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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Leave A Comment
  1. Kelly says:

    Yes, we all need boundaries of one sort or another. Sometimes we are made to feel like minuscule human beings for not embracing (or in this case, reading) every idea or philosophy out there! I don’t read any books that will take me down a road of despair. I read books with conflict and suffering, of course, but there needs to be redemption and hope based in Truth. (And I second your thoughts on Elizabeth Foss – it’s exciting to know you connect with her, too!)

    I am enjoying your blog – I am new here!

    Take care!

  2. Guest says:

    It’s absolutely self care. I would not have considered myself a sensitive person until I started reading about highly sensitive people. I’m definitely one of them.

    The world has no shortage of darkness and sadness so I see no need to actively seek it out whether in books, movies or television.

    Last year I was part of a small group of ladies who gathered fairly frequently. Initially I absolutely loved it. Over time, though, one of the women became more comfortable and was frankly an absolute downer every single time we got together. For whatever reason she felt the need to recount all of the latest news of horrific things being done to children and all the rest.

    I stopped attending. I was going home after every get together feeling sick/anxious/depressed and my husband said “Isn’t this supposed to be fun?” Yes, yes it is. Life is hard. How I spend my free time should be enjoyable. It was self care to opt out of continuing to attend something that was not good for my soul.

    • Elise says:

      I TOTALLY agree with this. I began reading lots of books on introversion and sensitivity. I found a private facebook group for introverts and thought it would just be fun to observe observations made by introverts. Wrong! it was just depressed people complaining about how being introverted makes them depressed and sad. It really drug me down to a sad mood! I removed myself from the group and noted that I can sometimes relate to books, but it’s okay if I do not want to :).

      • Yesenia says:

        Bummer. I’m sorry you had this tie of experience with introverts. Just so you know, not all of us introverts are into sadness and depression. This is why I don’t read depressing books (along with paranormal books).

  3. Ros says:

    Any books (or tv shows, for that matter, but I read way more than I watch tv) that have horrible things happening to children (my sister actually warned me that now that I’d had a child I should ignore her recommendation for Spartacus). I can’t deal with it, it gives me actual wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat nightmares. Becoming a mom messed me up that way. 😉

    Intellectually, I acknowledge that reading expands your boundaries and your mind and gives you perspectives you might not otherwise have seen. Fine. In practice: I have limited spare time and a stressful job, and the very last thing I can read about after dropping my daughter off at daycare is dead toddlers. No can do.

    • Kelty says:

      Absolutely agree! that’s a trigger for me. My husband and I have been watching a show the last few weeks and over the last 2 episodes, some of the plot tension made you think a baby/kid was going to be harmed. Multiple times, I said, “They’d better not kill that baby!” Thankfully they didn’t but gosh, I do not care for that. There’s too much actual harm done to children in this world for me to tolerate it in my fiction intake, book or screen.

  4. Heather says:

    I completely agree. If we needed to read these types of books (ones that truly bother us) for our job or to help someone, then that would be one thing and we would find a way to do it. But assuming we are talking about reading as a hobby, then it’s supposed to be entertaining and, like you, I steer clear of books that I think would make me uncomfortable or upset. Great topic!

  5. Jenn says:

    So good.

    And I tend to avoid books with coarse language, for the most part. The milder stuff, I might overlook… however, there are just some words or phrases that I cannot tolerate, and don’t feel the need to subject my brain to. Therefore, if a book contains those, I’m likely to just say it’s not for me.

    Of course, then there are the genres I avoid — westerns bore me… erotica is uninteresting (and against my beliefs)… horror just doesn’t call to me.

    Maybe I’m a book snob? LOL. Don’t care though. 😉

  6. Susan says:

    I don’t read/watch horror any more. I used to read Stephen King and loved the VC Andrews books as a teen, but now i wake up screaming in the night. Totally not worth it to watch those movies or read those books anymore even if they are (especially if?) well done.

    • Katt says:

      I’m with you, I don’t like to read horror anymore and I really loved it when I was younger. Now I feel that my subconscious already has enough material and I don’t like the nightmares. I do make an exception for one friend of mine who writes horror and I read his stuff.

  7. Alyssa says:

    I’ve never read “The Room” even though it’s been highly praised because I just can’t deal. I like reading dark books sometimes, but there are just certain plots (usually involving children) that I don’t want anything to do with.

  8. Tina says:

    I have the same issues with some books. My daughter had cancer when she was four and I don’t like books that feature children with cancer. Or Alzheimer books. My dad has Alzheimer’s and Still Alice has been on my TBR stack where it will remain at this point.

  9. Wyndi says:

    In general, I avoid books with bad things happening to children. Books often don’t bother me as much as the visual representation onscreen. While I more often make exceptions for a really good book, I RARELY make exceptions for TV/Movies that involve bad things happening to children and war movies about 20th century or later wars. I’ve cried at trailers for those kinds of movies.

  10. Pam Moore says:

    I absolutely have book boundaries. And movie boundaries. I’m very sensitive and stories affect me on a very deep level. I just can’t do that to myself. I realized this at a very early age. I had a teacher in the 6th grade who read a chapter of a book to us every day after lunch and recess. When she read the end of Where the Red Fern Grows I was absolutely sobbing. In class. In front of everyone. I was the only single student in a classroom of 30ish that was moved to tears. Obiously, the majority of people can handle that stuff. But, I know myself and I’m just not in to self-torture. I think boundaries are a healthy thing. 🙂

    • Barb says:

      I so agree with Pam. I’ve learned I can’t watch stressful movies as my heart races and my mind just doesn’t know it isn’t really happening. I have nightmares even from little snippets of a scary scene caught on a preview. Books are easier to skip over the hard stuff but why even read a book with themes I don’t want to read about?

      I’d rather focus my reading and movie watching on uplifting or inspiring stories. I am not naive. I know that evil exists and that people are hurt everyday but if I can’t take action to relieve their pain then I don’t want to read about it and certainly not watch it.

    • Anne says:

      I’m so sorry about your experience with Where the Red Fern Grows! (We read that in 5th grade, in class, and I think the whole class was sobbing at the end. A wonderful book, but I could have done without the crying-in-public part.)

