Reconciling Reading About Tragedy

Sometimes, I think I'm certifiably insane.

I have a wonderful life and I really haven't dealt with anything too awful. I've always had the bare necessities of life, and then some. Death hasn't touched my life very much. Neither has sickness. I guess I don't believe I've ever suffered, and it's not like I believe I'm on the path to suffering. I'm generally a good girl. I get good grades, get a long with people, and I believe I'm sensible. I may be too cocky, but there's nothing wrong with that.

The books I read however are often really weird and dark. I've read about diseases, people dying in elaborate tragedies, drugs, prostitution. I noticed when I was reading a review of The Lure that the first thing that come to my head was, "Hey, I totally want to read about this." (Later, now that I've read more reviews, I'm not so sure.)

Anyway, it got me wondering: why?

I obviously have some sort of attraction to darker stories, which makes no sense at all because I'm constantly referred to as an optimist. It's not just me either. Think about The Fault in Our Stars. (Don't worry, I won't spoil anything.) That book doesn't even pretend it's not going to hurt you. I read the book because people said it would tear me to pieces, and ohmygawd it did.

Yet somehow, this gets categorized as a good book.

After I finished The Fault in Our Stars, I hated it. I wrote a review saying I thought it was an incredibly stupid book because it's sick (no pun intended). It uses cancer as a drawing point for a love story. So many people are suffering from cancer, and this book uses cancer to attract readers?

It's the fundamental issue I have with all books about diseases. The draw to them is the disease, and I guess it feels wrong to me because I will read the book, and I will get emotionally invested, and I will be in pain and cry and then I'll close the book, and maybe for a few days, everything will be better. But in reality, for many people it's not better. They just can't close a book.

As a reader, I get to understand what their lives are like, but that sense of understanding is false. That's what happens with a lot of dark stories. In some ways, it just feels so unnatural to want to read a book about pain and suffering. At the same time, tragedies have been around for ages and that's what they do.

Aristotle had this idea of catharsis. When you read something bad, it makes you feel bad and thus expels all the bad feelings you have inside of you. To some extent, it makes sense. It's the reason you feel better after crying. But I don't feel like I read dark stories for catharsis.

I don't have a concrete answer for how I reconcile reading tragedies, but the way I see it is that they reveal a new world to me. They make me feel bigger than I am because they make me aware of another type of world. They also are some of the best books at promoting some type of life truth.

I've read before that some people believe that truth comes from suffering. Suffering, and getting better, gives some sort of insight. I'm not suffering, nor do I want to suffer, but sometimes I do look around the world and wonder if there's anything more.

It's not all about grades and clothes and sporting events and tv shows. It feels like it is, and it's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life. The biggest thing I get from dark stories is just this feeling that there's more to my life than "pleasant". It's awful, but they make me realize how lucky I am and help me appreciate what I do have.

What I wonder sometimes is that if I feel awful for reading books like this, how do the authors writing them feel? Their books are obviously heavy and serious. Do they ever wonder why there's something so dangerous in their heads? Do they write it with the intent to spark awareness in the reader? Are they sending out a message?

This seems like an awfully long post just to say that at the end of the day, I don't know how I reconcile reading books about awful things happening to people. I don't have an answer, so I'll leave the floor to you guys in the comments. What do you think?



  1. I don't have any problem reading a story about sick people. Sicklit is all the rage nowadays, but it's got to be done right, and from the heart. Everything else will be of poor taste.

    Anyway, sometimes, I like reading sad, sad books just because. My life is pretty boring (not complaining), and there's hardly any drama between my hubby and I (again, not complaining). So I guess once in a while, you need a good cry. :)

    1. If I was an author, I would be terrified of writing sicklit (wow I didn't know it had a name!) just because I would be terrified that it would end up cheesy or like I'm romanticizing the illness.

      I think that makes sense- books do open the door to new experiences. :)


  2. When you talked about how authors feel... I sometimes wonder how Stephen King feels when he writes books. Whoa. I don't ever read sad books. I avoid them like the plague. I think we are all drawn to just different books. Why do I love horror? Why do I love horror books and not horror movies??? I think maybe I just like the adrenaline of what is going to happen next!

    1. I feel like authors are sometimes one step away from becoming serial killers because some of the stuff they think of and describe so clearly is terrifying. :p I'm the opposite, I prefer horror movies to books, but for the same reason you mentioned.



What do you think?