Reading Rage Tuesday: The most depressing books I’ve ever read.

28 August 2012 by 94 Comments
Depressed spaceman

This photo is called “Depressed Spaceman.” I LIKE SPACE

So, booksluttians, I have not been feeling well lately. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to have the energy to write this post today, and I’m still not entirely sure that I won’t just give up halfway through and leave you mid-sentence because I ran out of steam. BUT I’M TRYING DAMMIT.

I’ve been depressed lately. Well, really, for like six years now, I’ve been more or less depressed. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a good half of my life depressed. (It’s fun to be me.) Recently, though, it’s been worse than usual. Most of what I have been up to consists of laying on the couch and wanting to eat Baconators. Allie Brosh captured the feeling pretty well:

The only thing missing from this illustration is a Baconator.

I’ve also been completely uninspired when it comes to the Reading Rages–not so much because there’s no material, but because I can’t work up a good rage these days. That takes way more energy than I can tap into. Is this writer’s block? I’m too depressed even to be mad that I have writer’s block. Oh, my stats are in the toilet because I haven’t been writing? I better have some nuggets with my Baconator. And maybe a Frosty.


So I thought this morning, hey, why don’t I funnel this depression into a reading rage somehow? Moping around is almost like raging, but with less energy. Both require a sort of dark fatalism that I have in the bag, yo. With a side of fries.


Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I’ve talked about this book before in the top five books that turned me into a crybaby. I never said this was going to be all-new material, and in fact, it probably won’t be. It takes energy to think up new shit.

Flowers is a book that I can actually no longer read because it makes me cry and cry, and then cry and cry, and then–wait for it–cry. If you haven’t read it, you probably should if you like crying. It’s about a man named Charlie (if you’ve seen the film Charly, that’s the same story) who is developmentally disabled. Charlie undergoes a radical experiment that would never have gotten into the human testing stages because, ethics; the experiment, heretofore only tested on lab mice, is designed to increase intelligence. It works crazy-well, taking Charlie from disabled to genius in a relatively short time. He spends the majority of the book in isolation, first not bright enough to understand the world, and then so bright that the world doesn’t understand him.

Then? The experiment fails. Charlie reverts, and that plunge back toward his beginning state is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read in all of literature. Charlie is distraught during the process. He’s trying desperately to hang on to just a little bit–something–to remember. He forgets everything, of course. I spent most of the second part of the book wailing my eyes off. I’m sure part of the moral of the story was that he was happy enough before, and not so happy when he was a supergenius (I haven’t read the book in years because, did I mention I cry?), but–there’s also the reader’s experience. A lot of people who read for pleasure have not-so-low IQs. Despite not having participated in risky experiments, the thought that I could lose all of my intelligence depresses the almighty crap out of me. Charlie’s panic to hang onto just a few morsels of his new intelligence cements the feeling.

 A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

“But Susie,” you’re saying. “You LOVE Anthony Bourdain.” You’re right, I do love Anthony Bourdain. He’s a hell of a writer and a badass to boot. When he talked about quitting smoking in Medium Raw, his basic defense against a legion of fans who loved him for being a drinking, smoking bad boy was “Yeah, I quit–I did it because I have a kid now and I’m making decisions for my family’s best interest. If you don’t like it, go fuck yourself.” (Paraphrased, of course.) I basically idolize Bourdain, as much as I idolize anybody, which is not that much.

The reason that I count A Cook’s Tour among my most depressing books is that it’s personally depressing. It’s depressing because I will never have his job. I would get divorced to have his job. (No, really. Okay, maybe not really, but I would think about it.) I have a love-hate relationship with Bourdain and No Reservations because of a deep-seated, abiding state of intense jealousy. I will never get to go to Vietnam. I will never get to bum around Old Havana and look at the beautiful architecture. I’ve barely even been out of the U.S. Being poor does not lend itself well to travel, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to do ALL THE TRAVELING.

Also? I have this thing where I get a weepy when I read about Mexico. I love Mexico and I miss it. Between having moved to Ohio and all of the beheadings and whatnot happening down there, I imagine it will be a long time before I visit again. (I rather enjoy having a head. Maybe that’s just me?) Knowing that I’m so cut off from one of my favorite places puts me in a grumpy mood; reading about how awesome it is puts me in an even grumpier mood.

 Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Willy Loman is a hot mess. He gets fired from his job. His sons don’t show him any respect. His attempt to live vicariously through Biff fails utterly when Biff turns out to be as unsuccessful as Willy is. He also appears to be going senile. Willy tries to redeem himself, and Biff, in the best way he knows how: he crashes his car and kills himself in the end, in the hopes that Biff will use the insurance money to start his own business. Only Biff doesn’t even want to start his own business, so it was all for nothing. Depressing.

