Thursday, September 23, 2010

Books I can't read

In recent months, my to-be-read pile has reached staggering heights, and now threatens to topple and squish me like a boobie on mammogram day.

I truly want to read most of it, but the sheer volume of books in the pile is making me feel like I have to read. Seeing reading as a chore is an odd sensation for me, as I’ve been eagerly devouring five or six a week since age seven, and now find myself wanting to bitch-slap the next person who thrusts a book in front of me and insists, “you simply must read THIS!”

It’s forcing me not only to prioritize, but to consider which books I simply cannot read.

I think most readers have this – a subject or genre you just don’t want to deal with. One member of our book club struggles with books that contain rape scenes or child abuse, so Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES and Khaled Hosseni's THE KITE RUNNER were not her favorite selections.

I like to think I’m a pretty open-minded reader. I used to despise time travel stories, but gave Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER a shot and now consider it one of my favorite novels (and no, not just because the sex scenes leave me fanning myself and contemplating whether addressing Pythagoras as “My Lord” might get me ravaged on a grassy hillside).

Vampires aren’t my thing, but I willingly picked up TWILIGHT and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. While I don’t deliberately seek out books featuring infected anal lesions and a narrator who enjoys eating scabs, I liked Charlotte Roche’s WETLANDS (note to readers: this isn’t the best lunchtime read).

But there is one thing I can’t read, no matter how hard I try: any book in which animals are hurt, maimed, killed, or sad turns me into an inconsolable mess of snot and tears.

It’s limited to animals, since I can cheerfully read any book in which humans are subjected to unfathomable misery.

I’ve tried several times to read Garth Stein’s critically acclaimed novel THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, which features a canine narrator. The first time I began bawling on page one, and finally quit on page six when the pages got too soggy to turn. A thoughtful friend offered to cover the saddest parts with post-it notes so I could skip them, but just knowing they were there made me hide the book under my bed and sniffle every time I caught sight of it.

Is there something you absolutely can’t read? Have you tried to get past it, or do you just accept this is who you are? Please share, I’m very curious.

And please know that if you hurt, maim, kill or sadden an animal, I will hunt you down and squish your skull in that mammogram machine.

Then I will write about it.


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Once upon a time, my friends and I were all reading a manga romance series, and they decided to cover the pages they thought I shouldn't see with post-its. Your post reminded me of that and made me smile.

I'm usually pretty open about what I can read, and I don't mind a book that reduces me to a shuddering mass of tears -- heck, sometimes I like it -- but if I come across a passage of senseless gore and violence, I usually end up rolling my eyes in disgust. This became a problem when I read a book devoted to pointless violence. Let's just say it didn't go over well.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colene Murphy said...

Oh, no. I'm right there with you on the animals thing. A few books I liked but midway or some distance in some harm came to an animal I didn;t know was going to happen. I did put one down but the other was just too good. Except the whole end was tainted by the memory of what happened to this poor pup. I hate it! People dying, sure. Animals, NO!!!

Cherie Reich said...

I tried to read THE LOVELY BONES, but I couldn't get past the first couple chapters. Things like that usually don't bother me to read. I love mysteries and such, but I think the way it was told from her point of view that it got me. I do hope to one day give it another go, though.

I've also been dragging my feet to reread the 7th Harry Potter book since everyone dies. Okay, not everyone, but a lot of people. Some of my favorite characters too. I want to read it, but I just don't know if I want to cry every time a certain character is mentioned.

It's ironic, though. When I reread the 6th Harry Potter, I was sad every time Dumbledore was mentioned, but it wasn't as sad while watching the movie. I kinda hope the same is true for the next movies. Otherwise, I'll have to bring the tissues. *laughs*

And, I don't like it when people hurt animals. I was watching Cujo the other day, and all I could do was feel bad for the poor dog.

Susan S said...

I have to agree about the injured animals. When I was about nine, I was given a book called RUFFIAN, about the best female racehorse in history. I LOVED that book - everything about it - right up to the last chapter, when it went from the best book ever to me in the bathroom sobbing into the toilet paper roll. And yes, it took the rest of the roll to dry all the tears.

It's a problem, because I love animal stories but I know most of the time they end with the animal dying - and it's worse in fiction because they're not usually natural deaths. (Note: the incident in Ruffian was not the horse's natural death. That's all I'm saying.)

