You Don’t Want to Go There

squeamish some genres trigger warning

After blowing through Tana French’s book The Likeness last week, I immediately started French’s first book In the Woods, expecting more of the same.

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.

From In the Woods

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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  1. I once read “The Horse Whisperer,” in high school. It had some fairly explicit sexual content…in a movie, at least a PG-13 rating. I finished the book, but then I wished I hadn’t. I’m never reading anything like that again. It’s just not worth it to put that junk in my mind. Philippians 4:8!

  2. Christina says:

    Interesting post. I read Into the Woods recently and liked it. I didn’t think the plot involved sexual abuse at all although I suppose there is a point where it’s considered a possible motive for the murder. For the subject matter I thought the book wasn’t overly graphic. I still want to know what happened to the other two kids. As far as the question about what type of book do you shy away from I most often quit books because I’m bored with them. I will read books with difficult subject matter if I think it has purpose and is not just in the book for shock value. I read all the Stieg Larsson books and some of it was tough going. All the abuse in that had a purpose and a message though. I did decide to pass on the movie. I felt like watching it would be too much. I had a hold on the Fifty Shades book at the library and decided to pass on it when it came in because I was sure I was going to find the female character as annoying as I found Bella in the Twilight books…..

    • Anne says:

      Christina, you’re right, it’s really not graphic. (I want to know what happened to the other 2 kids too!)

      I haven’t read Stieg Larsson, but I’m not reading 50 Shades. There are a lot of terrible books (bad art or unnecessarily ugly themes) that I won’t touch. But there are also some good books that I’d rather avoid because I’m so sensitive to the themes.

  3. DFrazzled says:

    Maybe you don’t like those plots in books for the same reason I can’t watch CSI or any other show with fictional plots written with the express purpose of preventing you from diverting your attention. Just because I choose not to watch a particular show doesn’t mean I don’t care about the issues of murder or sexual abuse, but I don’t want to be watching it for entertainment on a nightly basis.

    I believe a good book can make you wrestle with hard subjects without putting decrepit pictures in your mind about them. Take The Shack for example–heartwrenching plot, deep characterization and changing of the protagonist, puts you face-to-face with life’s hardest questions in a novel that’s hard to put down. The book is clear that there was a violent scene but never details it out, blow for blow.

    • Anne says:

      I don’t watch CSI (or anything like that) for the same reason!

      I haven’t read The Shack, but I absolutely agree that “a good book can make you wrestle with hard subjects without putting decrepit pictures in your mind.”

      But sometimes hard subjects are just horrible to read or hear about, no matter how gently they’re introduced. I should have included Half the Sky above: it’s an important and wonderful book, but it was really tough for me to read. The truth of how women are mistreated throughout the world is ugly. But if people don’t know, what can they do about it?

      • I too just can’t do books with child abuse of any kind, it makes me quit immediately. However I could do The Shack. I found it profoundly healing. I needed a book that spent so long working around the heartache of those traumatic issues without dwelling on the act itself. Some people hate it though!

  4. Amanda says:

    Good question! At first I couldn’t think of any group of book I stay away from, thinking I decide on a case-by-case basis. Once I got to thinking, though, I realized there is a genre I don’t pick up without a lot of preparation. Usually I need my husband to know what I’m reading and be home while I’m reading. This sounds a little extreme to me now that it’s in writing, but it works out. I won’t read nonsense fiction, like Lewis Carroll, without someone who knows my struggles in the house with me. See, I suffer from a disorder that involves some psychosis (believing things that don’t make sense, in a nutshell) and nonsense fiction like Carroll tends to permeate my brain and get me thinking “weird”. So I don’t read about Alice. I also avoid books that deal heavily with psychiatric patients or psychiatric hospitals.

    So, there is my first public confession of such a big topic for me. I wish I could read the Alice books, but each attempt has left me feeling too “off” to finish. I still feel like I’m missing out, though!


      • Mandy says:

        that being said I personally stay away from dark things too….especially vampire type things etc, and also occult based books.

