‘The Crying Book’ author Heather Christle searches out books for pleasure and plight

Poet Heather Christle's first book of nonfiction is “The Crying Book,” a mix of natural, social and personal history about why us human shed tears.
Poet Heather Christle's first book of nonfiction is “The Crying Book,” a mix of natural, social and personal history about why us human shed tears.Christopher DeWeese

After losing a friend to suicide and then plunging into a depression, the poet Heather Christle had tears very much on her mind. The result was her first book of nonfiction, “The Crying Book,” which is a mix of natural, social and personal history about why us human shed tears. In addition to her best-selling book, Christle is the author of four poetry collections. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker and many other journals. The New Hampshire native recently moved to Atlanta to become an assistant professor of creative writing at Emory University.

BOOKS: What are you reading?


CHRISTLE: I’m working on a new nonfiction project, which is about Kew Gardens, the royal botanical garden outside of London. I’m reading many books on and to the side of that subject. The biggest one is “The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew” by Ray Desmond, a five-pound book that I just took on a three-day trip because I couldn’t bear to be away from it. It’s a layman’s history. It’s got beautiful illustrations and incredible maps. I love maps. I’m in the midst of “Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the ‘Improvement’ of the World” by Richard Drayton, which is more scholarly. I’m also reading the novel “Gardens in the Dunes” by Leslie Marmon Silko. I’m learning from it but I also take deep pleasure in it.

BOOKS: What are you reading strictly for pleasure?

CHRISTLE: I went on a big Sigrid Nunez kick recently. I read “The Friend,” which I adored. Then I read “Mitz,” which is her imagining of the story of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s pet marmoset. It gets at important stuff about the Woolfs, but it’s also just funny and charming.

BOOKS: What was the last novel that knocked you out?


CHRISTLE: I loved “The Idiot” by Elif Batuman. It was so funny. This might sound odd coming from a person who just wrote a book about crying but if a book is missing humor it’s hard for me to fall into its charms. It’s like the writer is using half the keys on the keyboard.

BOOKS: Have you been reading poetry?

CHRISTLE: I read poetry each morning before my family gets up and while I drink coffee. I just read Mary Ruefle’s new collection, “Dunce.” I’ll read everything and anything she writes. I just reread “Starshine & Clay,” a collection by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Her ability to use set forms and free verse is brilliant.

BOOKS: What has been one of your best reading experiences?

CHRISTLE: After a long phase of depression, which disconnects you from pleasure in reading even if you read things that you love, I read Renee Gladman’s essay collection “Calamities.” My memory of having read that is not of sitting with the book itself but the moments after finishing it when I took a shower and could just feel the immense genius of this book surrounding me, as if it was in the drops of water coming out of the shower. I felt as if I was coming back to life.

BOOKS: Has any reading helped you during depressions?

CHRISTLE: I don’t know. I did so much reading for “The Crying Book,” and there were times it felt like the books were good company. Other times they felt heavy and like they were laying out a path before me that I would be forced to walk and didn’t want to.


BOOKS: How much reading did you do for “The Crying Book”?

CHRISTLE: I don’t know. Lots. I couldn’t afford to buy any of the books I used. We were living on one income then. So I made intense use of the intra-library-loan system.

BOOKS: Can you buy books now that you have your new teaching job?

CHRISTLE: Yes. It’s one of the greatest things in my life right now. So many of the books that I read from the library for my own book I now get to own. I bought “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” by Chen Chen and “Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears” by Tom Lutz, which was a crucial book for me. I can now walk in a bookstore and buy a book. I feel so lucky.

Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.