  11. Ciera says:

    This is something I consider when recommending books to others. I have friends who avoid certain topics in books because they hit too close to home. I always try to pay attention when my loved ones give me hints about that kind of stuff, so that I don’t recommend books that would cause them pain. Interesting post!

  12. Rebecca says:

    Anything with graphic sex, violence, or torture is out for me. (Sex is usually used to demonstrate power in literature, not love). Ditto profanity. If a writer isn’t intelligent enough to choose one of the other 1,000,002 words in the English language I’m not wasting my time. I enjoy memoirs of people who deal with life altering or ending illness and accidents, but I avoid it in fiction.

    • Rebecca says:

      Almost forgot…witchcraft/supernatural is a huge turn off. I’m one of 4 people on the planet that couldn’t even make it through the first Harry Potter.

      • Zelda says:

        I am with you on Harry Potter, do be honest I didn’t even try it. Ditto Lord of the rings, Game of Thrones and Vampire diaries. In general I can’t see the appeal of vampire or zombie stories, and these days it seems like everyone is churning out one of those.

    • Angie says:

      I am on the same page, Rebecca. I am no prude but I do not want to read graphic sex scenes. I agree with your comment about it usually showing power in literature,not love. Insightful.

      • Tamara says:

        I’m with you ladies. And I hate when it sneaks into an otherwise very good book and catches me off guard. I can’t un-read it and I hate having it in my brain.

  13. Angela says:

    Yes, I have some “won’t read” specifications. I can’t read books where awful things happen to children. I just can’t and probably never will. Even if things turn out ok in the end…I can’t read it. There are some other things I have issues with, but that’s the big one.

  14. Danielle says:

    I do have book boundaries! I won’t read books that make me cry! And as a cancer survivor, I avoid cancer books, too! I’m just to set in my ways, I like books to transport me away from my normal life, make me interested in the characters and maybe teach me a bit of history! Anything that is too close to my normal (which is usually good) life, that brings to the surface the things I want to hide deep down, those books are just not for me right now! Maybe never!

  15. renee @ FIMBY says:

    I will not read books about boy soldiers in Africa (not while I’m raising my own tender son), and I don’t read non-fiction books about human rights issues in Africa in general. I can read small accounts of this in fiction stories, when it’s slipped in and part of a larger story, but I can’t read books centered on horrific African events, historical I can handle ok. Actually come to think of it, I can’t read non-fiction about social justice issues and children around the world, in general.

    I used to feel bad about this, mostly because I thought it made me insensitive, uncaring. And I still struggle with this sometimes, but I can only hold so much world-hurt in my heart. And I think about in the past, how horrific things have happened all over the world, in all ages of time, but people didn’t know, the only knew the horrors in their own communities and later countries.

    Sometimes a lot of information is helpful and we need to face the reality that in a global economy our local actions have global impact – the clothes we wear, food we eat, etc. But on the other hand it’s too much information for most of us because I don’t think we’re emotionally equipped to deal with all that, at least I’m not. It wasn’t until very recent history that humans knew about the sufferings of people world-wide 24 hours a day. They knew their own suffering and even that was sometimes more than they could handle.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you for writing this. The last two sentences resonate so well with my beliefs: “It wasn’t until very recent history that humans knew about the sufferings of people world-wide 24 hours a day. They knew their own suffering and even that was sometimes more than they could handle.”

      Understanding our own suffering reminds us to be compassionate toward ourselves and others.

    • Melissa D says:

      This is exactly right. It’s why I no longer watch the news, which isnt even reporting anymore– it’s titillating and relishing horrible stories. Reporting I can handle.

      I can’t read books where kids are hurt deliberately by adults.

    • Anne says:

      “It wasn’t until very recent history that humans knew about the sufferings of people world-wide 24 hours a day. They knew their own suffering and even that was sometimes more than they could handle.”

      So well said. Thanks for that.

  16. Lisa says:

    Book boundaries are perfectly fine. It’d be different if there weren’t that many books to choose from but, as you said, that is just not the case. No reason at all to read something that will upset you when there are so so many others that can thrill, engage, enlighten and please you.

  17. Adrienne says:

    Boundaries are a good thing! I avoid the horror genre in movies and books, and will definitely not read or watch anything that depicts sadism, especially when it is directed at children. I just can’t go there.

  18. Katia says:

    As with everyone else who has commented before me, I agree wholeheartedly that life is too short to read something that makes us feel miserable. In grad school, I took a course on women and war. The professor was a passionate activist and a wonderful woman in every regard, but the three-inch-thick reader filled with horrific stories of violence against women and children left me with nightmares over the course of the first two months of the course. Unfortunately, those were also the darkest, gloomiest and coldest months of the winter season in Ontario. After the two months, however, something interesting happened: in the interest of self-preservation and time-conservation (I was in the process of working on several final papers and reading additional material for this and other courses), I learned to deal with the material by skimming through the chapters and articles in order to understand the general ‘gist’ of the subject and be ready to discuss it in class. Although this method helped me to stay happier, I also felt an emotional conflict. I was reading real stories of violence against real people, and yet, I was trying to distance myself from it instead of engaging and doing something more. I felt something more must be done but faced the frustrated and powerless.

    Having worked in the journalism sphere, I also know that distancing is the strategy often adopted by reporters who, like me, try to continue living a normal life while writing about tragedy. Some do become desensitized, but I truly believe that the majority are simply trying to find a way to continue to live a normal life and take care of their families while continuing to do their work honestly. At least, that’s the belief onto which I will hold for as long as I possibly can.

    Since quitting the journalism world and graduating from university, I have become a mother to my two children. I have also gotten to know myself better and confidently validate my experience as a mother, INFP, and HSP. I’m working to create a better world with the lessons of faith, love and courage that I am working to impart to my children. I no longer feel guilty for not watching the news or reading newspapers. I no longer feel guilty for avoiding books with violent subject matter, especially when the victims (however fictional they may be) are children. I also don’t enjoy books that are deliberately peppered with coarse language that is meant to shock or by means of the use of which the author tries to prove his or her [email protected]$$ fearlessness.

    I will end this long ‘essay’ of a reply by saying that I admire Kate Morton’s ability to write delicately about violence and kidnapping, in a way that tugs at the heartstrings without making one feel ill and wish to toss the book at the nearest wall.

