Monday, November 06, 2006

Twenty novels that made me cry

After top twenty theology influences and going to see Moby Dick by John Bell, thought I'd do another top twenty.
Rules: Must be novels. Ranked by recommendation, not amount of crying. One per author. Sometimes the crying was from laughter.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
3. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
6. The Outsider by Albert Camus
7. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
8. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
9. Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell
10. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
11. Bliss by Peter Carey
12. Catch-22 by Jospeh Heller
13. The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
14. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin
15. The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemmingway
16. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
17. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
18. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
19. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
20. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
What about you?

UPDATE: Check out Aaron's Top 20 theological experiences.
Ten points available in comments.


byron smith said...

Two Irishmen
Two Frenchmen
Two Australians
Two Oxford dons
Two Russians who wrote in English
Three women

byron smith said...

Seven fantasy novels. Though it depends how you define it.
Six with significant use of water as an image. Yet I don't like swimming. Also six that I've written essays on.
Five "children's books". Once again, depends how you define it - I've excluded The Little Prince. Also five with single-word titles.
Four "Christian" books. I'm really just making some arbitrary calls here to get the numbers to work, but I do think four of the authors were/are explicitly Christian and tried to write "Christian" novels.
Three are clearly part of a larger series. Three are translations into English.
Two written under psydonyms.
One not included in any of the above categories.

Ten points for guessing which one.

byron smith said...

Authors again:
two suicides

Ben Myers said...

Only two suicides in a list of 20 great novelists -- is that somewhat below average?

Anyway, it's a great list. I'd also have to include several of these on my own list: I've cried tears (of joy) at several points in Melville's Moby-Dick, above all in the wonderful early scene where Ishmael and Queequeg are sharing the room at the inn. I didn't cry in Bliss, but I did at the end of Oscar and Lucinda. I cried in The Old Man and the Sea. I cried in The Waves, but even more in To the Lighthouse. And as a little boy reading The Lord of the Rings, I was heartbroken beyond repair when Frodo decided to go away forever.

Also, I'm sure I've often cried with laughter in Jane Austen's novels; and Dickens has made me cry with sadness. I think I must have cried in Fielding's Tom Jones (probably out of love for the beautiful Sophia). I cried with laughter through Beckett's trilogy of novels. And as a literature undergraduate, I felt like crying when the teacher told us that Ulysses was on the reading list.

Most recently, though, I was sitting on the bus reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief with tears streaming down my face. I can hardly imagine what the other poor commuters must have thought....

P.S. -- I will also cry if either Harry or Ron or Hermione (especially Hermione) dies in the final Harry Potter novel.

byron smith said...

Ben - thanks for sharing. No tears for the [death of character x]* at the end of HP#6?
Oscar and Lucinda might have edged out Bliss, except I've only seen the movie (even though I'm a Carey fan - have just never got to the book). It was a close toss-up between The Waves and To the Lighthouse. Still looking forward to Tom Jones (not to be confused with Jonestown...).

* Just in case someone hasn't read it yet...

Anonymous said...

I cried in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well. Also, David Ireland's The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, and from laughter in Portugese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith.

Jason Hesiak said...

Byron, my friend, you've cried over some good books that I too have not only read and thought that other Christians didn't read, but that I thought that other Christains thought to be too heretical to let their hearts be movd by....Wizard of Earthsea (read that traveling around lake Como!), Name of the Rose (I laughed, cried and became Silence), Heart of Darkness (deeply oving to me but I assumed it was too heretical to share an interest in it with other Chirstians)...Thanks for the encouragement,

And did I get my guesses right on the cities...I can't find those posts again!


Anonymous said...

byron--you linked to my blog. You rock.
I'm sitting here feeling very very uneducated. I couldn't finish moby dick. I guess I got exposed to too much television as a kid. Oh well.

20 is a lot! I tend to think in terms of top 5. (must be that television exposure again--or maybe all those years in that sect...)

Benjamin's top novels. These didn't necessarily make me cry, but I really liked all of, would read 'em again (and have in most cases). Not in order of rank! Also, I tried mightily to stick to novels, so some books didn't make it in which otherwise would have (ok, so sheldon's book isn't a novel, but it reads like one).

