Written in a series of self-contained but also thematically porous bursts, Heather Christle’s memoir/tear study The Crying Book creates a daunting bouquet of “quotable” lines. Choosing a favorite line or passage would be a nearly impossible and deeply unsatisfying task. Whenever I try to pick one, hold it away from the rest, I watch it dim just a little, connected as it is to the whole by way of a hidden arrangement that my writer brain cannot—and refuses out of principle to—figure out. So, I will not give you my favorite passage but rather one that I feel has especially transcendent properties:
As far as words go, crying is louder and weeping is wetter. When people explain the difference between the two to English-language learners they say that weeping is more formal, can sound archaic in everyday speech. You can hear this in their past tenses—the plainness of cried, the velvet cloak of wept. I remember arguing once with a teacher who insisted dreamt was incorrect, dreamed the only proper option. She was wrong, of course, in both philological and moral ways, and ever since I’ve felt a peculiar attachment to the t’s of the past: weep, wept, sleep, slept, leave, left. There’s a finality there, a quiet contemplation, of which d has never dreamt.
While these are not the opening lines of the book, they do appear early on. I see the passage as Christle’s secret initiation, her point of accessibility or turning away. As if to say, If you do not agree with the inherent value of wept, dreamt, slept, then perhaps this book is not for you.
Of course, I do not claim to know the author’s intent on this matter. I don’t believe that she was ever consciously gatekeeping the message of her book. But, by shifting into the t’s of the past, she has, in a sense, established the minor key of the work here, like the thrusting first chord of a complex and melancholic piece of music. Her ability to turn a single word into an experience—wept a “velvet cloak,” dreamt a moral truth worth fighting for—is what, for me, makes this passage not only lovely but also convincing. Like music, there is an emotional contract to be established, a tone that promises poignancy—the right to hold “peculiar attachment[s],” the suggestion that d might be slightly unimaginative—within the trusted scope of the author’s intellect. Christle’s audience will know in their bones whether they are about to be moved, will open their valves of willingness to be swept in and under. Christle is a leader, a participant, an onlooker, as well as part of the helpless aftermath of this work that she herself has created.
It is this power that causes me to return to The Crying Book again and again, and to give away copies that I purchased under the guise that the next one would be for me, this time. It is not just this paragraph but the sentiment of what it represents that I wish to convey whenever I hand the book to someone else to be read. It has become my own way of lovingly granting access, of saying, This book is also for you.