  19. Cindy H. says:

    I am a less thoughtful in my choices. While I read James Patterson in my 20s, I refuse to read his books now. I’m not into detective serial books, that seem to go on. I tend to avoid best sellers lists although I do read some that turn out great *for me*. I have to remember that my choices are not the same for others. I loved Girl on the Train, as most of my goodreads group friends did but when i loaned it to a friend of mine, she was like: um, that was really dark. Then other friends were like: i *really* hated those characters. There’s nothing redeeming in that book. And I thought: huh. That’s what I loved most about that book.

    But I don’t mind redeeming characters either.

    I read Still Alice and i loved it but if I knew what it was about before I read it, I probably wouldn’t have read it. Not because I would have an emotional time reading it (I did) but because it wouldn’t have been my type of genre.

  20. Gail Wood says:

    I’m so glad you said that out loud! I have a degree in literature as well as in library science. I spent most of my life before my 40s reading British and American literature and I loved it; I read lofty literary books. After a year of death (a lover, a dear friend, and a parent), I read only what pleases me. It’s not lofty at all. I started reading mysteries because my mother liked them and we could talk about them, now that’s my preference. I don’t read books where there is animal abuse, or where people are stranded/lost and alone. I don’t read about dementia or diseases with no cure. There was a cartoon I saw in my college days: a woman goes to a book store and says, “I just want a book that starts happy, ends happy, and ends happy.” Life brings us love and loss, joy and sorrow, tension and release, and more and more. I want my reading and movies and television to give me entertainment and release from worry. Of course I do make exceptions because a “foolish consistency is the humbug of small minds.” <–RW Emerson, still love him.

  21. Dawn says:

    I read for enjoyment and growth so I do have limits. I don’t mind reading a book that is upsetting in a way that encourages me to think about a big idea and expand my horizon but I don’t want to read about death and depravity. I don’t like psychological thrillers very much either.

  22. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this post! I have both book boundaries and movie boundaries. I always say that real life is sad enough; I don’t want to spend my leisure time dwelling on sadness as well. Also, [email protected], I completely agree with your comment. We now have instant access to all of the horrors in the world, and that can make it seem like the world is worse than it was in the past. I also think it makes us feel helpless to improve things around us because there is so much bad elsewhere. This is why I don’t watch the news either!

  23. Rachel says:

    I tend to avoid horror and most sci-fi/fantasy. They just don’t interest me. I also limit the number of “heart breakers” (especially about siblings or other family members passing away) I read because they always hit too close to home. I’m strongly believe that I shouldn’t be shattered as soon as I close a book.

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has book boundaries!

  24. Corby says:

    Life’s to short for bad/unrelatable/eww I don’t like that books. Yep I build my literary wall and live comfortably inside snuggled with a cup of tea enjoying my reads while icky books being catapulted at me from the other side of my literary fortress, bounce off my wall and land in the moat of “Nope not gonna read it.”

  25. Sarah Jane says:

    I felt the same way about When Breath Becomes Air and then I won a copy from goodreads. Now I feel obligated to read and review it- I’m an obliger!:) I can’t read it before bed. Yesterday I woke up an hour early and read before I went to work. It’s beautiful and hope I can finish this weekend.

  26. I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 12:12: “To the making of many books there is no end; and much devotion to them is a weariness of the flesh”

    Yes, boundaries are good! I read Breathless: an American girl in Paris, and hated it. The author describes one sexual tryst (not graphic, but still) after another with men she doesn’t even like, then an affair with a man she DOES like while married to a man she doesn’t. UGH!

    Adultery is on my NO list for books and movies. Cuts too close.

    I forgot my “38 pages” rule with this book.

    • Jennifer says:

      I’m with you Carrie. Adultery is number one on my NO list as well…it cuts close.

      I have to add any sex scenes and when women are treated like objects. There is already enough of that in the world around me every day. I don’t need it in my literature too.

    • Jamie says:

      I agree with no adultery. Especially when the author is trying to make you root for it. I know too many wounded spouses and broken homes to think of it as entertainment.

  27. Ana says:

    I mentioned Still alice before. I abandoned it early on because it made me so anxious and upset. (thanks for the warning on the other ones!) I really really want to read When Breath Becomes Air…but…I don’t think this is the time for me to go there, either. I never read (and DEFINITELY never watch) horror, and am not really into the vampire thing, either. I am certainly an HSP.

  28. Diane says:

    As a psychiatric nurse I choose not to read books which give accounts about childhood sexual abuse as I have spent many hours actively listening to adult survivors accounts of their own life and their on going struggles. I do however recommend Breaking Free by Ainscough and Toon, an excellent resource for therapists and self help

  29. Amy says:

    I cannot read YA lit right now. I’m on the tail end of raising four teenagers (as a single mom through most of those years), and although I am a high school librarian, I cannot handle one more smidgen of teen angst–not in real life, and definitely not in books which are supposed to be my escape.

    Ironically, I’ve had a spouse commit suicide in the past, and while I can’t read graphically violent thriller-type books, I DO enjoy the quieter books when they touch on suicide. Example: Harold Fry. Maybe it’s the insight into what actually goes through people’s minds before such a decision … not sure. But I do know I cannot handle being overly thrilled or exposed to further teen angst these days. Just not at all.

    Great post!

    • Katherine says:

      That is an interesting point. I think I shy away from a sensationalized version of particular topics- death of a parent at a young age, for example- but if it is written about with a sort of close look of honesty and gentleness I enjoy bonding with the writer over that topic. Maybe this is what you mean by “quieter books”. Someone writing it out on the ground, so to speak, and not from a distance meant to entertain or shock the reader.

      I am sorry about your spouse. And my hat is off to you for raising four kids at all, particularly as a single mom. You must have some grit.

    • Anne says:

      I’m not to the YA stage in my own real life yet—-I’m right on the cusp–and I find your perspective on YA lit very, very interesting. I can totally see myself being there in another year or two.

      I’m so sorry about your spouse, and I find your comments about the suicide in novels so interesting because of your own experience. The idea that the quieter novels offer insights into what’s happening internally is especially compelling. Thanks so much for sharing that.

    • Terri says:

      What an interesting insight. I hadn’t thought about why a lot of YA doesn’t appeal to me, but that’s it exactly. I have enough teen angst to deal with at home. When I encounter it in a book, it’s a real turn-off.