Ironically, my recently completed manuscript describes a character as looking "like the kind of man who would kick a sleeping dog." I hoped my readers would know exactly what I was shooting for - after reading this I think that's a lock.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

One of my romance-reading friends forbade me from lending her any book in which a dog is maimed or killed, or the main characters are going crazy or feel like they're going crazy, are demon-possessed or feel like they're demon-possessed. But mainly if the dog dies.

Jessica Lemmon said...

I'm with you on the animal thing - it's SO hard for me. Heck, even the Sarah McLaughlin Animal Shelter commercial turns me into a weepy MESS.

I didn't want to read THE LOVELY BONES for that very reason, and the ONLY reason I watched the movie (which was still tough), was because director Peter Jackson said in an interview that he didn't subject his young actor or the audience to a rape scene.


Patty Blount said...

I'll read anything... nothing's off limits for me, though I had a very hard time finishing The Road because of a passing reference to what The Man and The Boy see roasting on a spit that had me screaming out loud. I will spare you...

There was a Patterson novel - think it was Kiss the Girls - in which the abuse scenes were beyond sick -

I seem to have the biggest issues with rapes and child abuse.

Strangely, I have a love/hate thing going on with books that make me feel sympathy for the antagonist. Dean Koontz did this so well with Whispers, I've been afraid to pick up another of his novels ever since. He actually had me crying for the psycho stalker killer guy.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I'm still pissed at Dances with Wolves for killing off the horse and the wolf. But I'm a wimp when it comes to killing in general, especially of characters I like, which is why I stick to books and shows like NCIS where the dying mostly happens off screen. And why I can't read Larry McMurtry. I mean, seriously, did EVERYONE have to die in Lonesome Dove?

Summer Frey said...

Same with me on the animals. And what's with all the classic children's literature that features dying dogs? It's awful! I was traumatized at age 6 by Where the Red Fern Grows. And then old Yeller...

Kari Lynn Dell said...

And given the current debate about books for kids/YA, BLACK BEAUTY has been depressing our children for decades. Nothing but misery and torture for page after page. Gah.

Danica Avet said...

I don't think it's subject matter I can't read so much as voice and style that bother me. I can read just about anything as long as I can connect with the characters. Of course, this meant that Redeeming Love became my snot-factory book. Sell a child into prostitution? Yeah, I'm going to sob. Every. Time.

j.leigh.bailey said...

If it doesn't have a happy ending, I don't want to waste my time. There's enough depressing stuff in the real world, that I want the world to which I escape to have a happy ending. Also (or maybe because of that) I sometimes have a problem with hard-core horror or hard-core science fiction.

Linda G. said...

Argh. I hate when blogger eats my comments instead of posting them.

Anyway, I said to count me in with the don't hurt animals crowd--that bothers me to an almost ridiculous degree. Which is odd, because in my drawer novel a cat gets hit by a car, and I didn't have any trouble writing it. Maybe because I knew everything would turn out all right, and could focus on that.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I can't stand secret baby books. And I'm with you about animals.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Books that have characters or animals in pain or suffering are never going to be at the top of my list, but if the book is a great story, I'll read it.

The toughest book I've ever read was Irvine Welsh's Filth, which was very hard for me to get through (and not because of the dialect, strangely that was the easy part). I read the whole thing through even though I regretted it sorely because it is spectacularly disgusting and filthy. And when I finished, I wished I hadn't read it. In fact even now I'm not terribly glad I read it even though it allows me to say that I've read it.

But I could not finish Lolita. It just ooged me out too much and I already knew what was going to happen and I just didn't want to be there for it.

Anne R. Allen said...

I'm with Patti about The Road and all that Patterson torture-porn. I do NOT need those images in my head.

As writers, we are creators of our culture. We need to think about what images and thoughts we are bringing into the world.

An animal, child, any kind of innocent being tortured in the name of entertainment seems to me intrinsically wrong--like feeding Christians to lions for the fun of watching. (This includes a whole lot of TV shows, including, of course, American Idol.)

Books like Black Beauty, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Billy Budd weren't just about entertainment, but exposing horrible abuses. Still, I'm not sure we need to read them now.

lora96 said...

@Jessica--that commercial is a killer. makes me weep unless i lunge swiftly for the remote.