    • Mandy says:

      Books to me are bridges to wherever you want to go and sometimes where you don’t. How can you help the hurting if you never expose yourself to their pain? How can you rejoice with the successful if you aren’t informed enough to see it? Why would you need your husband to be home and know what you’re reading?

      • Anne says:

        For the last question, I would imagine it’s the same reason I’m so comforted by my husband’s presence when I wake up from a bad dream. The presence of another person reassures me that the trippy nightmare world I’ve woken from was just that–a nightmare. Other people bring us back to reality.

        (Reminds me of Peeta at the end of The Hunger Games: real or not real?)

        • Mandy says:

          Yes, I see what you mean now, and feel the same way. Such a gift to have a supportive and comforting husband. 🙂

      • Amanda says:


        I stay away from books that make me feel off-balance mentally. I need my husband home (or someone in the house who has traveled this road with me and knows how to help me) in order to “ground me” and get me back to an even-keel if I start to feel the psychosis gaining hold. I was a little off-put by your comment, “How can you rejoice with the successful if you aren’t informed enough to see it.” How does not reading Alice in Wonderland’s stories because they trigger uncomfortable reactions translate to that? I hope this helps you understand, and I would love to understand where you are coming from better.


      • Nikki says:

        I agree with you, Mandy. I work closely with people, young and old, who have dealt with all kinds of abuse. While I understand it is not pleasurable to read about, I strongly believe that these are issues people need to be aware of to be able understand and empathize with the victims. These events, unfortunately, are not just fiction, they’re reality.

  5. Joanna says:

    At the moment I am tending not to read romance fiction (even relatively clean stuff). Quite likely I will return to reading (clean) novels with romance themes but I’m skipping them now because I was finding that the few I was reading weren’t that great for my striving to develop contentment.

    • Anne says:

      Joanna, excellent point! And it’s not exactly great literature, but I know people who have dropped House Beautiful and Real Simple subscriptions for the same reason.

  6. I also cannot handle books (and particularly not movies) with themes of sexual abuse. Especially involving children. Every time I waive this rule I regret it. I still wish I hadn’t read The Lovely Bones. It just grieves my heart and feeds my anxieties far too much.

  7. I have trouble reading anything about a military men and death – because my husband is a soldier, and it hits way too close to home. There’s some great biographies/memoirs out there right now, that I wish I could read, but the fears that would enter my imagination and play out in my dreams would be far too painful and lifelike.

    I don’t tend to pick up books revolving around sexual abuse. Not sure I would want to read through the grisly details of that. I did stop watching Law & Order SVU because I just couldn’t handle filling my mind with those stories on a regular basis (however I love NCIS & other crime dramas that have more variety in the crime stories).

    And as for romance novels, I just plain don’t like them 🙂 Far too predictable and horribly unrealistic.

  8. Good thoughts, Anne. I am the same way. I don’t like anything dark, and I can hardly watch any tv/movies with anything close to violent or sexual… I did read The Kite Runner… at the one point I did put it down for over a month, not sure if I would read it or not. In the end I forced myself , and was glad I did. I needed to be aware of issues culturally, though I could not read that regularly. Very small doses, and only if there is a larger purpose.

  9. Angela says:

    I tend to avoid “romance” novels – even clean ones (like Joanna above). I find them unrealistic and they tend to make me discontent with my own marriage. I find that most marriage books do the same thing. My husband often reminds me that every marriage is unique and that we need to be grateful for what it is and submit it to God, but not worry about what other people are doing. I’m grateful for him, and avoiding those kind of books sharpens that gratitude.

  10. Tim says:

    Infidelity plots – especially a husband cheating on a wife – can drive me away from books. All I want to do is punch the guy in the face.

  11. If In the Woods was too much for you– definitely don’t read the Stieg Larsson books! I didn’t mind In the Woods, but parts of the Larsson ones were extremely difficult to read.

    I have a hard time with really graphic violence. I read 2 of Val McDermid’s books, and liked them, but she very, very graphically describes heinous murders. I kept having nightmares, and decided that even though I liked her writing, and her characters, I needed to quit that series.

  12. Rebecca says:

    How do you keep coming up with these awesome topics?????

