Books you find completely devastating.

13

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  • I will have to read Night.  This my first time hearing about it and feel that I need to read it.
    Well worth a read.  I had the chance to see him speak in person once, and he's utterly captivating. 

    Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus and Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower are both excellent examples of the genre.  I teach an elective course on genocide, and get a great student response for Maus every year.
  • I just finished Ghettoside by Jill Leovy and it broke my heart. I lived in LA for much of the time covered by the book and it was hard to realize what was really going on that I hardly knew about even though it was happening less than 20 miles from my house because so much wasn't covered in the news and the "bad" neighborhoods were like a different world from the place I lived.
  • You guys, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken, will leave you thoroughly devastated.  It is just raw, honest, unrelenting pain and sorrow.  It's about this woman's experience with miscarriage. Short read, lasting effects. UGH. Just thinking about it clenches the gut.
  • CourtneyA said:
    I will have to read Night.  This my first time hearing about it and feel that I need to read it.
    Well worth a read.  I had the chance to see him speak in person once, and he's utterly captivating. 

    Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus and Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower are both excellent examples of the genre.  I teach an elective course on genocide, and get a great student response for Maus every year.
    The Sunflower is a wonderful, and yes, devastating book. As is "Night"
  • For a book that I found especially devastating after seeing the sunny, cheerful cover:

    Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami, about a man and his faithful dog, to whom very sad things happen.

    And then there's Laika by Nick Abadzis; since that one's about the historical space-dog I already knew it wasn't going to end well, but found myself sobbing through much of it anyway.

    Despite the gut-wrenching aspects, I recommend them both - especially if you need a good cry!
  • A Primates Memoir by Robert Sepulsky
    About his experience documenting a baboon troop as a grad student.
    It was interesting had a surprizing and sad ending
    This should maybe be in the science book thread
  • I checked out Night from the library, and didn't get past the foreword before tearing up.
    Hopefully I can finish it. 
  • My only sibling is 11 years older than me and I absolutely worshipped her as a kid, so I read all of her old books, sometimes when I was way too young to do so.

    When I was about 11, I read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton while on a family vacation in St. Augustine. There are pictures of us at a gorgeous lighthouse and I am ugly-crying in all the photos while my sister laughs at me because I had just read Johnny and Dally's deaths.

    That same year, I found her copy of Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. I did a book report on it and my teacher questioned me on whether I'd actually read it, thinking it was above a 5th grader's reading level. I started describing the plot and ugly-cried in front of my whole class when I got to the end.

    I found her copy of Night by Elie Wieselin 6th grade. My response made my mom try to stop me from reading any more of my sister's books. Didn't work, of course.

    Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourtwas my revenge on my sister.

    Push by Saphire kills me.

    My grandma has a kids' book called "I'll Love You Forever" that none of her grandchildren can walk past without stating how much we hate that damn book, reading it anyway, and sobbing like dummies. We have joked that we're going to get drunk, have a final devastating weep over it, and then burn it the night we eventually have to bury my grandma.
  • 'On Chesil Beach' by Ian McEwan. Broke my heart. 
  • Zirza said:
    Atonement. 

    Fucking Briony. 

    Seriously, I know a bunch of people who, when I tell them about my undying love for Atonement, pull a face and say "but it's so boring!"

    NO IT ISN'T, aside from the fact that it's a masterclass in narrative deconstruction it's also fucking heartbreaking and depressing and bleak.
    yep.  I don't know if I cried, like I have with other books, but it left me with at least a week-long pain in my chest.  Totally devastating.
  • Jim Henson, the Biography. Why? When he's the source of such joy? It's his death and specifically his funeral. Just the thought of Big Bird singing it's not easy being green in the cathedral makes me tear up. Damn, I need a Kleenex.
  • JLou said:
    Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. I was on a return flight from a business trip when I read about what happens to Augustus McCrae .  The flight attendant had to ask me if I was okay, because the tears were streaming silently down my face.

    Of course, this book also figures in Books That Actually Made Me Laugh Out Loud. On the outbound flight of that same business trip, everyone around me was staring as I giggled and snorted about the blue pigs.


    This has always been my all time favorite book. I've read it multiple times. I love the mini-series too. But the book is magical. I cried so hard about Gus. I even told my husband that if we had boys I wanted to name one Augustus. He's happy we had two girls! Ironically my oldest is a huge John Green fan and probably would consider the name Augustus (Fault in our Stars) as a name for a future grandson.

    I find myself quoting weird things at odd times. I've been known to mutter under my breath "We don't sell pigs" when I worked retail.

  • Beth,  I love your story about Lonesome Dove!  Maybe I need to re-read Lonesome Dove next after I finish What the Dog Knows.
  • A book I read earlier this year was Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. I was a blubbering idiot at the end of it. Once you get over the twist that the author gives you, your emotions are just raw because of the last goodbye.  I don't usually cry while reading but this one got me. 
  • I still haven't finished What the Dog Knows, but I did want to read In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick before the film comes out on the 11th.  Yep, completely devastating.  What those men went through!  I think another BK or two has mentioned this book, but it's about the attack on the Essex by one very large and very angry sperm whale in 1820.  The tale of the Essex inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.
  • Book 4 of the Tales of the City series...(god I love them)

    when one of the main characters is sitting on the stairs, holding roller skates he found under the sink...someone walks up and says "I still miss _____ too" I just lost it....

