Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Virtue of the Happy Ending

Today is one of those days. You know what I mean. The kind where nothing goes right from the minute you step out of bed in the morning, until the minute the lights go out at night. This happens to me every now and then. Probably to you too. And that's life, isn't it? Trips. Falls. Spills. And smiles. Needless to say, I think a little levity is in order. You too? Read on.

I have mentioned the phrase "happy ending" six different times over the past few months. So I figured it was time to talk about it in more detail. In case you are new to my blog, you should know that I have a very important rule when it comes to choosing the books I read. There absolutely must be a happy ending, or I simply will not read the book. No exceptions. Ever. I don't care if the entire world is reading the book. I don't care if Oprah says the book is an absolute must. I don't care if the book becomes a blockbuster movie (Nicholas Sparks, I'm looking at you. See below for further explanation).

This obviously presents a bit of a quandary when it comes to choosing new authors to read.  Nora Roberts has written 172 books. I have read them all. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has written 21. I have read them all. And they all have happy endings. Every single one. I can always count on those girls to give me my hearts desire. With a new author, I never really know what I'm getting. This is highly problematic. So much so that I have been known to read the last chapter of the book first when it's a new author. I might have inherited this act from my mom, who often does the same thing.

When I finish a book I want to feel like turning it over to start it again immediately (yes, I have actually done this - Brides Quartet, I'm looking at you). I want to bask in the glow of love found. I want to pick up the phone immediately and recommend it to my sister and my mom. And I want to put it in its place of honor on my bookshelves. I honestly do feel happy - almost by osmosis - by the hundreds of happy endings in my collection.

What I certainly don't want when I finish a book is to feel any of the following: sad, depressed, heavy, pensive, teary (unless from hysterical laughter - Phoebe and Dan on the 50 yard line, I'm looking at you), and like I want to march to my garbage can and toss the offending book away so that it doesn't have a bad influence on the rest of my collection.

Obviously, my need for a happy ending spills over into my taste for movies as well. I think my favorite movie list communicates that message quite clearly. The American President. You've Got Mail. Sleepless in Seattle. When Harry Met Sally. The Holiday. Not that I don't enjoy a good thriller. I really, really do. But that's an entirely different story. When it comes to movies about love, my need for a happy ending rules the day. I have skipped some of the most popular movies of my lifetime because they failed to meet this single requirement.

I actually remember the book that sealed the deal for me when it comes to my "Happy Endings Only" rule. I was a freshman in college and was delayed at Boston's Logan Airport on my way home for winter break. I ran out of books to read (a mistake I certainly never made again), and headed to the small bookstore in the USAirways Terminal. Now, remember that this was relatively early in my romance novel career, and I naively thought that all romance novels were created equal. At this point, I had also only read romance novels by Nora Roberts. Happy endings one and all. So I marched over to the romance novel section, and after seeing that I unfortunately had read every single Nora in the bookstore, I chose a book by an author new to me. One I had never heard of before. The book? A Walk to Remember, by Nicholas Sparks. I read the back. It sounded great.

I parked myself at my gate, and began to read. In no time at all, I was consumed by the thrilling love story of Landon and Jamie. Knowing in my deepest soul that the last chapter would be a flash forward. These young lovers, all grown up. Then I got to chapter eleven. It was obvious from the beginning of the chapter that Jamie was not well. I didn't like the looks of this, but the optimist in me urged my brain to keep reading. Surely such a beautiful story would end just as beautifully. Not so much. Jamie is dying. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I closed the book immediately, never to be opened again. I looked around for a garbage can in which to toss this sorry-excuse-for-a-romance-novel. The book lover in me rebelled, and I ended up leaving it, unfinished, in the airport for someone else to read. And I felt like I needed a shower to wash off the disappointment of that ending. I never ever again opened another book by Nicholas Sparks. And you can bet that I skipped the tragic movie adaptations of his books. Especially this one. Because it turns out that all his books are like this one. Everything is amazing until it isn't. And then the book ends. No thank you.

I have come to understand over the years why I read. I read to be entertained. I read to laugh. I read for joy. And I read for fun. I don't read to have my emotions tweaked. And I don't read to have my thoughts provoked. There are plenty of emotional and thought provoking moments in real life. I don't need those in my books and movies too. So if you are anything like me, I urge you to embrace the happy ending. Hunger for it. Need it. Love it. Cast aside those books that leave you feeling depressed and unfulfilled. I promise you, you won't be disappointed. Because an ending that is happy? That is simply amazing.

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