Saturday, June 26, 2010

Old Yeller, or why I love books that make me cry.

I probably read OLD YELLER before. It was written in 1956 by Fred Gipson, and won the Newbery Honor award in 1957, the same year it was made into the famous Disney movie starring Fess Parker and Tommy Kirk. I saw the movie as a kid, and I'm sure many of you have seen it over the years. It's a classic family film, and we all remember the ending, right?

OLD YELLER. I just finished reading the book again last night, and promptly bawled my eyes out. Even though I sort of remembered the whole plot. Even though I knew the ending.

And I thought, I want to write books like that.

Why? Why do I like books that make me cry?

I started thinking of all the books that really affected me - the memorable ones that stand out in my mind. I looked at my list of books on GoodReads to see which ones I gave five stars.

Some of them, THE HUNGER GAMES, THE GIVER, THE CITY OF EMBER, UGLIES, were just so cool in their concept, or what they had to say, or they were fast moving and really well-written.

But the ones that stand out in my mind as memorable are the ones that made me cry. INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH, THE UNDERNEATH, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, LASSIE COME HOME, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET are just a few that come to mind. Why do they make me cry? Because I am emotionally invested in the characters - so that when the story wraps up and the last scene ends - I have had an experience, an emotional catharsis that leaves me weeping, and drained, and thinking about it for days afterwords. And isn't this what great art, or literature is supposed to do?
Make us feel??

OLD YELLER has two of the best first paragraphs I ever remember reading:

We called him Old Yeller. The name had a sort of double meaning. One part meant that his short hair was a dingy yellow, a color that we called "yeller" in those days. The other meant that when he opened his head, the sound he let out came closer to being a yell than a bark.

I remember like yesterday how he strayed in out of nowhere to our log cabin on Birdsong Creek. He made me so mad at first that I wanted to kill him. Then, later, when I had to kill him, it was like having to shoot some of my own folks. That's how much I'd come to think of the big yeller dog.

OLD YELLER is a coming-of-age story, a historical novel, an animal novel, and even though I didn't list it when asked, it's up there in one of my Best. Books. Ever. Maybe my most very favorite. Find a copy. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

So now I ask you - do you like books that make you cry? Why?
What kind of books make your most favorite list?


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I do like books that bring me in emotionally. I interviewed a chick lit author a few months ago...her book All the Numbers made me cry almost everytime I picked it up..I love books like that.

sandraalonzo said...

Oh, that was the saddest movie, too, Old Yeller. I can remember going to the drive-in with my family and crying my eyes out in the back of our old Dodge station wagon.

Linda Benson said...

Sharon - thanks for commenting. I'll have to look for All the Numbers.

Sandy - yes, watching Old Yeller and crying at the end is one of those iconic stepping stones in growing up, isn't it? Someone should write a book about the whole entire Disney experience, and what those early movies (like Old Yeller and Bambi) did to our brains. (Maybe they made us kinder and more compassionate adults, do you think?)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Great post, Linda! I, too, am drawn to these emotionally wrenching novels. Old Yeller, The Underneath (love that novel), and I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain. Definitely tissues in one hand, book in the other, but a great read. I bet you'd like it. ; )

Linda Benson said...

Thanks, Cynthia. Yes, I loved The Underneath, and I have also read The Art of Racing in the Rain. Animal books really seem to get to me - must have been that early Disney influence :-)