  30. Ris says:

    I’m 30 and last year my best friend’s husband died suddenly and very unexpectedly from a rare and undiagnosed cancer. I will not, absolutely CANNOT read books about young adults/young spouses/etc dying. I’ve lived it, and it’s horrible. I don’t need to read a book about it to know what that’s like. I’m sure Paul Kalinithi’s book is absolutely wonderful but just thinking about it makes me tense and upset. Maybe in 5, 10, 15 years it won’t be so raw, but for now, that’s the category of books I cannot touch.

  31. Rachel says:

    I have a very hard time with books where bad/violent things happen to young children. I have a 5-year old and a 2-year old; as you put it so nicely, I just can’t go there right now.

  32. beth says:

    I can’t read horror. I get scared way too easily and then I can’t sleep.
    Also, “Room” was a no go for me. Just thinking about the subject matter was too upsetting.

  33. Florence says:

    I don’t read horror, anything sadistic, or anything about dementia.

    There is too much that is good and true and uplifting to spend my time on things that drag me down.

  34. Kelty says:

    Ditto on the not reading books about bad things that happen to children. I generally avoid apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories. I just don’t really want to think about the world ending. Also, no drowning at sea movies or books.

  35. Melanie says:

    I have the same boundaries for books that I do for movies and tv shows–no heavy violence, no heavy subjects and absolutely no animals. I’m highly sensitive and overly emotional. If there is an animal featured in a book or movie, it will undoubtedly die or be in peril at some point. I can’t handle that at all. I haven’t watched Bambi since I was a child, I cry just thinking about Dumbo and Where the Red Fern Grows is torture. My kids are trained to skip over animal related shows on Netflix and even if we are watching a documentary, they will shield me from lions chasing zebra and let me know when it’s over!

  36. Kayris says:

    No horror or anything with vampires, demons or zombies (although I picked up Mira Grant’s “Parasite,” and while it’s not *exactly* about zombies, that’s the gist. Tapeworms used as medical implants develop awareness and take over their hosts. If they do it wrong, they turn the host into a zombie, although that word is never actually used. It’s a book I would normally not enjoy, but I was fascinated by the science and also by certain questions it raises. At what point does a species become sentient and as a sentient being, what rights and freedoms are expected?).

    I don’t like books or movies about evil, sociopathic people (I hated Gone Girl with a burning passion) or gratuitous violence. The SAW movies? No way, no how.

  37. liz n. says:

    Anything in which children are harmed, and I don’t mean that the stern nanny punished her charge by sending him off to bed without dessert.

    And bodice-ripping romance novels, in which every heroine is breathlessly beautiful, every hero is chiseled from marble, and everything is an adventure. Give me a break.

  38. For the most part, I won’t go near a kid dying kind of book – like as in told from the perspective of the parents. And I’m not crazy about reading a book about someone’s parent dying either. I realize that this gives a lot of restriction because everyone is somebody’s parent or child but I’m talking about books that deal with the fallout from this situation rather than just “OMG that was someone’s child!!!” I have made a few exceptions over the years but in general, they are not books I gravitate towards. In a more snobbish note, I’m not much for bodice ripping romance novels or super science fictiony techy books either – but I don’t rule them out at all costs.

  39. This makes so much sense to me. I’ve never read (or watched, but reading is worse) horror books, because I get intense nightmares. But other groups of books have been added as other things have changed in my life. Since my daughter was born, I no longer read or watch stories about children who are abducted, because that’s my personal anxiety area. Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I now try to avoid books where people are dying of cancer. I read the Fault in Our Stars prior to my diagnosis and it was hard, but there’s no way I’d read it now! Sometimes that plot twist is tricky and hidden, though, and that’s the worst. That happened to me when I was reading Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, when one of the character’s is diagnosed with terminal cancer in the middle, and I was already so in love with the book. I literally threw it across the room and stayed mad for a couple of days. But I did finish it, because I needed the closure and also because it was such a beautiful book. But I cried through all of the chemo scenes, because it just hit so close to my own experience. On the other hand, I purposely read Being Mortal, even though I knew it would be really hard, because I felt it was a topic I wanted to know more about and I would find it empowering, and I did. Even though I cried through quite a bit of it.

    There are so many books. There is no need to read the ones that unnecessarily upset or hurt us.

    • Anne says:

      “Sometimes that plot twist is tricky and hidden, though, and that’s the worst.”

      Yes! It’s absolutely the worst.

      Wishing you well with your own treatment.

    • Nancy says:

      Yes!! Those plot twists. The Art of Racing in the Rain, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Both excellent, but no way would I have read them given my family’s situation, if I’d known about the plot twist/back story.

  40. Susan says:

    Thank you so much for your post. I admire you greatly, therefore it is very comforting to me to read your thoughts, because my feelings about violent and sad movies and books are so similar. There are so many sad and scary things in the world, so when I read or watch a movie I want to truly relax. The story or movie will remain in my mind for hours, or maybe even days, so I want those thoughts to be good ones.

  41. Sarah R says:

    I have boundaries as far as violence and illnesses happening to children and teens. I don’t think this is burying my head in the sand; I understand the terrible reality that this is for many children and their families. I would rather devote my time and resources to helping actual families facing illnesses and use my reading time for enjoyment.

    That said, for the reading challenge “a book that intimidates you”, I may try A Little Life. Books on the Nightstand raves about it.

  42. Allison says:

    While I am repeating what others have said, I too have boundaries, and I truly appreciate your bringing up this topic. I refuse to read Still Alice or any other books (Fiction or Non-Fiction) about Alzheimer’s/Dementia, since my mother had Alzheimer’s and it was HELL. I was all excited about the Outlander series, until a friend of mine told me about the graphic sexual sections of the first book (she didn’t finish it or read any of the other books). I was SO disappointed. WHY? Why does an author feel the necessity to take a great idea and RUIN it with R/X-rated explicit writing? I am a grown woman; I can figure this stuff out on my own and frankly when it comes to these passages, less is more. So I won’t read any books, no matter who the author is, no matter how wonderful everyone says they are, if they are sexually graphic or filled with nasty language.
    Third, I agree with the others: no hurt children, animals, zombies, witches, witchcraft etc. I want redemption, so I am finding books set in WWI or WWII etc to be quite interesting… again, as long as the graphic stuff is kept to a minimum. If I want more info on the Concentration Camps, I will Google it.
    Thanks for a great topic Anne. Glad to know I am not the only one who makes these choices!

