Novel-tea: I wish I had started reading sad books sooner

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Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a reading kick. For some reason, all the books have been making me sad, to the point of shedding tears several times in the span of half a book. Interestingly, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding books, movies, and TV shows that were written to make you feel things, but now they’re finally catching up to me. And I have to say, I’m enjoying it.

The first book that really made me appreciate and changed my perspective on sad books was “How High We Go in the Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu. This book has such a human feel to it that was missing from the books that were assigned to me in high school. It features a collection of short stories that illustrate the beauty of humanity when it is heading toward destruction thanks to a mysterious virus (sound familiar?).

While I had some gripes with the book, I thought the first half was extremely well done and illustrated how writing has the power to make readers want to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors. I just wish someone had made me read this book when I was in high school — I would have been a better person for it, I’m positive. The only book I was required to read in high school that even comes close to “How High We Go in the Dark” was Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” While I think it was a good book with solid character development, it doesn’t scratch that same itch that I didn’t know I had.

What really got me in “How High We Go in the Dark” is how normal the characters felt compared to some of the other “sad” books I’ve read. For instance, the first section covers an archaeologist who had just lost his daughter and decided to finish the excavation she had started. This felt so normal and mundane compared to, say, “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven. While I certainly was upset at the end of the book, the characters felt “special” — their flaws so exaggerated that the reader knew something bad was going to happen. Not that it’s bad to write a book or movie that way, but I feel like I was missing out on a whole different genre when I read “How High We Go in the Dark.”

One of other things that I was reminded of thanks to “How High We Go in the Dark” was how seemingly all the human-interest stories I see in headlines have some kind of “twist” to them. For instance, most stories that are like “Woman raises $30k on GoFundMe to pay for emergency surgery” are just devastating. At first glance, it’s sweet and my faith in humanity is restored, but then I question why she ever had to pay $30,000 in the first place. “How High We Go in the Dark” has the feel of neighbor helping neighbor because it’s the right thing to do, not because money drives everything. I guess I just wish for things to be more reasonable, but I don’t want a plague that kills millions to be the driving cause behind that change.

Another noteworthy book I finished recently was Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Klara and the Sun.” I really don’t know what I expected when I started this book, but I think it was a reminder of how a great ending can really solidify a book and make the reader feel complete. I feel like I’ve read far too many books that were supposed to make me sad, but just fell a little flat due to a weak ending. I know I’ll get some hate for it, but Madeline Miller’s “Song of Achilles” felt this way to me. I loved the book as a whole, but I couldn’t help but hope for a little bit more from the ending. “Klara and the Sun” is a reminder that the ending is what sticks in the reader’s mind and determines the value of the book as a whole (at least, that’s the way it is for me.) I can excuse some subpar writing, but I can’t excuse a bad ending.

But really, I just wish that I was encouraged to branch out more when reading. I would always stick to the same authors and genres, and I don’t think that helped me as a reader or a person. Getting to know what is out there is just as important as sticking to what you like. So if you like to read, go pick out a random book from the library that you’d never read and give it a try. Maybe it’ll suck, maybe it’ll be your new favorite. That’s the joy of expanding your boundaries.