Mad, Sad, or Glad?

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the types of stories to which she gravitated. Bittersweet was the answer. She loves stories with a rich vein of sadness but also a redemptive conclusion.

Though I mostly gravitate to stories with a happy ending, I also love a narrative where the ending is bittersweet. Stories where you can see the cost paid to ensure that others have a happy ending. You see this quality in many heroic tales where the hero or a companion of the hero loses a battle in order to ultimately win the war. Think of Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King. Or, sometimes, a hero falls due to temptation, but willingly pays the ultimate price in order to redeem himself/herself. Think of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. (If you have no idea what I mean, there’s always Google.)


One of my sisters-in-law loves books with happy endings. “I read to escape,” she said, which makes sense with her being a marriage and family therapist.

Other people I know love books with provocative topics that make people mad or horrified—stories of weird serial killers, people will strange habits that get them killed, or stories of injustice.

When I was a teen, I glommed onto books about serial killers or weird loners. I had a lot of angst as a teen. But now that I’m older and there’s this thing called the internet where stories of weird loners are a dime a dozen, the books I read have a lot more hope and light.

What kinds of books do you find yourself reading a lot? While you think of that, I will move on to the winner of a preorder of the upcoming novel in verse, Moonwalking by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott. And Sharon, you are that winner.


Thank you to all who commented.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other photos by L. Marie.

28 thoughts on “Mad, Sad, or Glad?

  1. I gravitate towards happy ending books. I don’t mind there being a lot of roughness to the path for the heroes, but I’m not a big fan of the ‘negative endings’. Part of that is because I feel there’s enough bad in the world and my life lately. So, I read to escape and give some type of off-setting energy. To be fair, I don’t read as much as I used to and it’s typically manga. I spend more time writing, which sees a similar vein. I pepper in a lot of humor to make sure the stories don’t go too dark and depressing.

    • I also read to escape. I only like a tragic ending if I know that for someone else there is some sort of freedom or peace. I can’t help thinking of Children of Dune. There is a reason for the pain. But other than that, I wouldn’t pick up a book, especially a bestseller, that is sad just to be sad no matter how much people begged me.

      • ‘Rogue One’ didn’t really come to mind. Mostly because it was in a rather odd position of being a prequel with a clearly defined ending. None of those characters could have survived because then people would be asking why they weren’t involved in the original trilogy.

  2. Yay, thanks, Linda! Can’t wait to read Lyn’s new book!!

    As for me, I like books with happy endings, too. Pepper in a little snark or humor, and you’ve got me. I don’t mind dark if there’s eventually light (think Gary Schmidt or Kate DiCamillo for children; Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove or Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for adults).

  3. This is such a good topic, what types of stories we gravitate to. For fiction, I also like narratives where the battle is lost, but then the hero and other characters find a way to forge on and win the war.

    With non-fiction, I like to read to learn. For these kinds of narratives, I prefer topics explained to the point and perhaps examples that illustrate what the author is trying to get at.

    I also think the type of books I like to read depends on my mood. Sometimes I really do want to read to relax and escape reality in vivid make belief fantasy. Other times I want to not just acquire knowledge and be more aware of my surroundings in the real world.

    • Good point about mood, Mabel. Sometimes I get the urge to read about a period in history where a great war happened. Other times, such a period in history seems too stressful. What’s happening in life affects what I’m in the mood for.

  4. Congrats, Sharon!
    Lately, I’ve been picking out duds for reading material – the style is either too stuffy or the subject unfolds into something heavier than I was willing to read through – or it turns out to be too fluffy & myopic for my taste. For the record, I usually don’t continue to read through to the end of those, even if I’ve invested time ‘giving it another chance’ as that’s a ‘guilt-trip’ I long discarded over the years!
    There have been a few really good books that delved into ‘heavy’ material, but I was prepared for that from the get go. Case in point:Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik a fictionalized account of the Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad – entirely compelling!
    I guess my go-tos are less plot driven and more character driven or even how characters deal with the plots they are placed within – but that’s just a guess.
    And the ending? No matter if ‘happy, sad, etc’ I’m usually okay with it as long as it’s in keeping with the story, characters, turn of events, etc. A mysterious/gotchya twist is fun and appreciated as long as it’s not just to shock.
    Anyway that’s my rambling answer to your very good question!
    Have a great Summer Sunday!

  5. I’m finishing an adult novel now, and it appears (as it often happens in adult novels) that this one is going to have a tragic ending. I don’t care that much about the characters although they do interesting things, and is also often the case in these types of novels, the most innocent or kind characters are the ones that meet the most tragic fate.

  6. I agree with your friend and the magic of storytelling: I enjoy stories with “a rich vein of sadness but also a redemptive conclusion,” which I think may be the goal of every memoirist.

    As a youngster, I like fairytales and stories of brave women. Horror was never my thing. My kids loved Tolkien, especially my son who lapped up many of his books.

    Congratulations to Sharon and to you for featuring Moonwalking and its authors. 🙂

  7. I like a variety. When I’ve finished a book, I look for something different. I want it to be interesting all the way through. I like a satisfying ending. I also like a puzzle, so I’ve been reading some mysteries. I like to learn something new, so I’ve been reading historical fiction. I like something that’s well written and gives me something new to think about, even in small ways. Right now I’m reading You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, and he is a real thinker who makes lots of wise observations about the human condition.

  8. Lately, I’ve been reading & enjoying books by Marie Benedict ~ she takes an actual historic figure and weaves a story around him/her. Examples: Carnegie’s Maid, The Other Einstein, The Mystery of Miss Christie, The Only Woman in the Room (Hedy Lamar).

    I enjoyed her writing until I got to “Lady Clementine” (Winston Churchill’s wife) ~> ACK!!! I stopped after 60 pages because the writing was SO BAD. Either that or Lady Clementine was an actual boor/bore. I’ll see if Marie can redeem herself with The Personal Librarian (recent release, on hold at the library).

    I do NOT enjoy reading sad books. Happy endings only, please. Oh, OK . . . bittersweet endings if you must. 😀

    • Wow! I’ve never read her books, but I guess I won’t read the book based on Lady Clementine! Though I sent my dad the latest Erik Larson book–all about Winston Churchill since my dad loves WWII stories.

  9. I like glad or sad stories, but not mad ones. I don’t like to read about conflicts when the world around us is filled with such. [That is the kind of mad you mean, isn’t it? Mad = anger, not mad = crazy.]

  10. Congratulations to Sharon! You know, L. Marie, what I read really depends on my mood. I do tend to crime fiction, but I’ll take breaks and read or listen to more lighthearted fare. Too much crime fiction makes Marie a very nervous soul 😉

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