    I have sold/given many many copies of this book.....and everyone I have has been devastated by this scene.

    It also sets a 'tone. The first 3 books are the 70s, the next 3 are the 80s and in the 80s was when "The Crisis" hit, so a nice...reality check..

    sigh.
  • Anything by Khaled Hosseni.As a writer he is mediocre at best and a tad too melodramatic. But i suppose it is working because his themes are gut wrenching. I refuse to read his latest book.  
  • Another utterly devastating book that I read recently: Mo Hayder's The Treatment, one of her "Jack Caffery" series. It deals with heinous, hideously-cruel crimes, past as well as present, and does it in a way that is utterly nightmarish. It's well-written enough to make it involving and memorable - and hard to look away from - but oh, is it ever dark!
  • Maus devastated me as well, but I still like to read it every other year or so.  It's just the perfect use of graphic novel, I think.

    Still Alice, of course, ruined me.  I chose it for book club, and between me choosing it and our meeting to discuss my grandmother (who had late--stage Alzheimers) passed, so it was rough.
  • Anything by Khaled Hosseni.As a writer he is mediocre at best and a tad too melodramatic.
    This is exactly why I can't read his work.  I wish he were a better writer because he does explore gut wrenching themes but it all comes across as Lifetime movie-of-the-week material.
  • So many of the books that left me gasping were books I read as a child.  I read once and will never read again:
    Johnny Tremain
    Lord of the Flies
    Bridge to Terabithia
    The Last Battle

    Also, as an adult, The Poisonwood Bible.
  • Beardslee said:
    So many of the books that left me gasping were books I read as a child.  I read once and will never read again:
    Johnny Tremain
    Lord of the Flies
    Bridge to Terabithia
    The Last Battle

    Also, as an adult, The Poisonwood Bible.
    @Beardslee ; I was just thinking about Poisonwood Bible last night – well, actually, wondering if/when the movie will get made.  There were interviews a while back in which B. Kingsolver talked about the work she was doing on the screenplay...

    (If it does happen, it'd be such a relief if they could cast mostly unknown actors.  Wouldn't you just hate watching Jennifer Lawrence mope around in the Congo?) ;)
  • My contribution is a 20-year-old book that I can never get anybody else to read, no matter how much I beg:  So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell.

    It's most unusual.  Begins with a brief autobiography of sorts…the author leads us up to the unsettled memory of an awkward, confusing moment from his childhood.  Then the book takes off in another direction:  Maxwell tells us that he’s now going to make up a story to explain that childhood memory.  Like a magician showing us the hat and the rabbit, he first includes us as he begins inventing details...

    But by the time his made-up story is finished, I’m totally invested.  And crying!  A strange…and sad...and beautiful book.

  • @Beardslee, The Last Battle meaning the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia?  Now I'm thinking I may re-read that series once I'm done with HP - I cannot for the life of me remember anything about that book except the unicorn with blood on his horn that featured on the cover of my childhood copy
  • @Beardslee, The Last Battle meaning the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia?  Now I'm thinking I may re-read that series once I'm done with HP - I cannot for the life of me remember anything about that book except the unicorn with blood on his horn that featured on the cover of my childhood copy
    You don't remember the bit with the bear?! I am sobbing just thinking of it.
  • @Beardslee, The Last Battle meaning the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia?  Now I'm thinking I may re-read that series once I'm done with HP - I cannot for the life of me remember anything about that book except the unicorn with blood on his horn that featured on the cover of my childhood copy
    You don't remember the bit with the bear?! I am sobbing just thinking of it.
    What?? No!  Oh god.  What am I about to get myself into?!?!
  • Without a doubt the most devastating book I have ever read is "Vanished" by Mary McGarry Morris, read it about 20 years ago and I still think of it now and then.

    Also the haunting novella "The Long Walk" by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)-think of it every time I drive on I-95. 
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Gorgeous yet guts me every time.
  • When I was in college, I took an American Literature elective and ended up getting "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin to read. It wasn't really a difficult or even particularly intense book on it's own, but it hit right as my mother ran off with my savings (after our family realized she'd been having affairs with men for years) and my boyfriend dumped me for being too 'wild' for his deeply conservative family (we actually are married now and they're lovely folks, but he was young and I -was- having some wild times) but I just could. not. read this book. I'd dissolve into hysterics 10 pages in and by the halfway point, I was pretty much useless in any of my classes. 

    My professor, noticing my ugly cry in the back row, finally approached me about a week before our papers were due and asked if I was alright. I spent the better part of her appointment hour sobbing into my paperback while telling her how Edna's decisions were too similar to my own life and how I was having some sort of crazy literary crisis worried if I gave in to my then-ex's desires, would I end up unhappy and repressed? If I ended up like my mother and ran off and had affairs, would I commit suicide to?! Would my mother do that?!

    I never finished the book, I never wrote the paper, the teacher gave me an A anyway for "clearly feeling the plight of the character and grasping the story in a very intense way." 
  • Well done that teacher!
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