I’ll never forget the experience of reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The book made me cry while flying on a transatlantic flight from New York to London. I’m not someone who cries easily in public, it probably helped that most of the people around me were asleep and could not see the tears quietly streaming down my face, but this book is such a powerful story of love, loss and grief that I cried through most of it.
When I finished The Year of Magical Thinking, and for many years after, I never thought I would read another book that addressed the same topics with such grace, but I have now read two other memoirs about love and loss that rival Didion’s classic. And they are both debuts.
Last year, I read and wrote about Elizabeth Scarboro’s My Foreign Cities. Some of you might remember this review. The book tells the story of her love for a man who had cystic fibrosis. Liz met Stephen in high school, where the book begins, but they do not commit to each other until after college when she moves to San Francisco to be with him.
So in her early 20s, Scarboro chooses to love, and live with, a man who will likely not live past 35. That set up is enough make my heart flutter for her bravery. But add to it that Scarboro’s writing is so open, and honest, by the end of the book I felt like I was her friend, as if she was telling the story just to me. I cried when Stephen went to the hospital and I cried when she knew she was going to lose him. But through the tears, I felt hope. Scarboro told a tragic story that was also a testament human resilience, to our ability to keep going when times are tough and to do everything we can to keep those we love alive.
And now there is Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, a memoir about the loss of her husband. I will provide a full review next week, but if you have not heard of this book yet, it is another beautiful portrait of love and loss. Alexander explores what happens when we deeply connect with someone and what happens when that person dies, suddenly, at the age of 50.
Love and loss are tearjerkers, but each of these authors has an openness to write about their emotions that I find inspiring. I aspire to have as much courage as they do to put their experiences out in the world so openly and vividly. How about you? What books have made you cry?