1.Lilith *and* phantastes--George Macdonald
2.A severe mercy--sheldon vanauken
3.blade of tyshalle-matthew woodring stover
4.Lord of the Rings--J.R.R. Tolkien
5.Old Man and the Sea--Ernest Hemingway
6.The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay--Michael Chabon
7.The Last Samurai (NOT associated with the movie, which I've never seen)--Helen Dewitt (who alas has not written *anything* else!
8.Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time--Mark Haddon
9.Ben Hur-A Tale of the Christ--Lew Wallace
10.The Innocent Man--John Grisham
11.Ender's Game--Orson Scott Card
12.The Moon is a Harsh Mistress--Robert Heinlein
13.Hart's Hope--Orson Scott Card (oh my god, orson gets on the list twice!)
(but then so does george and Tolkien and King and Potok)
14.The Gunslinger--Stephen King
15.Black House--Stephen King and Peter Straub.
16.The Asher Lev Books--Chaim Potok
17.The Author and the Ink--David Drury
18.The Jungle Books--Rudyard Kipling
19.The Great Divorce--C.S. Lewis
20.Handbook of American Prayer--Lucius Shepard

byron smith said...

Jason - you got one, but not the other. You can always check the list of links and the points table here.

And I'm glad to hear we've got some experiences in common. Check back on these comments after a few more days - my guess is that you and I will not be the only ones (I know of many Christians who love Earthsea (have you read the rest of the series? Esp Tehanu? I nearly included it instead), and quite a few who like Eco and Conrad too).

byron smith said...

Benjamin - no problem - I've really been enjoying your blog recently. Loved that transformers quote! (Even though you borrowed it from elsewhere)

Some thoughts on your list:
#1 George Macdonald - I've only read quotes in a Lewis anthology, though have always intended to get to Lilith/Phantastes - which do you recommend I start with?
#8 I really enjoyed this and only read it recently. It was moving and fun, but I'm not sure I cried.
#19 I switched Great Divorce for Last Battle at the last minute. I think Great Divorce is a better novel, but probably cried more at the end of Last Battle.

As you can see, I wasn't quite sure whether I was putting my favourite novels or the ones that made me cry. I tried to focus more on the latter. I guess I cry a lot.

byron smith said...

AndrewE - Portugese Irregular Verbs - thanks again for introducing us to that series! As for Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, I could probably have included a few more Lewis books, but limited myself to one per author.

One of Freedom said...

I can't put my finger on that many books that have made me cry. I've broken into tears reading the bible before, even laughed out loud doing prep for sermons. Some of those gospel writers have some funny ways of saying things.

But what I do recall is that last year it seemed I would turn on the TV in the afternoon and some programme would come on that would leave me in tears. A lot of times it was that show Mysterious Ways, not sure but I must have had a bat sense to know when it was on. I'd just randomly turn on the tele, watch for a bit and be incredibly moved by those stories. I think I am just softening up in my old age - it is the lovers reuniting that gets me. Maybe it is not being in emotionally manipulative churches for enough years that I am losing my desensitization to emotional manipulation.

BTW my wife finds it adorable to catch me teared up at a TV show.

byron smith said...

Good on you Christian, though Crime and Punishment is a weighty penance! I haven't got to it myself yet. I need to pace my Russians - they take stamina.

Frank - I considered also doing films, but knew I'd struggle to keep it to 20.

Anonymous said...

1. Fielding, Henry / The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and of His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams [1, 2]
2. Voltaire / Candide
3. Orwell, George / Keep the Aspidistra flying
4. Trolloppe, Anthony / An eye for an eye
5. Chesterton, G.K. The Flying Inn
6. Lewis, C.S. / That hideous strength
7. France, Anatole / The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard
8. Hesse, Herman / The Glass Bead Game
9. Zola, Émile / The Fortune of the Rougons
10. Manzoni, Alessandro / I Promessi Sposi
11. Boccaccio / The Decameron (if novellas count.)
12. Sienkiewicz, Henryk / Quo Vadis: a narrative of the time of Nero
13. Bronte, Emily / Wuthering Heights
14. Christie, Agatha / Murder on the Orient Express
15. Balzac, Honoré de / Father Goriot
16. Huxley, Aldous / Point Counter Point
17. Waugh, Evelyn / Unconditional Surrender
18. Thackeray, William Makepeace / The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
19. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von / The Sorrows of Young Werther
20. Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider) / She

Jason Hesiak said...


On the Rome one, I have to say, the Istambul clue was what did it. It seemed like it could have been in too many places, until you gave that clue.

On the "more English" one, I'm out of ideas...

And I haven't read the whole Earthsea trilogy, although my good friend who turned me onto it has. I only I read two of them. I'm young, I'm really still in explore mode, rather than in dive deep mode. Not to say I haven't dove deep into some things...but I just mean I'm too interested in a bunch of stuff to go reading whole trilgies!