I would write more, but this post is interfering with my laying on the couch time.

Sorry. I know, this post was short and even less happy than usual. My husband has been bugging me all morning and now I’m depressed and annoyed and I don’t feel like writing now. Also, I keep clicking things that are screwing up my browser and it’s pissing me off. MY FINGERS ARE TOO FAT FOR TYPING.

This post doesn’t have to be over, though. Nay! You can pop down into the comments and tell me what books depressed you the most. Which books did you barely have the energy to chuck across the room when you were done? Which books made you cry and cry because they were just so damn sad? If you can’t think of any, tell me the most fun thing you did last week.

Just so this post doesn’t end on a completely depressing note:

BAM, kittens.


So, first–I’m sorry if comments are being held for moderation. Apparently, when Jetpack updated and changed over my commenting system (which, I also apologize if it’s loading slow–it loads kinda slow for me and I haven’t looked deeply into how to disable it yet), it apparently reset everyone’s approval. Once you post a comment and get approved, it should be okay? I haven’t changed my moderation settings; I’m not suddenly trying to censor anybody.

Also, this happened on my way to puppy-sitting. We all knew it would:



Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Book Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

94 thoughts on “Reading Rage Tuesday: The most depressing books I’ve ever read.

  1. I hope you feel better soon, but for someone so depressed you’ve written a great post. I loved it – despite the shortness, but that gives all of us a chance to chime in! I agree with “Flowers for Algernon”, which I only read a few weeks go for the first time. I cried my eyes out. Even an hour after I had finished it I remembered and wept again. So sad. The only other one that has made me cry recently (I don’t cry easily) was “The Book Thief”. When she (and I) read the book the Jew in the basement had made for her I was inconsolable. In fact I was beside myself with grief for most of the book. It is one of my favourite books ever. The most bleak and depressing book I think I have ever read was Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. It was brilliant and so beautiful (the relationship between the father and son, not the crazed cannibals). Thank you for writing this even though you didn’t feel like it xxx

    • I’m partway through The Book Thief and yes it is very depressing. The way she got her very first book made me shed tears gosh. Looks like I’m in for more tears soon!

    • Can you believe I still haven’t read The Book Thief? I am like, the only person left ever who hasn’t.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts <3 you guys help me so much just by being awesome.

  2. Now I want a Frosty Float. Man, that sounds amazing. I just made smoothies for my kids, but they have bananas in them so no smoothies for mommy. Blergh.

    Um, depressing books? I started The Sheep Look Up a few months ago because, while it was well written, it was so depressing I had to put it down. I was in a shit place at that point anyway, and that book just made me feel like lying down and giving up.

      • Man, my comments are making no sense today. I can’t even remember what it was I wanted to say originally, but that comment up there makes NO SENSE.

        • I thought it made sense! Maybe you meant to say you gave up on the book instead of started it.. or that you started it and had to put it down because it was depressing. I got what you meant though.

  3. *hug* I’m sorry you’re feeling especially depressed lately. It’s a fun little rollercoaster, isn’t it? I’ve been struggling with on and off depression since I was sixteen. Spring 2011 was one of my Particularly Bad Times, but therapy helped (though, yeah, kind of expensive, and insurance won’t cover it…) and at the moment I’m in Reasonably Happy Territory. I hope that’ll be the case for you, too.

    In the meantime, maybe some laughing babies will help?

    And these amusing Jane Austen-inspired teas?

    And this bit by Colbert on Jane Austen-style baseball? (the Jane Austen bit starts around 1:40)

    Oh, and, pardon my french (and subsequent schmaltziness), but screw the inner naysayers who say you’ll never get to travel and have awesome adventures! Maybe present circumstances aren’t conducive to living the Bourdain life, but that doesn’t mean it’s permanently out of reach.

  4. I’m sorry that you’re depressed. Can you get some sunshine somewhere? I don’t know if that will help…

    So yes, The Road was a very depressing book, Still Alice is another one. This was about a professor’s descent into early onset Alzheimer’s and narrated in the first person.

    • Yes, I second Still Alice. It was the first thing that popped into my head when reading your summary of Flowers for Algernon (which I did read a long time ago for school, but never made the connection between the two books). She knows that everything is slipping away from her and the inevitability of it is just heartbreaking.

      Also, my favorite Frosty was the Coffee Toffee Twisted Frosty, which was a limited time thing, which makes me sad. I’ll be forever waiting for them to bring it back.