    I’m an avid reader, but I lost my taste for most fiction about 10 years ago. I still teach kid lit classics in school, but for personal reading, I rarely pick up a fiction book. Even “trick lit” like The Happiness Project or Reading the OED are vastly more interesting to me than something that never happened. Weird, huh?

    • Anne says:

      Are you talking about The Professor and the Madman? I loved that book!

      You’re not in a bad spot, because there is enough excellent nonfiction out there to last me several lifetimes. (And since you mentioned it,, I’m looking forward to Happier at Home in September.)

      • Rebecca says:

        It’s the term I use for books where the author makes a one time (usually year long) change to their routine for the sole purpose of writing a book about the experience. The whole premise seems to me to be a sleight – of – hand designed to entertain or inform as opposed to the biography of someone who makes a genuine change based on personal conviction.

  13. Maggie S. says:

    I think there is a danger in entertaining ourselves with violence. I believe that collectively, we are becoming de-sensitized to brutality. We are no longer horrified.

    While God can redeem everything, I think we are making him prove it by not crying out against it.

  14. Ana says:

    Honestly I think its part of growing up, knowing yourself, and taking care of yourself to recognize your limits…particularly when it comes to what is essentially entertainment.
    If a friend or someone in need of support reached out to you and you declined to listen or help because the topic was too “hard” to deal with, or you are in denial & don’t work or support those that work to prevent the problem…that is limiting yourself & preventing growth. If its simply choosing to entertain yourself with literature or films that don’t emotionally crush you, that’s just good sense.

    After years of nightmares trying to “fit in” or “be part of the crowd” I decided that I DO NOT watch horror movies or read horror books or go to haunted houses. No exceptions, no discussions. I don’t think I’m “missing out” on anything and I sleep much more soundly!

      • Anne says:

        Me three. Halloween was a miserable day for me as a grade schooler….I sat through story time with my fingers plugged in my ears every year. *shudder*

        • SO agreed. Horror movies of any kind are off limits to me. I even had to get a friend to sit with me through part of a spoof to help me get to the end, and it was not even a scary premise…and I knew it!

    • Anne says:

      “If a friend or someone in need of support reached out to you and you declined to listen or help because the topic was too “hard” to deal with…”

      I don’t know, Ana. Beth Moore’s story springs to mind. She had a history of sexual abuse, and absolutely fell apart when she was asked to counsel another woman about her own sexual abuse. In the long run she was definitely able to find healing and grow and use that situation for good, but she’s said publicly that listening to that other woman’s story was a huge mistake.

      I’m tossing that out there in case someone needs to read it. I do think the general principle should be to listen to others and do what we can to help, but if the pain is too fresh, it could cause more harm than good. For us and the person we’re trying to help.

      • Ana says:

        Anne, that is indeed a valid and very important point. I was trying to draw a distinction between refusing to read about something and refusing to deal with it in the real world. But I acknowledge that my comment was irresponsible, since I have no personal experience nor am I a mental health professional that can advise to what level of involvement one who has experienced trauma should take. I was not considering those that have experienced such trauma, but rather for myself and many like me, who are fortunate enough to have no personal experiences, yet may be hesitant to get involved because the details can be too disturbing or difficult.

        • Anne says:

          Ana, I would hardly say it was irresponsible! I think you did a great job of stating the general principle: we should be open and ready to offer a listening ear to people who need us. But some of us could get in over our heads if we followed that general principle like it was a hard and fast rule.

          I’m a rule-follower by temperament, so I just wanted to clarify your comment for others like me who might be reading.

          I so appreciate how kind and gracious MMD readers are! Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  15. Tari says:

    I concur with many comments above. It really seems that I go through phases, and movies, or books I used to think were great, are not so great anymore. As I grow I think I’m becoming a more sensitive person to other people’s pain, fictional or real. I know we live in a terrible world and have some brutal consequences but I don’t need to add more to that mess by voting with my dollar which ones I will support. The old saying holds true for me “You are what you read”, if anything I want to be a better me, and not have sin warping my mind, flying in the face of the lofty argument “read, listen, watch what you want, it doesn’t matter” 2 Corinthians 10:5 I need to hold my thoughts captive, obedient to Christ. Not to mention I’m an endorsement for anything I consume to my peers. Life indeed is an open book.