    • liz n. says:

      “Less is more.”

      Yes! This is the one thing about the “Outlander” series I’m tired of. I don’t need all the details, and I’d like at least some aspect of Claire and Jamie’s life to be private (and Ian’s, Brianna’s, and everyone else whose bedrooms Ms. Gabaldon’s led us into). This is the one area in which I think Gabaldon actually isn’t showing respect to her readers and is pandering a bit to the “make it real” crowd. Claire and Jamie’s relationship makes it pretty clear that they have mind-blowing sex, so let it be.

      • Lisa says:

        I completely agree!! I had the same issue with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. Every single time Ayla and Jondalar had sex it was The Most Amazing Sex anyone ever had. Ugh, nauseating.

  43. Melissa says:

    When my mother was diagnosed with ALS I had well-intentioned friends recommending various books and memoirs about this struggle. But I was finding that all the authors had passed away or then when my own mother passed away so quickly after diagnosis (122 Days to be exact)…I found those books to be far to painful to complete. I’d start, but then to hear how at the time one woman fought for 3-4 years and presented so much differently, it made me envious and angry. They struggled, but they got “more life” than she did. It hurt my heart and still hurts my heart to even attempt to read about these journeys.

  44. Makes so much sense. My brother, a cat vet, taught me this lesson when I was trying to choose a cat to adopt. “You don’t need to adopt the most pathetic case. There are just never going to be homes for all the cats in the world, so you might as well pick your favorite.”

  45. As a girl, I tried to stay miles away from books in which parents died. As a parent, I try to avoid books in which children die. I have deliberately avoided reading A Child Called It and all its sequels (even though these books were ridiculously appealing to the high school students I used to teach). Also, I never read Jodi Picoult books. I know lots of people think she is wonderful, and maybe I would love her books, but most descriptions just sound so heart-wrenching that I never feel up to it. I ordered a copy of When Breath Becomes Air and it arrived yesterday. I am so scared to read it as it is definitely the type of book I shy away from. I saw a photo of Paul Kalanithi a few days ago, and he just looked so good and kind and full of promise that I felt like I really should read his story, even if it hurts.

  46. Kirsten says:

    After reading multiple responses, I realize I have more book boundaries than I thought. To put it bluntly, I like happy movies and happy books. Real life is depressing enough, that when I read, it is truly an escape and I want to read something uplifting and edifying, rather than depressing.
    So, my “no go” zones: witchcraft/vampire (have also not read any Harry Potter); violence (I stopped reading Stones from a River after a particular violent scene – I did finish “The Shack” but didn’t find it ground-breaking, just filled with bad theology); Depressing story lines; fantasy-type books (I just don’t enjoy them);anything by Nicholas Sparks because someone always dies at the end (so mad at wasting my time on Message in a Bottle; bad theology books.
    That said, there’s lots I love to read: Austen, LM Montgomery, Alexander McCall Smith, Janet Evanovich, cookbooks, theology, historical fiction/non-fiction, Rhys Bowen, politics (though this can be depressing, too), Sir Martin Gilbert, biographies, autobiographies…and Richard Scarry and a menagerie of chilrens books to my munchkins.

  47. Bri says:

    Great topic! I agree, it’s so hard to find the right balance between self-care and stretching/growing. I am finding that as I get older (and have had children), I have a harder time with “triggering” books. The emotional weight just hits me harder and affects me longer than it used to, so I have to be careful about which books I read. At the same time, I think reading about hard topics is important for developing empathy. I completely avoid books that contain any sexual violence. I know I’ve missed out on some great books (e.g. The Kite Runner) because of this , but I’m okay with that. There are so many great books in the world!

  48. Leanne says:

    For me, it’s anything to do with the Holocaust or Germany during WWII. I love historical fiction, and people are always recommending “The Book Thief” and other similar titles, but this is one topic I can’t stomach. When I was in high school and studying the Holocaust, my palms would itch uncontrollably.
    However, I am also a cancer survivor, and I don’t mind reading cancer stories. I don’t tend to prefer them, and I often think they hit the wrong emotional notes, but they’re not on my “do not read” list.
    This post has obviously resonated with many people. I think the idea of carefully curating your information intake across all media is absolutely vital in our current world.

  49. erica says:

    Our daughter died of leukemia when she was 2. I can not read any books about dying children or hurting children. I can’t read books about dying moms either. I’m okay with sad parts in stories but I won’t read sad stories. If it made everyone cry then I won’t touch it. When I was younger I would read anything and everything, after Taryn died I found that I needed books to escape the pain of this world so why would I immerse myself in other pain. I like light romances, sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries and political thrillers. But they can’t be too bloody or graphic. And I’m not above reading the last chapter- it takes some of the stress out of reading, if I know that it turns out okay then I can enjoy the journey to get there.

  50. Erika says:

    Book boundaries are so important! I won’t read anything scary. I’m sensitive to it, I get nightmares, and it’s just not worth it. So, all Stephen King and the like are out. If I know going into a book that there’s rape, I’ll also avoid it. Those graphic scenes stay with me, making books like Kite Runner a bad fit for me. Then, to round out the categories I avoid, I won’t read erotica, even when it’s crazy popular like Fifty Shades of Gray. I think that would be really disrespectful to my husband. I don’t want him watching porn, and reading it is really no different. Beyond these three categories of books, I try to read widely and push my boundaries. This blog has been great for finding new books and new genres. Thanks for helping me push into new book categories, but also respecting each persona’s unique book boundaries.

  51. Sal says:

    I’ve never really thought about book boundaries… I’ve absolutely got them for films, in that I don’t watch horror. It’s just not my idea of a good time, being petrified!
    As for books, there are only really 2 genres now that I actively avoid. One is those “childhood abuse survivor” stories that were trendy 5-10 years ago (they don’t seem to be around so much now). I remember reading ‘A Child Called It’, and having a really massive, ugly, gulping cry-fest most of the way through. Again, it’s just not entertainment for me.
    I also avoid chick-lit completely. The few I have read over the years have just made me mad and frustrated. They aren’t a true representation (to me anyway) of what me, and the women I know, are dealing with day to day. I want something that, in my world at least, has some semblance of reality.

