I realized about halfway through that though In the Woods was a very good book, I didn’t want to be reading it.
The plot revolves around a rape-murder, and for various reasons (none of which are sensational), I have a hard time reading about sexual abuse. I just don’t want to go there.
I’ve quit some reportedly excellent books–like The Kite Runner–for the same reason. When I get to the sexual abuse, I drop them like they’re hot. Everyone has their pressure point, and that’s mine.
But I was hooked by the plot and decided to keep forging ahead: I thought I was through the grittiest part already, and besides, I wanted to find out what happened! I read as fast as I possibly could so I could get it over with.
Before I’d finished the book, I’d declared a new rule for myself: I don’t read books whose plots turn on sexual abuse. The End.
But there’s a tension with shying away from a whole category. While it might be wise to stay away from stuff that upsets me, it’s worthwhile to pay attention to those very things. What makes me weep, what makes my heart race? Oh, there’s meaning there. The answers to those questions say more about me than any blithe self-descriptors I could give you. It’s important to know what causes the cringe, what triggers the tears. There’s power in the knowing.
For a long time, I wished I’d never seen The Unbearable Lightness of Being, because my heart ached for the wife wrecked by her husband’s infidelity, and shuddered at its detailed portrayal. I wrestled with that book–and the impression it left on my mind, my heart–for months. And yet, I later called it one of the books that changed my life.
Before I finished In the Woods, I stumbled upon a passage–a bit from a character’s backstory–that was unexpectedly redemptive. It was fictional, true, but it was healing. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. It made me glad I’d stuck with this book, rape-murder and all.
What kind of book do you shy away from? (And if you’re feeling brave: why?) How do you navigate this tension?
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