  16. Cassy says:

    I used to read any type of book that looked interesting although there are certain genres that I don’t enjoy. But after I started having children, I could not read any books in which children died or were hurt in any manner, and I especially could not read any WWII books. Becoming mother more fully developed my sense of horror and even a child dying from natural causes was too much for me (especailly during pregnancy and 6 months my baby was born).

  17. Leanne Penny says:

    I think that Sexual Abuse would be hard for me too, because it touches on something very obviously sacred and it’s hard to be privy to the details of it.

    In “Little Bee” there is some suicide, which is a hard plot point for me because of my history.

    However, I still didn’t mind it because it caused me to identify with the characters more deeply and hold our stories and reactions side by side.

    Over all I absolutely agree that sometimes the least comfortable plot lines can change you for the better, but there is no need to pleasure read that which messes with you in a bad way.

  18. Sarah says:

    I’m with most of the above commenters. I am very careful about my fiction selection. I’ve read a FEW Christian fiction b/c I know so many who love it, but it’s mostly laughable. The relationships develop so fast and it’s all too predictable.

    I also learned my lesson with a few books I started w/o really looking into their subject matter. Water for Elephants, Wicked, The Jane Austen Book Club… I was excited to read them but the sexual scenes were a huge turn off and I couldn’t finish them. I guessing could be a softy, but I’m somewhat new to reading for fun and there are just too many good books out there to read ones to disturb me!

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, there are too many good books to mess with the bad ones. I didn’t finish The Jane Austen Book Club either. I didn’t like the content, but it wasn’t a good book either. I didn’t have any second thoughts about shelving that one.

    • Gabrielle says:

      I just had the same experience with Water for Elephants as well and stopped reading it. I don’t think you’re a softy- I find that it actually requires some strength to deny indulging yourself in topics/scenes such as those. The world can make us feel silly for it, or like we’re too straight-laced for putting up those boundaries. But a guarded heart and pure mind is more important overall, and certainly more important than an interesting plot line. I’m learning this lesson (when it comes to books, movies, and other things) now as an 18 year old. Really thought provoking post.

  19. Katie says:

    I very rarely read detective fiction anymore. Once I start I can’t put it down and the whole family suffers! I ignore all my responsibilities just to know whodunnit. Maybe I should read detective fiction out loud for homeschool. Then only the housework will suffer!

    On a more serious note, I do not read romance novels. I will not read books with excessive cursing, or explicit sex, especially if it is extramarital. I’m sure I miss out on many good books, but I’m missing out on a lot of good books due to time constraints anyway, so I might as well read books that keep to my standards. Also, I don’t read books where I am acutely aware that I am reading a book. Good writing does not distract the reader from the story with awkward phrasing and poor editing.

  20. Beth says:

    Anne, this was very interesting for me to read, I also can’t stand books or movies about sexual violence. I used to love criminal minds on tv until most of the episodes coming out seemed to centre around rape. If I see or read something of a sexually violent nature it is there in my head for life, and at least for a day or two affects how I view normal sex with my husband! Poor husband. So I avoid it completely. It seems to affect me more than other people I know, yet there is no conceivable reason for it to dweo so, sexual violence has never personally affected me. So when you wrote this blog it made me wonder if its an infp thing? The way we view sex as very sacred and extremely intimate (also knowing God’s design for sex and how far this strays from that) coupled with how much we feel other people’s pain and take it on as our own. Or that could just be me! But I wondered.

  21. HopefulLeigh says:

    Oh, I wish I’d read this before we chatted this afternoon! I want to hear more about what you thought of Tana French and whether you still like me for recommending her so fervently. 🙂

    I refuse to read anything in the horror genre. I also avoid explicit violence. I won’t read the Dragon Tattoo books, for example. I’ve witnessed too much in my social working, I don’t need to read anything along those lines. Many authors can depict violence in a way that moves the story forward, instead of sensationalizing it. It’s not always easy to distinguish this from a description and I’m cursed with an inability to stop reading something once I’ve started it (though I have been known to skip pages if I’m bored.) For this reason, I’m extremely picky with anything in the mystery/suspense realm and tend not to pick anything up unless it’s been recommended by a trustworthy friend.