  52. Mary says:

    Thank you for this post and for all the thoughtful comments. I spent my career in child welfare and have lost family members to sudden death. I read now for pleasure and entertainment and rarely read best sellers or literary “should reads”. I’ve seen enough, thank you, and don’t need to read books to remind me. I don’t think we turn our backs on the violence and horror that exist in the world. It’s impossible today not to be aware of them. I, instead, think it’s healthy not to immerse ourselves in that darkness but to use reading (add in movies and TV watching) to balance out the bad and bring light and pleasure to life.

  53. Megan says:

    I can’t handle torture, bad things happening to kids, or parents dying and leaving young children behind. I had to read The Bluest Eye in college several times and that book haunts me! I wish I had never read it! I also won’t read memoirs by military spouses who lost their husband/wife in combat. My husband is in the Army and has been deployed 3 times, it’s just too close to home for me! I don’t even like the YouTube videos of Homecomings that people send me! I just see all the previous months of pain and hardship and can’t enjoy them!

  54. Tiffany says:

    I am the same way with movies. I joke that I am shallow. I don’t do cancer (as i am a survivor and my best friend was not), I don’t like sexual violence, and even if the main point of a story is about somebody dying. Life is really hard, I like to read and watch things that help me escape that reality and just breathe. I used to have a standing date with my copy of Pride and Prejudice every year. It’s been a few, I’m thinkin she’s due for another go around…

  55. Jessica says:

    I tend not to read books that I know will make me mad! As someone who’s worked in criminal justice for years, I don’t like books that inaccurately portray that line of work. While I make exceptions for work-related reading, my rule of thumb is: If I’m going to yell at the book, then I probably shouldn’t be reading it.

  56. Cindy says:

    This really made me think. I do have book boundaries – no horror, graphic violence, etc. But as I was thinking about it more, I realized that I’m drawn to books that help me process life experiences. For example, I read The Art of Racing in the Rain shortly after my beloved dog died and while I completely lost it at the end of the book, it was cathartic. Maybe, in a strange way, it validated the pain I was feeling. I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my copy of When Breath Becomes Air, and hoping that helps me work through more emotion/pain from losing my husband’s mom to cancer two years ago. It helps to know you’re not alone in your experiences, even when they’re so painful.

  57. Laura says:

    For me it’s most YA, violence/gore, miscarriage/ death of a child. I may go there at some point, but for now I have too much trauma from being an L&D nurse and also have young kids so it hits too close to home.

  58. Sara S. says:

    I avoid dog books: Old Yeller, Marley and Me, The Art of Racing in the Rain… It is just too much heartache because the dog ALWAYS dies at the end. Neck tears every time. I just can’t…

  59. Jo Yates says:

    I always ask, half joking, before I read a book or watch a movie, “Does the dog die?” I hate gratuitous sex, profanity, violence. I might read a scary book (“Passages” by Justin Cronin) but I know I will NOT see a movie made of the book. I’m too visual.

  60. Angela says:

    It is interesting that I would say the books I categorically don’t read are ones that make me feel guilty or inadequate. These almost always fall in the “improve” your life/family/parenting/faith category. So I won’t read about the life changing magic of being tidy (of course I feel better when my house isn’t a mess). I have tried twice to read Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. But I do want to be happy. And for heavens sake, I can’t even manage to read books about being grateful. I can read this stuff in small doses such as articles or blog posts. But in book size doses I just end up wanting to hide under the covers and cry. I don’t know people do it. I just can’t.

    • Rachel says:

      Oooh, I hadn’t thought about this — I only thought of ‘disturbing’ topics initially. But now that you mention it, I read a LOT of parenting books during my first child’s first year. After dozens of them, I finally realized that not a single one had been remotely helpful in my parenting, and had only served to make me feel bad about myself as a mother. Haven’t touched one since.

  61. Donna says:

    Great post, Anne. I tend to avoid cancer books. I’ve been cancer-free for 3 years, but it hits too close to home. I think I find it difficult to get into books centering on medical conditions in general. I still haven’t finished Still Alice and I doubt I will. But for the challenge, I’m tackling Inside the O’Briens for the ‘a book that intimidates me’ category. I’m also gonna try reading ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’ by Susannah Cahalan for the ‘a book I previously abandoned’ category and I can’t wait to pick up ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ for the ‘a book published this year’ category.
    We’ll see how it goes…

      • Donna says:

        I am hoping I can make it through Brain on Fire this time around. It was so incredibly well-written and I got to three-quarters of the way through and I just couldn’t go on. But I figured since I reached so far, I should give it another try. I’ll let you know how Inside the O’Briens works out for me.

  62. Dana says:

    I do not care for horror, witchcraft, vampire, zombie type fiction. I also will put down a book with too much coarse language and I do not want to read explicit sex scenes or books about women or children in violent predatory situations. I also dislike books that are too precious or pretentious in their tone. I like a good story that produces honest emotions but I do not want anything that tries too hard to tug on my heartstrings.

    • Anne says:

      “I do not want anything that tries too hard to tug on my heartstrings.”

      This is me, especially the “tries too hard” part. I resent having my emotions manipulated!

  63. YES. I need these boundaries too, and I’ve also struggled with feeling like they’re juvenile or fussy. But I know what I can’t take. That includes books centered on school shootings (or violence toward children or women in general); the whole horror genre; and anything with a zillion triggers (like A Little Life). The same applies to movies. I got up and walked out of “Crash” years ago because I could not stand all the ways people were being so horrible to one another. Great post, Anne.

  64. Elaine says:

    I absolutely have book (and movie!) boundaries in place; it’s part of a healthy lifestyle choice, I think. I don’t read gratuitously violent; I don’t read cancer books or books with child or animal abuse. All of those make me too anxious. Because of the work I have done (and continue to do), I also don’t read books about Hurricane Katrina; it simply hurts my heart too much (I live in New Orleans and do national disaster work for the Episcopal Church).