    • Still Alice, oh my word. That one had me sobbing like a baby. For real. Have you read Left Neglected? (another by Lisa Genova) She has another book coming out soon as well. I believe it’s titled Love Anthony.

      • Left Neglected is on my list but I feel like I’m going to become a basket case when I read it so I’m waiting until I’m ready.

      • Left Neglected was good, but I thought Still Alice was more successful at making me connect with the character.

        I’m already on my library waiting list for Love Anthony.

  5. Hmm, now I want a Frosty shake…

    I have battled with depression for most of my life. Usually when I get depressed, I get irate, irritated, short-tempered and snappy. Not to say I haven’t experienced the depression illustrated in the picture up there, but (fortunately?) mine is usually of the other variety. Sun, yes, sun does help. One year I just decided to sunbathe and spent most of the day, every single day, for almost a year, outside. It did wonders for my health and my mood (and my reading – I was reading like 3 books a day when I didn’t have anything to distract me). Of course, it’s not a realistic thing, and it’s bad for your skin of course, but even a few minutes a day will definitely help. If you live in a cloudy, rainy place, get some full-spectrum light bulbs and keep them around you.

    Otherwise, I’ll just hope that the depression leaves you alone soon. What people who have never experienced it don’t realize is you can’t just “snap out of it” or “get over it” or “keep your chin up” or any of that nonsense; you just have to do what you can to survive it. I’ll be thinking of you.

    • Katy: “…you can’t just “snap out of it” or “get over it” or “keep your chin up” or any of that nonsense; you just have to do what you can to survive it.” — as Red says, “That’s God damn right.”
      I personally find 1984 one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, because Orwell is so damn smart he makes things seem inevitable, and his inevitable things are so soul-crushing.
      When I am well and truly in a funk, sometimes I re-watch The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe that only works for me because of the way I have always loved the movie for going so, so dark and then dragging you right back out into the light. But I come out of it less in a funk than before.

    • That’s one thing that has really flummoxed hubs. He doesn’t have any depressives in his family.. so he keeps thinking it’s a day-to-day ‘feeling’ or that I’m going to just ‘get better.’ (Part of that might be denial, since I’ve explained it about a zillion times.)

      • Send him my way; my hubby and I will have a “chat” with him about what depression is like, maybe help him finally figure it out. Then again, some men can be sort of clueless sometimes, aren’t they? Heh. My husband has never really been around it, either, but he quickly learned what it’s like…

    • I think rage is actually my only way out of bouts of depression… the good kind of rage, the damn it, all-this-shall-be-made-right rage. Can be hard to call up when the black dog has its teeth around your neck, though.

    • Baconators are magical. Because, bacon. I didn’t get one today though. Just a Frosty.. because dammit, I had to have a Frosty.

  6. I think one of the reasons I don’t read more literary fiction is because every time I try, I seem to wind up with a depressing novel full of ennui and nihilism and moping. And then I start moping, and the depression tries to kick in, and it’s BAD BAD BAD.

    Which is to say…oh my god, I sympathize so much, and I would totally buy you a Baconator and four Frosties if I lived near you.

  7. Erm, SALVAGE THE BONES. First the tears started leaking, then a sob escaped and it was full on ugly-cry for fifteen minutes while I finished the book.

  8. I cried when we had to read Death of a Salesman in high school… I cried in class. And lots of people laughed at me. But I couldn’t stop crying. I’m such an empath.

    I really hope you’re feeling better soon. *hugs*

    • I barely managed to keep it together in class when we read sad books. I think that was one reason I always read ahead–to desensitize myself a bit. (If I hadn’t done that with Of Mice and Men I would have just wailed uncontrollably.)

      Thanks! I hope so too. I’m tired of being tired.

  9. One book that makes me want to cry and also makes me feel incredibly happy and important is Golden Days by Carolyn See. I know this isn’t very sneaky fuckery of me but YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY. It hasn’t been printed nearly enough so it’s kind of expensive to buy new and sometimes hard to find at libraries…

  10. I’m usually not one to cry when reading books (or watching movies) for some reason? And this is definitely not a depressing book, but Marley and Me made me cry at the end. My parents had just recently adopted a black Lab and I just burst into tears thinking about him.

