Driven to Tears

Drowning in a good read

Times the 5th graders have surprised me with their reading: 12

Pages I cried through in Every Last One: 152

Miles we ran today in rain: 9. And no rain: 2

You probably can’t make me cry. I can hold it together in real life better than most.

But hand me a sad book, and I’m a puddle of tears. Our book club read Every Last One by Anna Quindlen last month, and I made the smart choice (mistake) of not reading the flap before I started the book. Let me just say that I admire Quindlen’s fine writing skills. She’s amazing.

But here I was, doo-dedoo-de-doo, reading about this mom’s pretty cool life, and then BOOM… [Spoiler Alert] this Bad thing Happens. Well, it wasn’t just a Bad Thing. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Thing.

Here I was, picking up the book while waiting for the kids to get off the bus: crying.

Cooking dinner, book in one hand: crying.

Lying in bed, before I’m about to try to have very wonderful dreams: crying.

And when I cry, I don’t do the delicate, tears-forming-in-gorgeous-pools-Hollywood thing, with my skin shimmering elegantly. You might say I look un-pretty.

The same thing happened when we read Still Alice by Lisa Genova a couple of months ago. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is not exactly the recipe for a happy, feel-good book. It haunted me. And the other moms dropping their kids at ballet class and walking past the car where I sat, sobbing, were a little scared of me.

When I kept walking into a room and forgetting why I was there, I was more than a little concerned. But then I forgot why I was worried, so it all worked out fine.

Sometimes I just want something easy and fun and devoid of Tear Fests. So I read In Style and Glamour and Lucky and Self until I can re-salinate my eyeball area. Then I dive back into the deep end, and my family sighs, trying to hand me Athleta and Anthropologie catalogs as a diversion.

I’m not the only one who keeps returning to the challenging path. I’ve been going in to read with some of the fifth graders in my son’s class this year. You really wouldn’t believe how cute they are.

There is one little boy who has read Because of Winn Dixie five times and doesn’t mind changing his baby sister’s diaper to help his mom out. One boy with cheeks as round as a ripe mango and a smile just as sweet is reading the People of Sparks.

And one little girl with kind, dancing eyes, who only learned English two years ago, likes to read mysteries like Geronimo Stilton that are too easy for her. Last week, when I went in to read, she had a different book in her hand: Moby Dick.

“Wow. How do you like it?” I asked, trying to contain my surprise.

“It’s so good,” she said. “But this Ah-hab guy is really obsessed.”

Out of the mouths of babes. “You seem to have a good handle on it,” I said. And she made dire predictions about what might happen if Ahab didn’t quite achieve his goal. I think she was rooting for the whale.

Another girl I sat with was reading a creepy, isolationistic (I made that up) sci-fi book with equally creepy illustrations.

We talked about it, and she said, “Yeah, it’s not as good as the other book I’m reading.”

“And what’s that?”

“Oh, I’ll get it from my cubby–it’s called Hard Times.”

“Like, the one by Charles Dickens?”

My mind went back to junior year in college when our Victorian literature class was reading Bleak House. It was bleak, all right… I never finished it. I liked my college experience shallow and absent of Bell Jar discussions. I mean, there was Guiding Light. And the daily crossword puzzle.

Just in case you missed it, I was in college. This kid is in fifth grade. Jeez.

I am impressed that fifth graders are already learning to challenge themselves with the deep stuff, the written word that can climb inside their psyches and haunt them make them think for the rest of their lives.

I want to tell them about Night by Elie Wiesel and The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Unbroken and… well, I don’t want to make them cry. But I hope they love them as much as I did. I hope they find a quiet corner or a spot in front of the stove or maybe even a table at the library where it just faces a book shelf and no one can see the tears.

New marketing concept: tissues tucked inside the front flap. And for e-readers: a never-ending supply.


4 thoughts on “Driven to Tears

  1. Bernie Brown says:

    I like the tissue idea. Or, instead of inside the flap, they could come in a cute companion little box, also sold at the bookstore. 🙂

  2. Running in Mommyland says:

    Love this so much! I used to teach fourth grade at Brooks and one of the best things about it was being a part of their book discoveries! Helping them write was pretty great, too.

  3. Dad says:

    Recently, I started reading The Red Pony, the one you mentioned to me. You said it might be sad. It’s about a boy who lives on a farm. It is not an easy life. His father brings a pony home. The boy’s mother is aghast at the reckless abandon. His father tells her that, “I didn’t give much for her.” The pony got sick. That’s as far as I got. And it was early in the book. I take it the pony got well, but still I did not want to read further. Read it and tell me what happens.

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