Sex and the City had its 24th anniversary this week, marking nearly a quarter century since its premiere. The show has remained as culturally relevant and widely-discussed as it was during its original run. The original Sex and the City was book of essays by columnist Candace Bushnell published in 1996. While the book was a New York Times best-seller that warranted its own TV adaptation, it’s not a commonly known among younger audiences. For those unfamiliar with the book, here are our top picks for the biggest differences!
1. The Storytelling
One very important thing to note about the original book is that it’s not a novel. Much like Carrie Bradshaw herself, Bushnell wrote a column about love and dating for the New York Observer that was later re-published as a book of essays (true fans will recognize the real-life influence in season five’s book deal storyline). As an anthology, there’s no chronological story or set main characters for us to follow along. It’s a mixed bag of interviews and anecdotes from Bushnell’s own social and dating life (they included some “interviews” in the first few episodes, but this was quickly dropped). Carrie’s friends appear infrequently and are a much smaller part of the her life. It focuses more on the difficulties and nuances of a very 90s New York—think less Instagram influencers and more cutthroat career-types. New York in the 90s was a very specific moment of a dead-eyed apathy within a world of economic prosperity (a similar feeling can be echoed in My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a TikTok favorite). It was post-80s economic boom, pre-Y2K anxiety. If it was anything like how Bushnell describes it, the city—and the people—were gritty and endlessly profitable. If you loved the TV series for its fun rom-com vibes and friendships, the original book may not be your cup of tea. Still, it’s glimpse at a specific time of the romantic ennui of 90s New York that few books have managed to capture.
Better alone than badly accompanied.”Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City
2. The Lifestyle
One of the reasons Sex and the City has kept us fascinated after all these years is the peek into the lifestyles of four glamorous Manhattan women with seemingly infinite spending money. It was so glaringly opulent that it’s become culturally synonymous with white privilege and a lack of self-awareness. In the book, socioeconomics play a very important factor. At the time of its publication, Bushnell was still a struggling writer, so her writing often highlighted financial insecurity and class disparity. While Book Carrie does parade through luxurious Manhattan parties while sipping cocktails, there’s a very clear distinction between her and the people she mingles with. Mr. Big’s money is a big part of his romantic appeal in both versions, but Book Carrie’s relationship with his wealth and status is much more complicated. She feels judged by his upper-class peers and gets uncomfortable when he gifts her with lavish things. In contrast, TV Carrie never acknowledges the differences in their incomes, and even seems enamored by his wealth at times. Book Carrie deals with struggling to pay rent, skimping on meals to save money, and even having her entire apartment robbed. It’s a stark difference from the glittery decadence of the TV adaptation.
I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet”Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City
3. Carrie Bradshaw
Many would call TV Carrie a little unlikable, but it pales in comparison to the original. While TV Carrie had her bouts of narcissism, it was usually balanced out with her sincerity, quick wit, and charm. She was well-intentioned but flawed, which allowed us to connect with her, even at some of her lowest points. Book Carrie is not a protagonist: she is first and foremost a reporter. The journalistic tone gives her a sense of cold detachment, and her immersion in the New York dating scene has made her cynical. Book Carrie more of a self-anointed “sex anthropologist”, while TV Carrie is a friend you want to get a dirty martini with after work.
One thing the two Carries share in common is the fan response that she can be an unforgivingly horrible person. The sentiment is understandable, but I think much of the “Carrie sucks” discourse avoids acknowledging that her dislikability is written intentionally. The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum famously coined her the “first female anti-hero” in a 2013 piece. Carrie is vapid, selfish, and unapologetically self-involved. But, given how much forgiveness we’ve extended to some of our male antiheroes in the past, it begs the question: was Carrie actually that bad? For all the grief she gets, would we be as critical is she were a man?
Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them.”Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City
4. The Girls
As aforementioned, the original book isn’t a novel, but a collection of essays from a newspaper column. In the TV show, the foursome of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are the quintessential heart of the show with definitive types. There are glimpses of the value of female friendships, but the women in Book Carrie’s life appear to be fleeting friendships. TV Charlotte is a well-meaning WASP who holds outdated views on sex and marriage, even for the 90s. Book Charlotte, on the other hand, is a highly promiscuous British socialite. TV Miranda, the original girlboss, is an ambitious and highly successful attorney dominating the male-driven legal industry. She’s professionally driven enough to put her love life in the backseat, but caring enough to prioritize her best friends. Book Miranda is a cable executive with a problematic drug addiction whose appearances are sparse at best. TV Samantha and Book Samantha share the most characterizing traits: professionally successful and eager to embrace any new romantic exploit. One of the main differences is that TV Samantha is a PR executive, while Book Samantha is a film producer. But, more glaringly, is that Book Samantha is a passing acquaintance. TV Samantha is arguably the most memorable character on the TV adaptation—she’s an independent self-made woman who’s fiercely protective over those she cares for.
Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.”Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City
Our culture has transformed into a completely different landscape from the one we saw in the 1998 pilot episode. But, 24 years later, it remains as prominent in the cultural zeitgeist as ever.
If you’re looking for other book recs, check out our most recent list here!