    Depression sucks. I feel as if I’ve never had it to the extreme, but I’ve definitely been dealing with it for the past few years, while coming out of college, job-searching, etc. That whole lethargic, nothing matters, why do I even get out of bed in the morning type. It’s been better, but I still need to work on things that could help it get even better. Luckily, boyfriend understands what it’s like and was the one who told me that exercise/sunshine/sleeping enough/eating right can help a lot with quelling it. I am just bad at following that advice :P

  11. Don’t get me started on depression. If we ever have time for a loooong conversation, I will tell you about my depression issues. It is very hard for people to understand who have never had it and I sometimes find it hard to describe as well. It’s a daily struggle that I sometimes lose more often than not.
    A beautiful, but really depressing book is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I want to recommend it to everyone because it’s a beautifully-written book, but it is SO DAMN DEPRESSING! I recommend it and then I add a warning. Those poor characters cannot catch a break. The fact that it is based on historical events makes it worse for me.

  12. I wonder if, just like reading tends to correlate with higher IQs, so does depression? I just know that I’ve struggled with it for most of my adult life and last year was really, really bad – like almost didn’t make it through last year bad. So, I totally sympathize with what you’re going through and just want to remind you like Jen, The Bloggess, says – Depression Lies and you will get better.

    And, yes – Flowers for Algernon is so scary-depressing. Just the thought of my intelligence and reasoning slipping away is enough to bring on heart palpitations.

    When I was in 7th grade, I read S.E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This Is Now and I cried so hard when M&M got his brain fried by drugs that my mom took the book away from me and I had to beg to have it back so I could finish it.

    I wish that I could remember what it was, but I read another book in the last year that made me cry buckets – I didn’t so much sob, as I just continuously wept through most of the book because the main character kept getting betrayed by people who she trusted. And now it is going to bug me until I remember what it was. Grrr…

    • I can’t be bothered to look up stats for this, but I think I’ve heard stuff that corroborates your theory…though perhaps more along the lines that highly creative people tend towards more extremes of emotion and psychological state, even to unhealthy extremes.

    • Well, in Flowers For Algernon, Charlie was waaaay happier when he had a lower IQ than when he was a super genius so… in that way the book corroborates that theory!

      • Ignorance is bliss, no? Although there are some really high-IQ people I can think of who seem super-happy, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I wonder if it’s a mix of IQ and creative bent. It seems like a lot of the people I know who are depressives are creative people.

      • I’ve thought about that before, too – I often wonder if there’s something in the brain of smart, creative people that also means that your seratonin-uptake gets messed up.

        I would think that being highly intelligent would also mess with you because you can see all the potential problems out there, except that I’m also a pretty optimistic person when not in the grips of clinical depressions – so I don’t know. Maybe I’m grasping at straws to try and come up with something that makes the episodes of extreme depression “worth it”.

  13. The Road’s been mentioned a few times, and while I agree that it’s got stuff in it to make one depressed, I wonder if it’s worth making a distinction between books that exude the feelings of depression – worthlessness, dullness, apathy, etc., vs. books that are heart-rending and perhaps even spur one to action because they light a righteous and heartbroken fire under you.

    For me, The Road was probably more the latter. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was probably the former. Heart of Darkness was kinda the former for me. And Moby-Dick, even though almost everyone dies, was probably the latter. And The Corrections…that was probably a little bit of both, actually. Both depressing about dysfunctional family life, and at least slightly optimistic about it still mattering.

  14. I think I’ve mentioned it in the comments of another post already, but Bridge to Terabithia made me cry like a girl–seriously, a little schoolgirl.

    I kinda laughed to myself when they made it into a movie, because they marketed it like it was going to be another Chronicles of Narnia. So many people saw it expecting it to be an adventure and then found out that it was a crying movie.

  15. God, I love that Hyperbole and a Half cartoon about depression. They’re all great, but that one’s the best, probably because when I first read it, that’s how I was feeling.

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy is about as depressing as you can get. Though there was that summer that I spent reading The Plague by Albert Camus. I will forever think of it as the summer of The Plague.

  16. I love frosty floats!! Yum!
    I also agree with Flowers to Algernon. I love that book, but it is depressing and made me cry.
    I would go with The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom as my pick for most depressing book though. I was ready to jump off a cliff when I got about 3/4ths of the way through it.

    • I’ll help with the emoticons!


      Hearts, stars, snowmen, music, and suns! Hope you can see them, and I’m sure that you’ll be able to outlast this depressive streak.

  17. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. A true story of how he grew up, but it’s absolutely terrible-sad. Father drinking away food money, siblings dying, smellin the neighbor’s curry poop… It’s just too much sad.

  18. Depression is the suckiest :( It’s a common thing in my family. That doesn’t make it easier to deal with but it does make it a bit easier to understand. I’m going to get all medical and advicey on you here: start taking vitamin D. Probably 98% of the population is deficient.

    As far as depressing books go? The Lord of the Flies is one that made me wallow in grief.