  22. Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama says:

    I can’t read books that have child abuse, kidnapping or bad things happening to kids in them. There was that book “Room” from a few years back, written from a child’s POV, in which the child was the son of a kidnapped woman, born (and growing up) in the room that they were trapped in. I read an excerpt on my Nook and couldn’t sleep for a few days!

    But, I am a huge fan of mysteries and detective novels and once I start I have to finish. So when I picked up “Child 44” and the negative child things started happening, I had to finish to see who the killer was!

    Stieg Larsson’s books were hard because they were so twisted, but again, I wanted to see who it was… and how they got their comeuppance.

    Currently I am reading “The Song of Fire and Ice” series (George RR Martin) and it’s not TOO bad for me.

  23. Jessica says:

    This and the comments are very interesting to me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Christian response to literature/story. In particular, being willing (or not willing) to go to uncomfortable places and stories as a means to identify with another’s pain or experience. I know that all genres are not for everyone. There are definitely one’s I don’t enjoy. I can handle suspenseful plots to a certain point, but horror…nope can’t do it. I’m very interested in the human experience, so there’s a lot (not all) I’m willing to go to.

    But at the same time, I’ve been working off and on for years on a story that revolves around the heroine being forced into prostitution/trafficked at a young age. I struggle with wanting it to be realistic and horrifying (because this is the reality for a lot of people & it is grotesque), but at the same time I don’t want it to be unreadable or for the reader to see it as glorified. Ultimately it’s more than just her being a prostitute, but in many ways her journey to redemption and healing.

    I’ve set it in a fictional time and place (mostly because I didn’t want to have to accurately nail down all the historical and cultural details for one place), but as I’ve been researching the history of prostitution and brothels in the ancient world it is very unnerving.

    How do you accurately portray the inhumanity of something without turning the reader away? Because it seems from most of these comments, just having sex in the book would be enough to turn readers away.

    (Sorry this is so long and drawn out…it’s late and I’ve been thinking, perhaps too much.)

    • Birgitta Frykner says:

      For my part i cant read fantasy or books where the hero is a crook. I read a lot of crime, but the oldfashioned fe Agatha , Ngaio Marsh etc, where the lines are straight between wright and wrong. I love historical crime for example Peter Tremaynes Sister Fidelma,or Brother Athelstan, Edith Peters, yes there are murders but its the plots, the persons that is the important. The aim to be good.
      As you understand, i have not read Harry Potter and needed to look on one movie with a grandchild who is a fan. I was not happy. Yes i have both read and seen the films. For me they are a story of a abused child, trying to work her way through society.She had Asbergers dicease undiagnosed.

      My husband sometimes tell me to wake up to reality. There are books that is taken out of reality, which i wouldnt have read but i need perhaps to read it for to be able to feel compassion and love for my neigbours.

      I know my comments are some year late but there it is anyway.

  24. Ginger says:

    I’m sort of bouncing around on some of your links today, so forgive the comment on an older post, but Frederick Beuchner has a great quote that pertains:
    “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

    I am pretty cautious about what goes into my brain, even through reading. I recently read a book where the narrator struggles with pretty serious envy throughout the entire story, and then, suddenly, without realizing it, I found myself envious of my very best friend. I’ve known her for 20 years and not a stitch, and then out of the blue. Now, don’t get me wrong, she has a fabulous life — cute kid, wonderful job, THE dream home. But, I’m so glad it occurred to me that this might be leaking onto me from 400-pages of a novel, far more than it has anything to do with how I feel about her, or even my simpler, but still happy, and most of all, my chosen life.

    Words are so powerful.

