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Sex and the City: The book is better than the TV show. Yes. It is.

April 28, 2010

Carrie Bradshaw at 17 --er, I mean Candace Bushnell.

Today I come not to bury Carrie Bradshaw, but to praise her. I’m talking, of course, about the real Carrie Bradshaw, found only in Candace Bushnell’s book, Sex and the City. Being a heterosexual man, I could never watch the TV show for more than a few minutes without itching all over and running out of the room.

Some people may view Bushnell’s new novel, The Carrie Diaries, as a cynical bid to find readers in the Gossip Girl demographic. But it looks to me like a smart attempt on the part of a writer to regain proprietorship of a character that’s been co-opted by television.

Bushnell’s extensive book tour brings her to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Sponsored by Books & Books, this is a ticketed event.  For more information, visit the bookstore’s website.

Just how completely Bushnell has lost control of Carrie and her story is, among other things, a testament to the power of television. If you want proof, graze through a few readers’ comments at amazon.com or bn.com. A representative sample: “The Carrie Bradshaw that was depicted in the book is not like the Carrie Bradshaw from the series at all, at least not as far as I can tell.”

Aw — you say that like it’s a bad thing.

It’s forgivable for civilian fans of the show to fall into this type of confusion, less so when expressed by a professional critic. At the usually reliable Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams complains that Bushnell, in telling the story of Carrie’s high school years, doesn’t stay true to “to the clues of Carrie’s previous life glimpsed during the run of the series.”

The depth of stupidity in this comment is beyond reckoning. After all, Bushnell had little or nothing to do with creating the TV show. But she did start the whole Sex and the City empire with a column she wrote for the New York Observer in the mid-1990s. She has the right to tell Carrie’s story, with or without regard to what happens on the show.

Bushnell based the Observer column on her own experiences as a single woman in Manhattan. “Carrie Bradshaw” is an alter-ego, invented to give the author some fig leaf of privacy. The book Sex and the City, published in 1996, is a collection of essays — readers coming from the tv show are invariably disappointed it doesn’t have a stronger narrative arc. They seem to have no clue it’s not that kind of book.

When producer Darren Star bought rights to adapt Sex and the City into a television comedy, he approached Bushnell’s book the way a coal mining company approaches a mountain in West Virgina. He dumbed Carrie down with what Shane Watson, in a long Bushnell profile at the London Times, calls “little girly tics and self-conscious kookiness.”

Candace Bushnell today, at 51.

Watson finds Bushnell “altogether smarter and funnier, and her story is way more interesting, because it has been ugly and sordid at times.” That’s a perfect description of how I’ve always viewed Carrie in the book vs. Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie as a vapid, materialistic shoe fetishist.

By the time I read Sex and the City the TV phenomenon was already in full swing. Any criticism I offer here of the HBO series, I’ll admit, is like someone reporting on a party while banging on the ceiling of the apartment downstairs with a broom handle.

The number of episodes I’ve seen can be counted on one hand–not enough for a valid assessment. Still, I must note that it always seemed like a drag show to me, one in which the women talked and behaved, in their attitude toward romance, more like gay men than any women I’ve ever known. Many of which, I’ll concede, love the show.

Yet none of what made me itch about the show is present in Bushnell’s book. Yes, Carrie chases sex and romance, but she’s more focused on her career. She goes to a lot of glamorous parties and reports how empty and pointless they are. She struggles to make ends meet.

Most of all, the four-sided friendship that is the heart of the television show is completely absent from the book. Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda are minor characters, with personalities dramatically different from the TV versions. Far from a celebration of female bonding, Sex and the City, literary version, carries a strong note of alienation, isolation and female competition.

I’m not going to make a case for Bushnell as a great stylist, but she is competent. Sex and the City, the book, has far more depth and texture and honest observation than I’d expected. If readers can set aside the cotton-candy expectations enflamed by the sugar rush of the TV show, they might want to give The Carrie Diaries a chance.

Okay, now you can tell me how wrong I am, how the show is a brave and honest depiction of the way women really are.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    April 28, 2010 3:02 pm

    “Okay, now you can tell me how wrong I am, how the show is a brave and honest depiction of the way women really are.”

    Hahahaha.

    ha.

    I’m not going to run out and buy “Sex and the City” book version, but I do see how that would be much more appealing than the show. Struggling to make ends meet, isolation, competitiveness, all of that sounds interesting and realistic.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 28, 2010 3:22 pm

    Yes, the book has texture and depth lacking in the TV show. As I said, I didn’t watch it enough to know, but I can only think the show is so popular because it works on a level of wish fulfillment. It does for grown women what, say, Transformers does for 14-year-old boys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, as is usually the case, the book is better.

  3. Candice Simmons permalink
    April 28, 2010 8:38 pm

    I hated that show. I’m so glad to hear the book is better. Of course, it could not be worse….

