006THD_Cameron_Diaz_133Every year when you fill out AAR’s annual poll, we ask you for your biggest tearjerker. For me, some years it’s a no brainer, and sometimes I really have to think about it. On the whole, I’m not a frequent weeper. I’m not like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday (if you haven’t seen it, she can’t cry…until the end), but I don’t really cry at Hallmark commercials either (do they even still have those? I have DVR.)

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book that made me think about how much I want to cry, and how much is too much. My book club read Still Alice, a good book – very good – about a Harvard Psychology professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s told from Alice’s point of view, in a completely believable way. I couldn’t put it down, and I basically cried my eyes out for hours. I think anyone would find it sad, but it hit really close to home for me. I had a grandfather die of Alzheimer’s, and my beautiful, smart, funny Aunt Susan died of early onset Alzheimer’s. So I spent the night crying for the fictional Alice, her children, my Aunt Susan, and my cousins who lost their mom so early and in such a cruel way. Then I started crying for myself too, since both my parents died in their forties (not of Alzheimer’s, but the point was that I lost them when I was young, so I started reliving my own loss). I couldn’t deny that this book was fabulous, but neither could I say I enjoyed it.

I wouldn’t say I seek out tearjerkers, but after some contemplation I decided that I don’t mind feeling sort of emotional. Tearing up, maybe. What I don’t want to do is cry buckets and wallow in self pity. It also doesn’t help that I’m basically terrified that I may one day get Alzheimer’s myself, and I don’t want to read about things that really, truly scare me. It’s the same impulse that makes me avoid romantic suspense books if they involve kidnapped children or child-molesters.

Even if I include Still Alice, I barely need both hands to count the books that have made me cry during my lifetime. Part of that may be an avoidance of tearjerkers, but I have enjoyed memorable books that made me cry a little. Emily’s Quest by L.M. Montgomery was a genuine tearjerker for me in high school. I stayed up all night reading, and cried when she finally got together with Teddy. I’m not sure whether the tears were from happiness or exhaustion. And it’s been years, but I don’t think I could ever forget the scene in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember. If you’ve read it, you’ll likely know what I mean: Right at the beginning, when Clayton is nearly executed for refusing to fight in the Confederate army, and calmly asks for a belt because he’s so starved that his pants are about to fall off. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve cried at the beginning of a book. Always to Remember has to be my all-time tearjerker romance. More recently, I teared up while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You know when: The sad part.

My most surprising tearjerker? Wait for it…Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches an Egg. I know, I know. It was a favorite of my youngest son when he was little, and to this day I can’t read “And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that! Because Horton was faithful; he sat and he sat…” without my voice breaking. It may just be the ultimate happy ending.

So that’s how I like to cry. A little. When Beth dies in Little Women. When Andy gives away his toys in Toy Story 3. That kind of crying, not the truly depressed kind. What about you? What are your tearjerker books and movies? Do you actively seek out ones that will make you cry?

– Blythe Barnhill