  65. Gina says:

    Well, this is popular topic! Funny that you are wrote this today because I was just listening to your podcast (On a side note, I love your podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time to record it each week. I’m really enjoying it) and you were discussing “Me Before You” which I’m sure is a fabulous book. Many people have recommended it. However, I have no interest in reading it because I know that it brings everyone I know who reads it to tears. I just don’t want to read a heart wrenching books.
    I agree with others that I don’t read very violent or sexually graphic novels (no interest in Shades of Grey) and I stopped watching any TV shows that have bad things happening to children. I remember when I first had my son, I stopped watching ER because there was always something terrible happening to a child. Thanks for writing this!

  66. Karen says:

    My favorite type of book used to be detective/ murder mystery books. Then a family friend was murdered. Now I feel so guilty to read (and enjoy) this type of book. How could I have enjoyed reading about murder?!!

  67. Grace says:

    I would avoid any kind of explicit rape scenes both in books and films. However, I hate spoilers of any kind, so I tend to dive headlong into books/films without further research, which has had some horrible consequences in this respect. Sometimes it was worthwhile, as in the case of “Monster”, with Charlize Theron (a great film which left me broken and sleepless for a whole week). But most of times it just wasn’t worth it, so yeah, I can totally see your point.

  68. Meg says:

    As January always hits me like a ton of bricks my book boundaries become even more stringent. In the months of January and February I try not to read anything that involves death, cancer, or atrocities committed against woman anywhere. Pretty much it is summer beach reading in an attempt to transport and bolster my spirits. The rest of the year it is simply no books with cancer …. period.

  69. Amy says:

    I totally have boundaries for books…and they apply to movies and television as well. I can’t read things like you’ve mentioned, nor brutal crime because I already have an overactive imagination. And those types of stories tend to make me worry about “what ifs” that don’t exist. I also don’t read books about cancer. I lost my mom to cancer a year and a half ago. Those stories just hit too close to home. I don’t think boundaries are immature at all. I think they are smart–why put ourselves through things that we know will affect us in negative ways?

  70. Angela says:

    After reading all these comments and seeing how many people’s boundaries are similar, I am curious how many of these books become so popular or acclaimed. I wonder if there is a snowball effect and people do read critical picks or bestsellers simply because they are the books “everyone reads”. I remember a few years ago mentioning to a bookstore employee I just couldn’t read a certain book and she shared that she read it as she felt it was important as the store employee and didn’t like it or recommend it at all. The employees in that particular store were excellent and honest in their recommendation. I miss living near it. Books and Company in Oconomowoc, WI in case anyone is close.

    I shared my true overall category in a previous comment but I overall share others’ boundaries especially with horror or erotica. But I just couldn’t read Still Alice just because it is such a scary thought.

  71. DanielleD says:

    I devoured L’Engle’s The Crosswick’s Journals. But I didn’t read Summer of the Great Grandmother. I couldn’t handle a book about a mother dying. I looked at this book and put it back on the shelf when I was in my mid-20s. I’m now in my mid-40s and I still can’t handle the thought of my mother dying. Maybe i’ll read it should the day ever come when I lose my mom (indulge me…), but until then…

  72. Jayme says:

    My no-go is anything involving harm to children. I just can’t get those things out of my head so I can’t read them in the first place. I also unfollow anyone on social media who shares articles about something bad happening to a child. I know they’re just trying to raise awareness, but I just can’t go there. The headlines alone will haunt me for days.

    I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn a year ago and I still can’t get some of those scenes out of my head. I won’t ever read a Flynn novel again, even though she’s an excellent writer.

    I also currently abandon anything where the main character is depressed. As someone who daily struggles with anxiety and depression, I just can’t be in the head of a depressed narrator on top of my own stuff. Maybe one day I’ll be able to come back to those stories, but right now I feel like I need to insulate myself against the negative.

  73. Diane says:

    What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your Book Boundaries. I have them as well, and of course they are tied to very personal experiences. I have a friend who helps me avoid certain books or genres. I love your honesty and help in choosing books that are appropriate for me. Please feel free to label books and warn those of us who do not choose to read about cancer, suicide, family members dying, child abuse, etc. Label those books for us! Thanks.

  74. Andrea says:

    I, too, am afraid to read A Little Life! I avoided anything to do with 9/11 until I read A Fall of Marigolds. And I limit myself to only one WWII book a year, and even gave myself a two year break after reading Sarah’s Key.

  75. Julie says:

    Lolita was the book that I had to stop reading because of the unease it triggered in me. It gave insight into a psyche that I don’t want to ever think about.

    Book boundaries are perfectly acceptable and, I think, a sign of self-awareness (which is part of maturity) – in the case of reading for pleasure, at least. The only question you need to ask is, “Am I enjoying reading this?” And if the answer is no, then it’s ok to draw that line.

    Certainly, there are many times in life when we need to acknowledge, accept and grapple with things that make us uncomfortable – that *is* part of maturing. Our leisure time is not one of those instances.

  76. Kathleen Danley says:

    I have a question: Where do you find out about all the books you read? I always feel like I discover books way after “everyone” has read them….

  77. Kim says:

    This is a fabulous post. I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2013. There is a book that the main character dies of inflammatory breast cancer that I had read a few years prior to my diagnosis. Yes, I do regret reading that book.

    After my diagnosis I did read “Fault in My Stars”. I actually LOVED it. I felt that the author gave the characters’ life, diagnosis and death meaning. It also showed that the survivors went on with life. As a cancer patient that faces a possible terminal diagnosis, I want my life to have meaning and to know that my loved WILL carry on and be “okay”.

  78. Anna says:

    I have some boundaries, too. Once I had kids, I couldn’t read most books about bad things happening to kids. It would put ideas in my mind that would make me anxious. As I’ve learned more about the real world, I read less psychological suspense than I did when I was younger. At the time, it was entertainment to me. Now, it’s too real. There are so many other things to read that I can pick and choose.

  79. This post is interesting and timely for me. I am reading Chris Bohjalian’s newest book. I love his writing, but I do almost always find his books pretty haunting. I had a dream/nightmare about this one last night. I told Mr. V that I might just have to stop reading his books because they do end up upsetting and disturbing me.

    I found that when I read All the Bright Places that suicide is a MAJOR MAJOR trigger for me. I will avoid any books that mention it like the plague in the future. I was honestly kind of surprised, because I can handle a lot more in words that I can’t in movies/TV, but this is one area where I now know I cannot deal with it. Period.