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 28, 2010 10:41 pm

    Wow. Nobody’s going to defend the show? Who are also those people who go to the movies?

  5. April 29, 2010 9:06 am

    Me, me, me!!! I like the show. It may not be the most realistic thing in the world, but it does cover a lot of the issues and hurdles women face on a daily basis. I find it insulting when people say they act more like gay men. Sure, it’s over the top, but (Samantha not included) they aren’t anymore promiscuous the Rachel, Monica and Phoebe.

    And to tell you the truth I even liked the movie. I know it had its faults, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I also think it is refreshing to see that you don’t have to be in your twenties to be on the big scream and considered sexy and glamorous.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 29, 2010 11:38 am

      Et tu, Alexis? Although I will grant you the age thing. It’s gotten (slightly) better in recent years, although only slightly. On the one hand we have aging talents like Diane Lane, Naomi Watts, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Mary McConnell and other 40-plus actresses getting work. On the other it’s still a youth-oriented business. Remember last year when there was a flurry of stories about how Megan Fox was the hot young replacement for Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie is 34.

  6. Candice Simmons permalink
    April 29, 2010 9:31 am

    I didn’t realize that promiscuity was the issue. Monica, Rachel and Phoebe are at lease funny, and they were also glamor girls well past their 20s.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 29, 2010 11:40 am

      All the actors on Friends were twenty-somethings when the show started in 1994. Of course they were well into their 30s by the time it ended, in the next century.

      • Candice Simmons permalink
        April 29, 2010 3:27 pm

        Okay then, well INTO their twenties….and even older in real life….

  7. Claire permalink
    May 13, 2010 12:49 pm

    I’m actually about to read the book. I love the show, but have never seem the movie. I like that the show is out there and fun. I think that they have done a really good job showing older woman trying to find love. There is a lot of deph in their search. Examples of this are when Charlotte found happiness only to have it shattered by the realisation that she can’t have kids, and when they pronounced each other as their soul mates. I look forward to reading the book but will probably judge them as two separate entities with no connection what so ever.

  8. Tommy Smart permalink
    May 16, 2010 10:03 am

    Really?

  9. May 23, 2010 11:47 pm

    We all know that Hollywood always messes up with stories from book. They just have to make it more commercial. I have to admit though that sometimes they do a better version than the original boring writing style.

  10. Joy permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:50 pm

    In my opinion, there was never a better show than Sex and the City. I can understand that perhaps it will not appeal to men. Who cares? They have enough shows for and about them. And I am sick and tired of people dissing the show because they think it makes them look cool to not “follow the crowd.” You have a right to your opinion to not like the show but if you are being truly honest, you either have not seen much of the show, or you must admit that it is not just a fluffy fashion show. It had quite a few very emotional and well-handled serious issues also.

    • Sha permalink
      May 8, 2012 2:40 am

      I really like your statement ” And I am sick and tired of people dissing the show because they think it makes them look cool to not “follow the crowd.” “. Soo true on what you said. Fan of sex and the city.

  11. March 11, 2012 10:40 am

    As someone who read the book and watched the show, I gotta say, I think they are both very good. The book is very different, but that is often the case when a movie or television show is adapted from a book. Who cares? I think perhaps the author of this post should have watched more than a couple of episodes of the series (which went way down hill toward the end by the way) before he rendered such a harsh judgment of it. The reason Sex and the City as as series was popular with women, was not because it was some sort of wish fulfillment (wow we wish we could live and dress like that), but rather it was popular with women for the opposite reason–it was relateable to them. Sex and the City was smart, funny, and a very accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a single woman in America.

  12. lola permalink
    July 10, 2012 11:31 pm

    aahah! book is much worse than the tv! sucks.

  13. kyoshinhen permalink
    September 26, 2012 4:44 pm

    The book could possibly generate an alternate version for TV. It’s like “Fringe” but in Manhattan, the other “Carrie” is much honest on the column and not the cheesy version of the tv series. Try it and see the differences.

    I think NY is the only city that you can find more condoms on the street than in a music festival, this book is a map to not step on one of them. Leave it that way.

  14. September 1, 2013 3:07 am

    Condilezza

    September 1, 2013 2:02 a.m.

    I have not read the book yet, however, I’ve been watching the re runs of sex and the city since it came on cable t. v.. I think if it was four African American women or Hispanic women the opinions would be much different, and I do not like Girl Friends on BET network, I like Friends. These women are only doing what men are still doing, dating and sleeping with random women. Shows like Two and Half Men “Charlie Harper is the male Samantha Jones they both have commitment issues but bang everything on two legs. When they met their match morals set in. I compare ” Frazier” to Miranda and Charlotte they all have the same personalities when it come to values and family. Carrie is kind of like Rachel from Friends, their ventures with different men always bring them back to the safety net called Mr. Big and Ross. This my depiction of Sex and the City movie.

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