CC2K

The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Books as Emotion Porn

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor


ImageIn my review of Mockingjay last week, I mentioned that it was one of the most emotionally charged books I had ever read.  What I didn’t mention was that I was a mess for the first 24 hours after I read the book.  I sobbed for several hours after finishing the book.  When I stopped sobbing, I turned on my Kindle again, re-read the last fifth of the book, and started sobbing again.  The next day, when I was at work, I felt like crying most of the day.  I’m surprised my coworkers didn’t suggest therapy.

And why is this?  Katniss, Peeta, and Gale aren’t real, and the country of Panem doesn’t actually exist.  But there I was, running around the office, fighting the urge to run into the bathroom and wallow in misery.  It led me to two conclusions: 1) that I am in serious need of therapy, and 2) that I had just finished yet another emotion porn.

What does this mean?  Well, the purpose of pornography is to allow you to experience a sexual release without actually having sex.  Thus, emotion porn allows you to experience an emotional release without the traumatizing experience.

My experience with emotion porn began young.  The first two books I remember that made me cry were Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  I read them both in fifth grade, and both dealt with a subject I didn’t have a lot of experience with at the time: death.  Red Fern follows the adventures of a young boy growing up in the Ozarks and his two raccoon-hunting dogs.  Terabithia tells the story of Jess, a lonely fifth grader who befriends a tomboy named Leslie.  Together they create a fantasy world called Terabithia.  Both stories end in tragedy, and both broke my ten-year-old heart.

From there, I progressed into a more blatant form of emotion porn: the young adult novels of Lurlene McDaniel.  McDaniel’s forte was books about teenagers in life-and-death situations–and death, more often than not, won out.  Many of her characters were afflicted with terminal diseases: cancer, diabetes, AIDS, organ failure.  The books often featured doomed, Love Story-esque romances: starry-eyed teens fall in love, only to be tragically separated by death.  These books were great from about the ages of 10-13, when the concept of illness and death were only vague concepts to me.  But when my father was diagnosed with cancer and died several months later, suddenly McDaniel’s brand of emotional porn just didn’t seem as cathartic anymore.

It was years before I could dig into the emotion porn again; in fact, I don’t remember reading much of anything in high school that came anywhere close to the reaction I got out of the books I had read when I was younger.  But by college, I was ready to dive back into that salacious world again.  It was Nicholas Sparks that dragged me down into the debauchery again.  His works were sort of a grown-up extension of the Lurlene McDaniel concept, though instead of illness (still a touchy subject for me) his protagonists tended to face accidents and acts of God more often.  But again, after a few of his books, it was an empty release; the stories started to feel all the same.  Maybe that’s why I always liked The Notebook best of all his books: he evokes genuine emotion while avoiding the all-too-easy trap of killing off a protagonist.

In my post-college years, the book that really stands out on the emotion porn scale came from a more unexpected source: John Irving.  I’ve always had sort of a love-hate relationship with Irving, who tends to write characters so flawed and self-absorbed that they’re unsympathetic.  But in A Prayer for Owen Meany, Irving managed to find the necessary balance of flawed and sympathetic traits.  I finished reading the book at work one night.  (At the time, I had a job where I had a lot of down time and was able to read during the lulls.)  I had to hide my face in my sleeves to keep my coworkers from seeing.  It was a rough night.

Why do I do it?  I could stick to easier books–God knows I have enough fluffy books on my Kindle to keep me occupied for a long time without the toll.  But with emotion porn, the toll is the point, the ability to feel something–grief, fear, heartbreak–without the real-life price.  It’s not as good as the real thing…but in the end, it’s not as bad, either.

Selected Book Releases, August 30-September 6

August 31

Lost Empire: A Fargo Adventure by Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood

Dirty Sexy Politics:  A True Story by Meghan McCain

Tempted by Trouble by Eric Jerome Dickey

Exclusive
by Fern Michaels

Bearers of the Black Staf
f by Terry Brooks

The Holy Thief
by William Ryan

Gears of War: Anvil Gate
by Karen Traviss

World of Warcraft: The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm by Christie Golden

Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler by Norah O’Donnell and Chef Geoff Tracy

How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior
by Laura Kipnis

Torn Between Two Lovers
by Carl Weber

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever by Joe Kane, Phantom of the Movies

Wuthering Bites
by Sarah Gray

Permission to Speak Freely
by Anne Jackson

Old Jews Telling Jokes
by Sam Hoffman

September 1

Maybe This Time by Jennifer
 
In with the Devil: Going Behind Bars to Unlock the Secrets of a Killer by James Keene with Hillel Levin
 
Breakthrough: How the Discovery of Insulin Saved Elizabeth Hughes and Millions of Diabetics
by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg
 
The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel

Empire
by Steven Saylor
 
Burn by Nevada Barr
 
The Holy Thief by William Ryan
 
September 2
 
The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian

Author: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

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