  25. Melody says:

    The books with sexual abuse? The Girl with Dragon Tattoos would be the one that haunted me. I was, like, twelve when I read it because everyone said it’s SO great and it’s an award-winning book. But it horrified me and I could do nothing but think about it for a long time. What’s worse, it’s my graduation present and I expected it to be a book full of good memories. I was terrified after reading it and still can’t bring myself to reread it now. I think I’ll just have to get rid of the book someday.

  26. melyssa says:

    I feel this way about the films The Green Mile, and The Last King of Scotland. They were excellent I suppose, but I never want to see them again, and I wish I could bleach my memories of them.

  27. Personally, I can handle almost any topic as long as it happens “off-screen” but if the actions of personal violence, drugs, abuse (of any kind), and anything you wouldn’t want to happen to your children are described in detail, I don’t want to read about it. I always wonder what it is like to write such gruesome stuff. You have to focus on it so deeply… I can’t imagine that dwelling on abusive topics is good for the author’s mind.

  28. Mary says:

    I too steer clear of book depicting graphic sex and violence. I so wish I could clear ‘The Lovely Bones’ from my mind, and I read it over 12 years ago! I can still remember how terrified and nauseated I was while reading, but I couldn’t put it down.
    I do force myself to read historical fiction/nonfiction depicting violence, if it is used to show the humanity of a certain time in history. One book that I’m glad I read (but will NEVER reread!) is Immaculee Ilibagiza’s memoir ‘Left To Tell’ about her horrific experiences during the Rwandan holocost. It is too easy to look at times like this in our history and see the facts, but miss that these “facts” were actually people like us, just trying to live. Depicting violence for entertainment is not the same as showing the humanity of the people experiencing the violence.

    • Telicia says:

      It’s been a while since you commented, but I just wanted to say I liked your last sentence. I guess it could be applied to most difficult topics: is the issue being exploited for entertainment, or is the focus on the people and how they handled it and their journey; what is the purpose.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    I tend to be an anything goes kind of person, BUT I have trouble with infidelity in plot lines. I’ve had conversations with my boyfriend where I’ve actually used the words “men leave their significant others for prettier versions all the time in books and movies.” And then he’s had to remind me those are fictional accounts. Perhaps I’m crazy, but infidelity brings out the mother of all insecurities in me: being left or found wanting in some way, any way. If nothing else, it will give me something to talk to my therapist about someday. 🙂

  30. Brenda says:

    This was a thought provoking question and discussion. I know that I consciously avoid books and movies and even conversations about the occult & horror because I get way too creeped out. I cannot handle it, and can already feel waves of…something (is it dread? panic?) begin to grow in my chest as I write. That genre ban is a conscious choice. On a less conscious level I think I also shy away from other subjects involving abuse and violence as well, because I don’t tend to select books with these as strong themes. However, if I stumble across incidents in a book, and the book is good, I’ll continue on – but sometimes I can’t get that part out of my head afterword, and regret even that limited exposure. I try to pick something completely different the following time.

  31. Vanessa says:

    I just finished “Little Bee” last night, and I feel gutted. I don’t think I can read books about systemic mass murder or genocide without having to read like 50 chick lit books to recover.

  32. Jennifer says:

    Despite everyone’s recommendations, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read The Fault in Our Stars because of “the cancer factor” (my mother died from cancer five years ago). However, after reading through some of the comments, I’m wondering if I should be brave and give it a go.

  33. Anne Leacy says:

    (late-comer to the post, I know).

    Oddly enough, I am an HSP and I can handle violence and gore quite well. I’ll even read stories of abuse, despite them always effecting me badly. But what I cannot handle, at all, is psychological horror.

    Not Steven King kind. Not Lovecraft kind. The “your world is false” kind, that plays on the characters (and readers) perception of reality and their own sanity.

    Classic example is the black-and-white movie The Haunting, and the book it is based on, The Haunting of Hill House.

    I read HoHH… and vowed to never, EVER, read that kind of story ever again. The thing is, the main character-Eleanor- is completely insane. And the book is in 1st person perspective.

