The books you categorically don’t read.

The books you categorically don’t read.

Of course we all have books we don’t read, by necessity. There are more books published each year than any one person could read in a lifetime.

I’m choosy about what I read, because I have more books on my TBR list than time to read them in.

But I’m not talking about the books I don’t make time for, or the books I’ll never get to. I’m talking about the books I don’t read, categorically.

These are the books that sound very, very interesting. The ones pulling in rave reviews, the ones recommended by friends with great taste.  But they still don’t get a place on my reading list—not now. Probably not ever.

I’m strongly intrigued by Paul Kalinithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, and I’m afraid to read it. It’s the memoir of a neurosurgeon who received a terminal cancer diagnosis when he was my age, and he wrestles will leaving behind his work, his wife, his kids, so devastatingly young. It’s a beautiful book (so I hear) but I’m not sure I can go there just now.

I have not one but two copies of The Things We Keep on my shelf, and I think it’s time to find them another home. This plot centers around a woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 38: for me, this is the stuff of nightmares. I don’t care how moving, how transformative this story may be. It’s not for me, at least not right now.

I keep hearing great things about A Little Life, which was all over the best-of-the-year lists, and also, according to NPR, has more triggers than a Texas gun show. I’m tempted, but like many highly sensitive people, I continue to pass.

Those may all be good books, but I can’t imagine they would be good for me. At least not right now.

I’ve been cautious about my reading for a long time; I also wrestled with this stance being immature.

But I felt much more comfortable with this stance after reading a small phrase tucked into one of Elizabeth Foss’s blog posts a few years ago.

Elizabeth mentioned on her blog that her daughter had just finished The Fault in Our Stars. Her daughter loved it, but Elizabeth hadn’t read it, because she doesn’t read cancer books, period.

Elizabeth is a cancer survivor, and books about dying or departed parents hit too close to home for her, so she studiously avoids them.

I think the world of Elizabeth, and I found her words to be enormously freeing.

I used to wonder if my book boundaries were fussy and a bit juvenile (even though I still read widely), but now I’m convinced it’s smart self care.

There’s a difference, of course, between maintaining healthy boundaries and willfully putting my head in the sand. Fiction is a wonderful way to push myself, to vicariously experience new things, to stretch my boundaries.

Likewise, there’s a difference between gently stretching my book boundaries and crashing through them. My goal is to feel the stretch, and avoid the crash.

Do you have your own book boundaries in place? What books do YOU categorically avoid? 

P.S. The books I’m afraid to recommend, and the 5 areas where I can’t afford to be low-maintenance.

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162 comments

  1. Kimberly says:

    Anne,
    You poise the best reading questions! Thank you for this post. My father died from cancer at a young age, and I typically don’t read cancer books or books were death is the central focus…but that has changed. I did read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and A Fault in Our Stars, and loved them. As I get older, I want to understand more about cancer. Have you or anyone you know read The Emperor of All Maladies? I’ve just added it to my 2016 Reading Challenge.

  2. René says:

    I avoid anything in the true crime genre. I used to work in a book store and I also avoided the people that could be found in the true crime section, too creepy. I also won’t read any of those hideous psychology books involving children.
    Really I guess I avoid anything that involves non-fiction and makes me uncomfortable. I can handle being scared witless in a good horror book but as soon as it involves real life you have lost me.

  3. Collheesi says:

    I never read anything where the dog dies. Period. “Where The Red Fern Grows” left a lasting impression, and as an avid dog lover, I don’t want to read a book that builds a wonderful relationship between human and canine only to have it ripped apart and leave me in tears. Losing my elderly German Shepherd recently, and still having an 8 year old Border Collie only solidify this boycot.

  4. Kristina Mullen says:

    Anything with child abuse, torture, even long term emotionally abusive relationships is definitely off limits for me.

  5. Amanda in Louisville says:

    I have some hard and fast rules – I avoid erotica and the romance genre, as well as books that contain graphic sex scenes. One scene that adds to the plot and is relatively short is fine, I can skip it or blot it from my memory. Too much and I skip it. I’m an upholder, so making this my rule actually helped me recently when my book club picked a book that had some pretty graphic scenes. In the past my upholding tendencies would have had me finishing the book, which would have led me straight into thoughts I don’t like lingering over. Now I realize that “my rule” can trump the “book club rule” and I felt no angst over skipping. I still don’t know whether I’ll attend the meeting, because I know this is my rule and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for suggesting/voting for the book. (But maybe that’s my projecting my personality onto others?)

    Other than the few hard and fast rules I have, I will skip books based on the season I’m in. When my younger cousin was recently diagnosed with cancer in the same month I had a cancer scare, I skipped a drama we were reading in the book club. It didn’t have to do with cancer, but I’d heard it had a sad ending, and I simply couldn’t do sad. If I recall, I holed up with YA and Janet Evanovich. (She’s one of my “pure sugar” authors. I know I’m not getting any nutrition from her books, but when they come out I inhale them anyway. Haha!)

  6. Amy Patton says:

    Hi Anne. It’s been so long since I’ve commented. It’s life. Not this blog that’s for certain! So- I gave in to the lure of A Little Life. I told myself I could handle it because the main characters where male not female. I bought the book, even though I knew better. And 14 pages in I texted my friend who suggested it at book club and said she could have it! I love that you equate this to self care. That mindset will definitely help me next time I know better. (It’s funny I don’t struggle saying no to movies that I know will upset my apple cart- even when it makes no sense to anyone but my husband and I.)

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. As I keep hearing about this book, I keep thinking about it trying it, too! But I keep telling myself it’s not for me ….

  7. Diana says:

    Thank you so much for letting me see, I’m not the only one. There are certain subjects I don’t read either, such as cancer and alzhiemer.

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