Sad Books


When Nancy wrote the first “Book Lust,” she included a section she called three-hankie reads.  While we might not agree on books that make us laugh, it seems that books that make you sad touch many of us equally.

Then we started to wonder why it is that so many of the books we read in high school are so sad. What do we want kids to learn by assigning those books?  One consensus, books teach children how to deal with sadness as well as happiness.

Pretty soon, the discussion turns very personal. Such is the power of literature.

Tom said that it is interesting that fiction can make you cry and yet we can love that experience, while with non-fiction a sad book can just make us angry.

Oh and we talk about a few very popular books that some found too manipulative. They go without a mention here. You know who you are.

Then there is Charles Dickens, who could really tug at your heart strings, yes, but a little manipulative, don’t you think?

And one of the folks around the table, writer Rita Wirkala, is talking about her new novel, “The Encounter,” February 6th at the Greenwood Branch of the Seattle Public Library.


Nancy Pearl is the special guest at the Seattle Channel, Crosscut and City Club TV show Civic Cocktail February 3rd. Steve Scher will be on the panel asking her questions. Just like our podcast. 



Here is a Goodreads list of Sad Books.



Here is our List of Sad Books


“Island of Dreams,” Dan Boothby’s memoir of his time living in lighthouse on an island off western of Scotland.  Cathy found it filled with an overwhelming sadness.

“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold, Laura said it was horrifying but compelling

The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs Investors and Policy Makers Live By,” by Scott Shane

 “First They Killed My Father,” by Luong Ung, a 5 year old girl witnesses the horror of the Pol Pot killing fields.

“The Unwinding: An Inner History of The New America” by George Packer.

 “The Working Poor: Invisible In America,” by David K. Shipler.  Bob says it is full of devastating individual stories.

“La Celestina,” by Fernando de Roja, a book from 1498 written by a Jewish Converso.
“Gone with the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell, which Judy cried over in 6th grade and still does.

“The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman

“Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter,” by Kate Clifford Larson

“Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” by Barbara Demick, a national book award winner about the lives of people who live in North Korea.


“The Last of The Just,” by Andre Schwarz-Bart , a novel of the Levy family over 8 centuries.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Katherine Boo.

“Winter Wheat” by Mildred Walker, the story of a family living in Eastern Montana.

“The Flight” and “The Island of Silence,” two books by Horatio Verbitsky documenting the dirty war of Argentina.

“The Panic Virus,” by Seth Mnookin, is about the fear-mongers who rail against the established science of vaccines.



Nancy says all those horse and dog books, for example, “Beautiful Joe” or “Black Beauty”, made her sad.

Oh, and when Laurie married Amy in “Little Women.” Nancy says he belonged with Jo.  Oh, and when Beth died too.

Or when Amy got to go to Europe and Jo didn’t’.

Boy, “Little Women” is just one sad book, huh.