Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The pleasure and sorrow of tragic fiction

In some ways, sadness is terribly entertaining to read about. There’s something about picturing the glistening of a character’s eyes as they bravely hold back tears, or feeling the ache of a poetic, heartbreaking grief that you can set down just as you close the book behind you, that makes life feel wonderfully theatrical. Only dramatic people could be caught up in such great, sweeping dramatic emotions, and when we read about those people we can borrow some of that drama even if the most significant element in our day is where we go to eat on our lunch hour.

After too long, however, I feel guilty. When we read we bring the characters to life, if only for a little while, and when I read tragic books I’m dancing them through the worst days, weeks and even years of their lives purely for my own amusement. Angst can only be truly appreciated if it gets better, if you can dramatically suffer through those lows just long enough to come out on the other side with a sigh of relief and a safe place to lay your head. As the characters rest, so can we, and the world feels like a slightly better place all the way around.

Of course, I would never say any of this to an English Lit teacher. They might take away my union card.

What are your thoughts on happy or sad fiction?

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