet they would have been a sort of comfort to their mums…