My book club tends to read a lot of depressing books. We don’t mean to choose them. It just happens when we look for books with emotional depth and honesty, good writing, and interesting characters. And so, every month, we swear that we’re going to pick something funny. (Next month is Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, so we might actually succeed this time.) During last night’s discussion, I wondered why we write and read depressing books. It can’t just be that some of us like to cry. I hate to cry.
I think I read depressing books is because they usually include emotional depth. The depths characters’ feel always inspire empathy in me. A significant portion of my work involves dealing with people. Sometimes the people I work with a frustrated, angry, confused, worried, or just not having a great day. Because I’ve worked in libraries for so long, it’s easy for me to forget that they can bewilder and irritate people. Reading a depressing book every now and then reminds me of what other people may be going through and I get a boost of empathy and compassion.
In thinking about depressing books, I exclude melodramatic books (because they lack honesty) or misery memoirs (too much agony). I prefer tragedies, where a character’s choices or flaws lead to their downfall. I know when I read melodramas or misery memoirs that there will be no happy ending. With a tragedy, I always feel a little flutter of hope that things won’t go wrong. Maybe that little feeling of hope that things will be all right in the end is another reason why I read depressing books. Weird.