    I will say in the past there have been a lot more books I just don’t read, but my areas of interest have grown a lot. I still don’t enjoy or seek out books with graphic sex or constant language. (I really shouldn’t have kept reading The Guest Room for this reason. Now I am too far in and I want to know what happens but I think it might haunt me. Bohjalian’s book The Night Strangers is still the scariest book I have ever read, and it gives me the bejeebies to even think about it.)

  80. Shelby says:

    World War II. I avoid any book based in that time frame. Terrible people did terrible things and I don’t want to be reminded of it. I read to escape, to laugh, to learn, to smile. I don’t want to be sad, horrified, or disgusted. I read in my free time and I am an adult and I don’t have any homework assignments to read for, so I get to choose my own books. I’ve made my own rules – no WWII, nothing where children are killed or abused, no sexual abuse – any age. Bad things can happen in a book, but it can’t be the entire point of the book. That leads to my next rule – no Oprah books. Some people think my rules are dumb or limiting, but I assure you I am never at a loss for books to read. I have stacks and shelves to be read. I’m glad to see that others are avoiding certain books too!

  81. Delta says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this post! I always felt I was a chicken for avoiding certain topics – for me it’s horror, child-abuse, WWII/Nazis, and slavery. I realize the latter two are part of our history, but that doesn’t mean I have to read historical fiction/fictional accounts about either one. I dropped out of a lovely book club because of this. Glad to know other readers are with me!

  82. Gretchen says:

    Paul Kalanithi’s book is quite beautiful and a good deal of it is simply about grappling with what gives life meaning and value, We will all die, each one of us, so this is such an important question, albeit a difficult one since none of us knows how much time we have left. The book is sad to be sure, but as Kalanithi says, life is not about avoiding pain. There is very little about the day-to-day physical suffering of cancer if that is what concerns you.

  83. Jocelyn says:

    I avoid books about cancer because my mom died of cancer just a few years ago but it seems like yesterday and I cannot even look at my grief let alone hold it and begin to accept it. But in Rising Strong, Brene Brown talks about why we don’t look at homeless people. Is it the same reason we can’t look at the abused, the victims, the boy soldiers in Africa? Because we can do nothing and the anguish is too awful. Mother Teresa looked and bore the pain and did something about it. If we can just be a tiny bit more like her.

  84. Terri says:

    Wow. I had no idea I had so many boundaries until I started reading everyone else’s. I’m with you on anything labeled as “heart-breaking”. I don’t like graphic violence, graphic sex, profanity (although it is increasingly hard to avoid), rape, incest, zoophilia, violence against children, horror, or hopeless dystopian books. I’ve also figured out, after reading Beloved and One Hundred Years of Solitude, that I don’t really care for magic realism. I might try one more, but if that doesn’t pan out, I’m done with it. Anyone have any recommendations?

  85. Kimberly says:

    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.

  86. 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.

  87. 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.

  88. Kristina Mullen says:

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

  89. 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!)

  90. 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 ….

  91. 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.

  92. Thomas says:

    I realize that I’m a little late on this thread. I found this after I googled the following: as I’m getting older I get tired of reading violent depressing books.
    I’m glad to see that I’m not alone.
    I would love to find a reading list that would satisfy my need for positive and exciting books.

  93. Laura says:

    1. Dog books and horse books. (I made an exception for Shiloh because I’m trying to read all the Newbery winners, but you bet I read the Wikipedia synopsis first to make sure it was safe.)

    2. Books with (a lot of?) child abuse. Everyone raves about My Absolute Darling, but I expect to never read it.

  94. Suz says:

    I’m the one in my book club that always says, “oh, I’ve read reviews on that!” and “I just listened to an interview with that author!”… So when a group member suggested Spoiler Alert – The Hero Dies, I forced myself not to know anything about it before I started reading.
    Well, it’s a cancer book. My dad died of cancer in the month of December, and my mom died in January (both when I was young). It was the end of November when I started reading.
    One day later, I texted my group and said, “this book is so intriguing and easy to read, but I can’t read it until June.” I honestly hid it among the beach towels so I wouldn’t see it but also wouldn’t forget it later.
    It felt awful to bail on my group for the month, but I knew it would make the month of December much harder than it already is. As an INFJ/hsp I would have held onto that guilt (forever!) in the past. But, I ultimately felt confident in deciding to protect my emotions and time… I’m looking forward to reading that book during a time when I can get lots of sun and hear my kids laughter all day.

  95. Leslie says:

    Anything that says,”It’s the next Gone Girl!” I loathed Gone Girl and make sure to not read anything similar. Example: a couple years ago I started Girl on the Train. I felt it was going down that whole twisted cast, unreliable narrator road and stopped reading after about 70 pages.

  96. Susan says:

    Yes! Anything involving horrible child abuse is a hard pass for me. I had to put Beartown down even though I’ve read and loved all of Backman’s other books. Something like Room…nope. Not ever ever.

  97. Jess says:

    I used to read horror, violent, and dark books, but I don’t read those anymore because I don’t want to think the world is bad either. So, Anne, your articles encourage me to stay away from many violent, stressful, or upsetting movies. It’s because I can’t handle these right now. The comments for this article also encourage me to read more pure and lighthearted books (like Anne Of Green Gables and The Secret Garden). There is a question I want to ask; is it still okay to read fairy tales? Despite I heard of negative news in real life (that’s why I hardly watch news anymore)?

  98. Kyelle says:

    Book boundaries. Wow, I thought I was the only one.

    I will not read/put the book down forever if I come across the following in order of importance:

    * Animal cruelty. I stopped reading the Anne of Green Gables series because there is animal cruelty in subsequent books. Watch out for westerns. Loaded with animal abuse. As an HSP, I can’t cope when the horse dies or the dog(s) die or the bear, the coyote, the cat etc., etc. And I’ve accidentally read some really graphic and painful examples that I can’t unread.

    * Incest: Yes, I’ve read many books with this taboo topic in the plot. I am done. It’s gross and evil. Just yuck.

    * Severe and graphic child abuse (Looking at you “A Boy Called It.”).

    * True crime. Again, not uplifting. Just a very dark rabbit hole I am not willing to go down. Depression usually follows.

    * Most steamy romance novels or erotica. Gag. I haven’t been into this genre since 7th grade.

    * Most psycho thrillers. A lot of these are too close to real life that we read about in the news.

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