Blog: Another Read Through

Sad Dramatic Books Vs Happy Dramatic TV Shows

January 16, 2013 // books vs tv

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve said to a few customers something to the effect of “I like to cry through my books.”  Which is true, I like the books I read to be pretty sad and kind of crushing, but realistically so.  I like the dramatic heart breaker of a totally realistic novel whose ending (or even better whose entire story all the way through) leaves me sobbing and cradling one of my cats.

And then it came to my attention that in the less common event that I watch TV, while I still want it to be realistic, I want, I most definitely want a happy ending.  I don’t mind crying through someone’s suffering or heartbreak, as long as it comes out okay.  In a book, I’d find this turn or ending disappointing, feeling like the author copped out of a stronger ending.  In TV, I almost need it to go this way.  (One of the only shows I watch recently implied a terribly sad ending for one of the characters in the trailer, and I recorded it and then couldn’t watch it for weeks, in case it wasn’t a misleading clip they teased the audience with.  I couldn’t bear the idea of the sad ending.  Had it gone that way, I probably would have had trouble continuing to watch the show.)  Had it not gone that way in a book, I am sure I would have complained in a review that the author wasn’t quite brave enough to make the readers go to that place of sadness or unfulfilled dreams or whatever.

Interesting.  (To me, anyway.)  Thoughts?  Opinions on heart-wrenching books or TV and how you feel about them?

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  1. Hi Elisa,
    I had to think about this one for a couple of days, because I think I feel pretty much the same way. For some reason, it is very satisfying to sob at the end of a book, because you have been so incredibly moved by the power of words. I think that is part of the distinction – when reading, the images form in your mind – and to be so moved by, simply, words and the images they have created (in the case of a novel, of people who don’t even EXIST) is some kind of universal human emotional thing. One book that comes to mind for me is “Dancing at the Rascal Fair” by Ivan Doig – I cried for half an hour at the end, and, not surprisingly, it is one of my favorite books.
    Television is mostly VISUAL, so the setting and the people are supplied. To visually watch unhappy endings is very different from imagining human despair. Maybe our brains/emotions are more elevated (not in a snobby way, but more “on duty”) when reading, and are then comforted by the catharsis of emotional, gut wrenching release. But when watching a television show, maybe our brain has less to work with (again not being snobby, just meaning: no need to create images, settings, characters) so doesn’t need or want such a release, and it’s more satisfying to just have things work out.

    Wow. That’s a lot of “maybes” and a lot of mumbo-jumbo…..but hey, you asked! =)

  2. And you’ve given me a lot to think about over the last couple of days. 🙂 I think I mostly agree, but I definitely feel like television can make you think about things, if it’s really good, as much as a book can. But the investment, maybe, isn’t the same because of what you said – how much of yourself you’ve put into a book is different than what you put into something on screen. (And yet, I’m not sure I feel the same way about movies that I do about television. I think it might be more similar to how I feel about books.)

    But I really do know what you mean. I read a book when I was maybe around 12, back when I could read in the car without immediately throwing up, and I remember so clearly my reaction to this book (although the content is a different story). I think it was a book written by a woman who had lost her young adult (teen? early 20’s?) son recently to something (cancer?) and was this sort of tribute to his life and his story. It was, to that point, the most utterly gut wrenching thing I’d ever read (or that I remember having read). I was in the car reading and was more or less sobbing uncontrollably and my mom and brother just couldn’t understand why I would like (and keep reading) a book that made me feel that way. And I thought it was probably one of the greatest books in the world. Because it could make me feel that way, I guess, about a person I’d never met before, whose life (and therefore death) hadn’t touched me at all. Maybe because, like you say, the sets and characters are all supplied in television, we insert less of ourselves in those stories, so the ones in books can reach deeper. Maybe.