Books, like life itself, do not always portray a happy-go-lucky world view. This collection of novels and memoirs covers items that portray life realistically: the good times balanced by bad, happiness followed or proceded by sorrow. Because they go to the heart of human experience, they will reward you. Reminder: keep Kleenex handy.

Compiled by:
Keith C.
Angela's Ashes

Frank McCourt
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McCourt tells the bleak tale of his impoverished childhood in Ireland with poignancy. He describes near starvation, an alcoholic father, the deaths of siblings and Catholic schools with compassion for his ineffectual mother.

Cider House Rules

John Irving

An orphanage in rural Maine, an ether addicted abortion performing doctor, and migrant workers on an apple orchard make up the story of orphan Homer Wells, who must find his own way in the world.

Dogs of Babel

Carolyn Parkhurst

A linguistics professor becomes obsessed with teaching his dog, the sole witness to his wife's death, to speak so he can find out the truth behind what happened to her.

Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

Hugo's sweeping epic follows Jean Valjean and the many characters he encounters after being released from a long prison term before, during and after the French revolution.

Marley and Me

John Grogan
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This touching story of a Labrador Retriever who can't control his zest for life and wreaks havoc wherever he goes is told with fondness by columnist Grogan.

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

Steinbeck's tragic classic about George, intelligent and cynical, and Lennie, immensely strong but mentally limited, two drifters searching for land of their own where they can live peacefully.

She's Come Undone

Wally Lamb

At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking this novel relates the story of Dolores Price, an overweight, depressed woman who battles family dysfunction, rape and mental illness.

Sophie's Choice

William Styron

This heartbreaking classic focuses on Sophie, a Holocaust survivor, and her tortured lover, Nathan, as seen through the eyes of young Stingo, a writer in 1947 Brooklyn.

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan

Chinese mothers and daughters alternately tell their stories. The daughters relate their experiences as first generation American-born Chinese, and the mothers detail the tribulations of their difficult lives in China.

Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen

Told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski this novel recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent caring for the poorly treated animals of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression.