My answer to that question is: last week - which is when I started reading Moloka'i.
Set in Hawaii in the 1890's, Moloka'i tells the story of the scourge of leprosy on the island's inhabitants. In particular it is the life story of Rachel, a child of only seven, who contracts the disease and is banished to a leprosy settlement on the island of Kalaupapa. Here she is utterly confused, surrounded by terrifyingly disfigured patients and separated from her beloved family.
Are you crying yet?
Moloka'i is exactly the sort of book I usually avoid: vaguely historical, set in a place I don't know and don't really want to know, with a child protagonist and about a disease that I fear in a kind of primitive, medieval way. Why then am I reading it? Two words for you: Book and Club. And say what you will about Book Groups, they do get you out of fossilized reading holding patterns.
After a few chapters of this Alan Brennert novel, I was too miserable to sleep. The only book antidote that I had on hand was J.M. Coetzee's Three Stories. If you have read any of Coetzee's work, like The Life and Times of Michael K or Disgrace (he was the first writer to ever win the Booker Prize twice with these two works), you will be agog that anyone would consider his writing cheering.
But Coetzee has mellowed. In the three stories in this little book he considers, in this order: the improbability of loving a house; the sorrow of loving a land and the something of loving a parrot (I may have to read that one again.) But I did read all 70 pages of Three Stories and drifted off to sleep in a most satisfactory manner.
How about you - which books have made you cry? And which have soothed your troubled brow?