God bless,


Anonymous said...

Some great books on this list. Also worth crying through:

Salman Rushdie, Midnight Children
Umberto Eco, Baudolino
Annie Proulx, Wyoming Stories
Stephen R. Donaldson, The Power that Preserves
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

Christopher said...

If that is the same Christian A who I know who did economics at usyd, didn't read fiction, and had difficulty expressing emotions (I say this not as a judge but as a fellow traveller) then congrats on reading Crime and Punishment, and on the "almost tears".
The passage you refer to had me in the "almost tears" stage as well. I think you are suppose to cry there. But maybe we will need someone a little more emotionally sophisticated to verify.

Meredith said...

wow, what a great list of books - its a bit like my 'books to read someday' list, actually.

andrewe - i cried at the end of the last battle, rather than in the lion the witch and the wardrobe

byron - definitely read oscar and lucinda. you can borrow it if you want. i loved it.

i often cry reading non fiction, actually, but as for novels i think
'the god of small things' by arundhati roy - which i read quite recently - would be on my list.

byron smith said...

Thanks Michael - Candide is an amazing rags-to-riches-to-rags-and-so-on story. It had me both rolling with laughter and feeling dizzy. Waugh's Vile Bodies and Huxley's Brave New World could have also made my list.

byron smith said...

Jason, at 27 you can stop calling yourself 'young' - you'll have to start using 'young at heart' methinks, old man.

When you do get back to Earthsea (they only take a couple of hours, they're quite short and very easy on the eye, a little less so on the heart), make sure you don't stop at the trilogy; the best book is #4 Tehanu. She wrote it about fifteen years after the first three and although it is very different in tone, she is a much more mature writer and it is excellent for all kinds of new reasons.

As for the more English picture, there are only so many English cities that still have a city wall...

Rachel said...

yes yes The God of Small Things tops my list too! Her nonfiction books are incredible too.

I think I got myself into a very weird headspace by reading Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina in a row not long ago. Both amazing though. (do I win any points yet?)

Our bookclub recently read As I lay Dying by William Faulkner and we decided that Tim Winton's Cloudstreet was heavily influenced by this novel. One day we will ask Tim when he pops along to our bookclub.

Rachel said...

also surely one of your all time fvourites is "Billy the Punk"?

byron smith said...

Miner - I'd also forgotten Ethan Frome. I think I need a top 30.

Christopher - it's the same one. Amazing what God can do!

Meredith - I'd love to borrow Oscar and Lucinda sometime; it's now been a few years since I've had any Carey. Last I read was Kelly Gang, and it felt like he'd turned down the surrealism to gain a wider audience. I know many people love God of small things, but it didn't do much for me, I'm afraid. Felt like she was trying too hard to write a 'significant' novel. [Sorry to the person who gave it to me as a 21st present (GK, now GW).] Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood at the time.

byron smith said...

Rachel - if I were making a list of 'Books that have changed my life', then Billy the Punk would be #1, I assure you. Everybody, please go and buy a copy if you haven't already done so. If you have, get a few to give to others. Really.

And sorry Rachel about my God of Small Things non-appreciation.

Meredith said...

another book that made me cry was Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. its extremely witty and presents such a bleak picture of our world that there was plenty to cry about from sadness, too.

i also admit to crying in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon.

and byron, i found it took me a while to get into God of Small Things, but that it really grew on me.

this is a fun discussion, i really don't want to write my thesis today!!

Anonymous said...

Oh Byron, thanks for witnessing to the power of Billy the punk, however I'm sure it was just hyperbole! I hope it never makes the #1 spot for changing lives. Please note that you have curried favour with the author and you will be rewarded with more turkish delight for dessert. However, I suspect it was your own self-interest to increase our bank balance that may have encouraged your excessive praise.

Anonymous said...

Did you say "Taran wanderer"?
I loved poor Fflewddur Fflam

"After obtaining a harp and practicing, he sets out for Caer Dathyl, the seat of the High King and Chief Bard Taliesin, hoping to be admitted. Unfortunately, his tests do not go at all well. However, the Chief Bard takes pity and offers him a wonderful gift in the form of a magical harp that "Almost plays itself," in Fflewddur Fflam's delighted words. Unfortunately, the harp has a flaw. Every time Fflewddur Fflam stretches the truth, which he is inclined to do to,"Add a little color the facts.They need them so badly," a string will snap on the harp. Fflewddur's penchant for theatrical exaggeration ensures that he spends more time mending the harp than playing it; even so, he is able to make beautiful music when he is called upon to do so."

