Why We Love Books That Make Us Cry

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Whether it's a small sniffle, or full-on bawling session, we have each experienced the pain and consequent wet eyes from finishing a book with a not-so-happy ending. Most commonly, it's in the wake of our favourite character's death, leaving us to mourn someone who never existed, and sympathize with the friends and family who are left to miss them - who of which are also completely non-existent. Logic and rationality be damned, we can cry buckets over bitter endings and funerals we never attended.

Pain is rarely deemed good, and you would think that after surviving such a heavy, emotional blow from a paperback, that we would remember such books with regret, and avoid anything else that may make us feel like that. However, after all the tissues and attempts at hiding our puffy, pink eyes from passers-by, we turn to the next friend who asks how our book was, and say, "You have to read this."

It may be that we hate our friends and family, passing misery onto them in the form of four hundred pages of gut-wrenching text, or that we ourselves enjoy the melancholy aftertaste of such novels, but more than that it seems as though we genuinely enjoy such heartache, and want others to experience the same strange joy.

But where could such joy come from, where is the enjoyment in sad books? It can be explained, perhaps, with a simple John Green quote: "It hurt because it mattered."

Think back to the last book you read with tissues in hand. It may have been Harry Potter, or Marley and Me, or The Fault in Our Stars, but regardless of its title, you couldn't put it down, or at least, didn't want to. Somewhere between the first chapter and wherever you are now, this book got entangled with your heart, and you fell for people you've never met and places you've never been. Somehow, that author made you fall in love with words on a page, worlds between paper.

We don't cry at things that don't mean much to us. When my best friend left Northern Ireland to attend university in England, I cried. When my first pet, a black and white guinea pig who loved lavender, died, I cried, as well. And I cried when I finished Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider, and when I came to the last page of Anderson's Tiger Lily, and when Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices trilogy finally ended, but I never cried over those neighbours who moved away, or that old actress my mum loved who passed on, or all of those books that I never finished. I didn't cry about them, I suppose, because none of them made me laugh either, or worried, or excited, or mad. Those neighbours, that actress, those unfinished books; none of them were really that important to me.

The books I cried over, however, were the ones that I finished, the ones I tore through, unable to put them down, the ones full of characters I felt I knew, and lines I had to write down. Those books made me feel. Those books mattered, and things that matter hurt sometimes.

So, when a book breaks my heart, and I am left with smudged make up and bloodshot eyes, wondering how something fictional could hurt like this, I will undoubtedly put it on my favourite bookshelf, where all the best books go. And when someone next asks me for book suggestions, I won't hesitate to name it. Not because I want them to cry, or even because I enjoy crying, but because books which are truly great, which are powerful enough to ensnare your heart, matter. And when things matter, they can hurt.

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