  19. Yay, Reading Rage Tuesday ! I forgot it was even Tuesday – I’m on vacation so the days just blur together. I’m sorry about your depression, GGG. I know from personal experience it ain’t easy, but man I love your blog so you’re doing something very right.

    I like to think I’m a big tough guy usually and rarely watch stuff like this unless I’m forced to, but my 12 year old daughter was watching The Notebook the other day so I watched it with her. And I cried like a little baby. Seriously, I had to leave the room. It was so shmaltzy and girly and predictable yet it was like a carpet bomb on my emotions. How could life be so unfair and strip away her memories like that? God! I had to go hug my wife and tell her I was just suffering from allergies. I couldn’t take it.

    PS – I LOVE Allie Brosh – her work is amazing and funny and poignant yet so deceptively simple. And I would hate Anthony Bourdain for everything he gets to do if he wasn’t also so funny and totally cool.

    • I went to see the Hunger Games at the dollar theater last night, and there were about four distinct moments when there were simultaneous sniffles coming from all around me. One of the biggest culprits was a 60 year old man sitting in front of me.

      I think I was too involved with analyzing ways the film patched up the problems with its source material to get too emotionally involved, though.

    • Re: Bourdain–I know, right? He’s great and I can’t help but love him. But still have ALL THE JEALOUS.

      I kind of wish my hubs would cry at movies sometimes. I know that sounds awful, but he didn’t even cry when we watched Schindler’s List. EVERYONE CRIES AT SCHINDLER’S LIST. I have seen him cry, though, so I know he’s not secretly a robot.

  20. My first thought was “The Secret History,” which slowly spirals down and down and then at the end you realize you’re not going up. But then Tony posted “Bridge to Terabithia,” and now my brain is spitting out the cryingest cryfest books ever: “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Number the Stars,” “Anne Frank” because she’s all noble and you know she’s going to die the worst death, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and the film “Old Yeller” because that, like, made me become a man.

    I just realized I’ve probably plunged you further into your k-hole. Um, look! Cute animals in every shape and size!!!

    • You reminded me of Anne Frank, that was another one that got me close to crying. Also Old Yeller I bawled. I was pretty young when I first saw it, and my mom had to come in to figure out what was wrong with me.

      • I almost put in Anne Frank? But then a little voice whispered, “Are we supposed to include books about the Holocaust? Is that wrong?” I admit it, I backed down. I WIMPED.

        • I feel bad because I’ve always disliked Anne Frank cause I always thought she was just so whiny. But at the same time I’m like “NO I CAN’T HATE HER, SHE LIVED IN NAZI GERMANY!!!” and also that the book I was reading was her personal diary so she’s entitled to whine. But because of that I always got infuriated when reading that book. (oops)

          • lol – it’s not just you. I always thought she was a whiner, too. And then I would feel bad because she had to hide from Nazis and then she was killed. And, really, if you can’t be whiny when you’re 13 and hiding from Nazis, when can you be?

  21. I haven’t read two of the books you mentioned, but I did read Flowers For Algernon and damn, that was depressive. And also terrifying. I hope if I ever suffer from dementia it wouldn’t be like that because ohmygod I would just die.

    Also, the only other Algernon I know is from The Importance Of Being Earnest, and wow, these books couldn’t be more different if they tried. O.o

    (and yay Frosties!!! I didn’t have a Wendy’s here until two years ago or so)

    • I have not even summoned up the ovaries to crack that one yet. I am blithely compartmentalizing it… back of the cupboard for now :D

  22. Ugh, sad books. And sad movies. And sad news. I think those things stick with me longer than most other people so as a rule I try to avoid them, but it’s not always easy. Sarah’s Key, What is The What, Grapes of Wrath, One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (UGH). ALL SAD. There was something hopeful and inspiring about Ivan Denisovich though, so I didn’t feel totally depressed afterwards like the other ones. Sad movies that I would rather camp outside in winter than watch ever again: Cold Mountain, The Road, One True Thing. I’m sure there are more.

    In a related note, I hear The Room is a great book, but also sad, so I haven’t yet ‘worked up the ovaries’ (to quote you, haha) to read it.

  23. I’m not sure what it says about me that I’ve bookmarked this post for future reading ideas. I can relate to your depression making it hard to rustle up some rage, but I find a good cry can be a relief when I’m in a slump. I don’t always know what’s wrong with me, but using the framework of a fictional character somehow releases that same depression that needs out. In my experience anyway. If that makes any sense.

    “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is my constant cry and I remember doing some horrified crying at “Say You’re One of Them,” though I’ve now blocked out the details. For my own protection maybe.

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