30 DoB Day 6: Book That Makes You Sad

After yesterday’s comment barrage after being on WP’s “Freshly Pressed” page, I was a little intimidated about what I should post on next.  Well, there’s no easy way to follow that like-fest up, so I’m going back to the safety and comfort of the 30 Days of Books list.  Today’s question:

Day 06 – A Book That Makes You Sad

Well, I don’t spend a lot of time reading tear-jerkers – and maybe a book that makes you emotional, isn’t quite the same as a book that makes you sad.

Anyway, after some thought, the book that came to mind most readily is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  The story of Esther – readily recognizable as Plath – a young girl in the pre-social unrest 1950s-60s who is beginning to experience the “wide world” and have opportunities that previous generations of American women never had resonates because we know Plath’s sad fate.  Esther/Sylvia has the potential to be a sort of Holly Golightly – smart, savvy, and not necessarily bound to a fate of home and children.  In the book, you begin to get hints of Esther’s mental instability, and then follow her descent into depression and her attempts (some half-hearted, one at least pretty serious) at suicide.  Finally, the reader witnesses her various “treatments” including insulin and electroshock – which I found pretty stomach-turning.  With the help of a therapist, though Esther begins to make her way out of depression and at the close of the book is close to heading back out into society.

The Bell Jar

This ending, of course, is perhaps the saddest and most poignant part as Plath herself was never able to get there – choosing to commit suicide at age 30, shortly after The Bell Jar was first published.


16 thoughts on “30 DoB Day 6: Book That Makes You Sad

  1. The Bell Jar is a book I read when I was young and didn’t know the author’s personal story, but it still had a profound effect. I should read it again one of these days…

    • WR — I wonder how it would be on a re-read? I read it with full knowledge so I think that just amplified everything. It’s like a 200 page suicide note.

  2. I was the age of the protagonist when I first read “The Bell Jar,” and I found it upsetting. Plath claimed it was supposed to be a “funny” novel, but Esther never seems to take much joy in being in New York, working for a national fashion magazine and learning about boys, sex, and all the tricky maneuvers of adulthood. The scene where she takes her IUD for a test drive was the most unpleasant for me—worst than the attempted suicide, which was almost a word-for-word description of Plath’s actual attempt to kill herself. Maybe I wanted the book to be an affirmation of a young woman’s coming of age, since I had some similar issues: but it was years before I could read Plath’s poetry without wanting to take a very hot shower. It’s one thing to be depressed, another to revel in its misery.

    You mentioned earlier using stars to rate a book, which was forbidden in grad school English. But I would give this novel two stars for being so relentlessly sad.

    • HG — in a thousand years, I would have never guessed that anyone, let alone Plath, could have claimed that The Bell Jar was supposed to be funny. I know there were time-stamp parts that made gender-specific roles, but were easier to stomach with the knowledge that things were changing. But funny? No.

  3. I am going to have to check out your blog with a pen and paper so I can write down all the books I want to read. And I think I might try this 30 days of books as well.

    • 2c1p — you could use pen and paper, or link to me on Goodreads… ;)

      I’ve liked the meme — though at the rate I’m going, it’s going to be 30 books in 3 months! :)

  4. this book was required reading for a summer school college corse I took while pregnant. the only real thing I remember about it is my prof being concerned about me in regards to the part about fetuses and how she hated them… not a very good student I guess.

  5. Go you, being Pressed. Well done. Now just don’t go getting all precious on us.
    I meant to say a few days back that The Gunslinger is one of my favourite books. I only came to the series a couple of years ago and I couldn’t devour them quickly enough. I can’t imagine having had to have waited for each new one to be written. But I really went off the last one. I didn’t really like it at all.

    • J — I expect you’ll let me know if I get too precious. Actually, I guess you’ll just stop coming by… ;)

      I loved the feel of The Gunslinger — incredibly dreamy as if you’re watching the whole thing through gauze. I didn’t mind the end, though I thought the last two books were in heavy need of an editor…

  6. Another one I haven’t read. Since I’m also not a big fan of books that make me sad, I might have to skip it, too. Sounds like a good pick for this prompt, though!

  7. Wow, this novel does sound like a tear-jerker! Have you ever heard of or read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg? This novel is semi-autobiographical and also about a young woman who is dealing with mental instability–schizophrenia. Greenberg was supposed to visit my university a couple years ago to read from her novel, but unfortunately, the event was canceled [or rescheduled, can’t remember]. But I would have liked to have met her. :)

    Another novel, which I am currently reading, about a young woman who attempts suicide and battles depression: All That Matters by Jan Goldstein.

    I studied literature in graduate school so I’m looking forward to your book reviews!


    • Jenn — I’ve heard of “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” but haven’t read it. That and the Goldstein book sound like they cover some pretty heavy territory. I usually read to escape, but sometimes I want to read a book that tells me something about being human, both the good and the bad of it.

  8. I have this qued up on a short list of things to read this summer…not exactly “by the pool” reading, but I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while now. To date the saddest book I’ve read has been, “The God of Small Things”, by Arundhati Roy. It’s a strangely affecting story of tragedy that is so extreme that it becomes difficult to fathom. I fell in love with the narrative style and the use of language, so I was enthralled and horrified all at once.

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