    Why do I avoid books like that…? They hit too close to home. For a while, I had lost all sense of reality, and for most of my life I’ve battled being called insane by those around me. Nobody ever believed anything I saw, or heard, or said. It left a sense that nothing could be trusted, not even my senses… only magnified by a hellish stint in a ‘reformatory house,’ or whatever it was called. Cult is more accurate.

    Frankly, I will continue to avoid that genre (and unstable 1st-person narrators in general) with no guilt. I already live that reality daily, I do not need to be reminded of it in my escape world.

    The other ban I have is on any sexual content that is described. I can handle sexual abuse stories (hell, Speak is my favorite book), but not with details. Nothing more than ‘it happened’ is enough to set me off.

    To be honest, I don’t see any issue in not reading issues you cannot handle. Media can abuse you as much as real-life can, and there is no point in traumatizing yourself for sake of empathy. Only you can judge what you can handle before it gets into the dangerous territory. If that’s not very much, fine. Nothing wrong with it.

  34. Brin says:

    Hi, I popped over here after reading the newsletter in my email this morning and decided to leave my thoughts on this subject. The only themes or topics I refuse to read are books centered on clowns and spiders (you know, horrors)…real life fears, and they’re no joke. But…when I come across sexual abuse/rape or domestic violence, I find myself taking pause. These books are hard to get through because I was a victim of both myself, one as a child and the latter as a wife. I have never talked about the sexual abuse with anyone, we all have our secrets and some are just too painful to speak aloud. Yet given my history, I don’t shy away from a book if I know it’s part of the plot, but it will take me awhile to get through. Often, I have to put the book down, sometimes up to a week, until I can get myself back into the mindset of not putting myself in the victim’s shoes or reliving my own experience. I’m sure you’re asking, “why even put yourself through that?” I think it’s a kind of therapy for me. Seeing how characters handle the situation, maybe wishing I had done something, or relishing in the justice that may come helps me understand (…maybe) or realize it wasn’t my fault/I’m not the only one it happened to….even if it’s fiction, often things are based on truth somewhere, or researched from some actual crime, or word-of-mouth, etc. I have the same reaction with movies, too. Actually, those are harder to handle because, you know, seeing it happening and using your imagination are two different things. Movies, though…I tend to avoid or watch on my own or excuse myself if I know a trigger scene is coming. And speaking of triggers, I highly recommend author’s note any triggers on book review sites. It’s a lot harder for me to handle it if it comes out of nowhere. If I have a feeling a book might involve the subject matter, I’ll read reviews and look into it before picking it up.

    Sorry…I didn’t mean to be so winded with this post. Just adding my thoughts 🙂

  35. chelzell says:

    Hm. I recently declared that I never want to read another book about WWII again. At the time, I said it was because the theme was so overdone and I was tired of it, but now I wonder if there isn’t something more to it that I haven’t been able to fully acknowledge yet.

  36. Muriel J Moore says:

    I steer clear of horror of any kind. It totally freaks me out. The last horror stories I read was Cujo and Pet Semetery. I don’t understand why a person would read something that led to freaked out, sleepless nights with lights on. It started in childhood and has continued into adulthood. I know the trigger, and it still leaves me frightened unrealistically. I don’t watch stuff of the same genre. I found I had a negative reaction to a program on the Travel Channel! How ridiculous! But it happens when I least expect it to. I tend to also stay away from novels that glorify sex. Shades is one that comes to mind. I will not read it! Love historically correct novels, an a voracious reader of them. If the author does the research I read it. Like most James Patterson mysteries, Janet Evanovich, Stephanie Plum books, as well as The Shack, books with dogs are good, even if sad. A Dog’s Purpose for example was healing after losing my girl at 17 years. I love reading about our Founding Fathers. As Americans it is vital to understand who they really were, not as taught. Real living breathing humans with concrete beliefs about who we are and why it has worked.

    • Abby says:

      I was thinking of this book reading this post. A little life was by far the hardest book to get through for me because of how graphic it was. Excruciating to read. It brought me to tears. Heartbreaking. I can’t recommend it to anyone though because of how violent it is. There’s a difference between crime novels and books that address the topics A Little Life tackles in such ad nauseum.

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