How To Handle Sad Endings

photo 1Ask Ginni, our resident Literary Lady, anything you want to know about reading and relationships! She’ll comb the books and wrack her brains to help you out with your page-turning problems, your wordy woes, and your novel nuisances. Fire away, Bookworms!

Dear Literary Lady,
I love books. I hate sad endings. How do I handle books without saying “oh please no not that ending! Why? Why? Why?”
—Rebecca Hernandez


Dear Rebecca,

I love this question and I know exactly how you feel. When I was little, Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, was my favorite book. I read it over and over again, crying uncontrollably at the end of the book each time. After a dozen readings, the last few pages of the book became water-warped and stuck together with my tears. That book broke my heart countless times, but that’s how I knew it was good.

Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” He might have been talking about life’s ups and downs or torrid love affairs, but this advice applies to literature as well. Don’t lament a book with a sad ending, smile because it made you feel that way.

Smile because, if you’re emotionally invested in a character and you’re devastated when misfortune befalls them, then the author has succeeded at their literary task. That character, that place, that entire story lives solely in your imagination and in the writer’s, conjured up by mere words on a pages. Yet you feel real emotions and pain for someone that is not real. Marvel at that fact. It means you found a writer who speaks to your experiences and has the capacity to move you.

Smile because you’re a worthy audience. You have both the power of imagination and the enormous empathy needed to really understand the novel. There’s nothing half-hearted or absent-minded about your reading, you absorbed every word and made it meaningful. What writer doesn’t dream of a reader like you?

Smile because you have the acuity to ask why a book has to end tragically. That’s often precisely what the author wanted you to ask. Why indeed? Was there a moment when characters could have made a different choice? When the events leading up to the tragedy could have been stopped? If so, does that change the way we think about our real lives and the people in them? Does it make us more kind, more forgiving or more courageous?

Books, both happy and sad ones, are written for readers like you. Readers who care, who pay attention and who want an intellectual explanation for what happens. So the next time book spirals toward a sad ending and you desperately ask “why?” step back and think how wonderful it is that this book so potent. Smile because this book happened. Then get a box of tissues and forge onward.

Love and paperbacks,
Literary Lady

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