The series had a sheer nostalgia that sometimes choked me up as a kid, even though at other times it was one of those rare books that could make me laugh out loud.

byron smith said...

Ah Fflewddur Fflam - one of the many delightful characters in the Chronicles of Prydain. However, I particularly loved Taran because it was a little less epic than the others and saw Taran battling more than usual with futility and his own purpose and meaning.

byron smith said...

Meredith - Jess read Vernon God Little, but I haven't.

When you say that God of Small Things grew on you, did you mean that it grew as you read it or after you'd finished (or upon subsequent readings)?

byron smith said...

Jess - all of the above!
And thanks for the turkish delight. C. S. Lewis was really onto something when he made it the symbol of the 'more' of temptation in LWW.
As for Billy changing my life, meeting the author certainly did.

(If you have no idea what we're talking about, go and buy a copy and read it. It mightn't help you understand, but it will be a great experience...)

Mandy said...

I started to make a list, only got to 10 and realised that 9 of them were women ... wonder whether that says something about me!

Number one on my list has to be 'Little Women' by Louisa May Allcott.

Anonymous said...

are you saying Conrad was a Russian...?

Mandy said...

Gunning for my first points:

Your suicides are Hemingway and Woolf, although some argue that de Saint-Exupery's plane crash may have been suicide.

byron smith said...

Drew - erm, no... didn't you know that Peter Carey was born Pyotr Carovich?


Mandy - I offered the ten points for picking which one out of the twenty didn't fit any of the categories I'd listed (indeed, it stubbrnly refuses to submit to almost any category you care to bring to it). However, I think audacity should be rewarded, so ten points for claiming points I should have offered. And five for pointing out the de Saint-Exupéry ambiguity, which had slipped my mind (like Conrad's nationality - Polish by the way - many apologies all round).

And Mandy I'd still love to hear your list, even if it's a bunch of women.

Mandy said...

Oops! Really wasn't trying to get points that weren't actually on offer :)
So I tried to work out the one that was left out: I think it is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

OK, my top 20 are:

1. Little Women - Louise May Allcot
2. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
3. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
5. What Katy Did - Susan M. Coolidge
6. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
9. A Time to Kill - John Grisham
10. Anne's House of Dreams - L.M. Montgomery
11. The Velveteen Rabbit - Margery Williams
12. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
13. The girl with a pearl earing - Tracy Chevalier
14. The Colour purple - Alice Walker
15. The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan
16. Chocolat - Joanne Harris
17. Careful, they might hear you - Robin Klein
18. Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy
19. To kill a mocking bird - Harper Lee
20. Message in a bottle - Nicholas Sparks

A bit disturbed by how many have been turned into B grade Hollywood films that I haven't seen! Lots are ones I remember reading in my teens and keep coming back to - I make it a habit to read Little Women every year or so, and if I'm sick, I love curling up with the Anne of Green Gables series for some serious laughter and tears.

michael jensen said...

Why all the plaudits for The Little Prince? I thought it was embarassingly twee.

byron smith said...

Mandy - Sorry, I wrote a first year essay on Heart of Darkness. Guess again.

MPJ - Perhaps embarassing tweeness is in the eye of the beholder.

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been caught doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be grown up. - C. S. Lewis

All grown-ups started off as children (though few of them remember). - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Mandy said...

Are we allowed multiple guesses? I'd narrowed it down to 2 but wavered thinking that you could have classified the other as 'fantasty'.

Given it is not Heart of Darkness, I think it is: Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell.

Can you tell I don't want to study New Testament at the moment and my evangelistic talk is not happening?

michael jensen said...

No, that is exactly the problem with The Little Prince: it tries SOOO hard to be this simpleyetprofound tale for kidults and it just fails on every level. It is contrived and it is dull, which is the worst crime of all. What is so good about it? It reminded me of those new age Paulo Ceohlo novels, The Alchemist being one.

michael jensen said...

MANDY: a warning. NT4 was my worst grade at college BY FAR because by that time I had lost my zing. And it cost me big time in terms of GPA because it is weighted so heavily.

h. goldsmith said...

since it seems no one's guessed correctly yet, i'll take a stab: sterne's tristram shandy.

byron smith said...

h.goldsmith - well done! Ten points.

Anonymous said...

The very last line of William Gibsons Neuromancer.

byron smith said...

Not sure I quite follow you there, Arvid... Please explain.