Can't do child-rape books nor animal cruelty. It took me three tries to get through Fire because Leck tortures animals. It was a minor but excruciating illustration of his cruelty and I nearly threw up.

I really struggled with The Kitchen God's Wife because Wen Fu beat the baby and damaged her brain.

Had nightmares about both of those--which means I should have quit reading them.

Mainly really really sad things especially where animals die or old people are lonely and suffering. For example, lighthearted Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl left me cry9ing uncontrollably because the old woman died alone and no relatives at the funeral even knew anything about her.

Anonymous said...

Oh girl, I'm completely with you and clearly everyone else as well, on the animal topic.

My mother used to get so irritated with me when I was little because I was so one-sided. We could watch shows where people would die right and left, but let somebody kill a cougar in the mountains because it had snuck in and killed the chickens? I would be freaking out and ready to protest through my blubbering self. Yes I was sad for the chickens, too, but DON'T KILL THE COUGAR! Wonderful World of Disney just about did me in back then.

Old Yeller, Black Beauty, Benji...blubbering mess. Lassie and Flipper were my heroes.

Turner and Hooch...yep.

While it will kill you...if you haven't seen or read Marley and Me...OMG. I'm tearing up just thinking about it, but even with the obvious, it is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Funny to the point of peeing myself. That movie is the one exception. And it actually handled the death in such a sweet way, it was okay. My eyes were swollen for two days, but it was okay.

Guess mine was all about movies not books...but same concept. LOL

Erinn said...

As a general rule I won't read Dog books, because most books the dog dies in the end and I don't sniff films and a dog book is basically a sniff book. There are a few expections but if I know the dog is going to die, it stays on the shelf.

Also I'm not a fan of rape scenes or abuse, I read to escape, why would I want to escape to that situation?

I've tried Lovely Bones about 3 times now and each time I stop.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

First of all, love the mammogram analogy. LOL

I had the same initial reaction to The Art Of Racing in the Rain. But I stuck w/it and absolutely LOVED it. Read the whole thing in a day. That is the first time I had done that in years. I sobbed even harder @ the end. But it is a beautiful, well written book. Now one of my top picks of all time.

This will not be a popular answer, but I hate vampires, werewolves and all related things. I *may* watch a movie (if my husband begs and does something for me in return), but I will not read a book that deals with those characters.

Rebecca White said...

The thing I can't stand is dumb women. They know a serial killer is hunting them down, yet they just have to walk into the abandoned barn. Alone. At night. These are the characters that you don't really mind when they meet the killer.

Claire Dawn said...

I can't read Anna Karenina. I've attempted it about 20 times. My best so far is page 17.

I think I have problems with things that feel super political or super corporate.

Unknown said...

I generally can't read books where children are graphically brutalized or killed. That I was able to get through a current favorite YA book is a testament to the author's powerful writing. Couldn't read The Lovely Bones and I had a hard time with The Kite Runner. The Art of Racing in the Rain moved me to tears, but I adored it. It's an amazing example to the bond between dogs and humans.

For a long time I didn't like historical romances, but I've found some great new writers to read and I'm loving the genre.

Unknown said...

There's a hilarious YA book out there called "No More Dead Dogs" by Gordon Korman. The guy MC is sick of reading books where the dogs die--your post totally made me think of it.

I read for entertainment, to learn and/or to escape. I have no desire to read about animals or kids or anyone, for that matter, being hurt or brutalized--no more dead dogs! Two thumbs down!

Stephanie said...

I stick well within my comfort zone when it comes to books. I enjoy women's fiction and chick lit, contemporary romance....even some erotica if it's done right (but use the C word and I will most likely put it down). But I also read these genres because they are what I write and I just don't feel like I have a good enough grasp on the genre yet....but I'm not sure if I ever will.

I did venture into soem YA sci fi this year and I did enjoy it. And I actually did read a vamp book...though I really am not a fan of anything paranormal. But it was Meg Cabot and chick litty so I tried was decent.

Lisa Galek said...

I didn't think The Art of Racing in the Rain was that good, so you probably aren't missing anything :)

I feel the same way - so many books, so little time!

Unknown said...

Personally I can't stand mystery books and generally stay away from horror (though I'll probably dip my toe in this genre at some point). But I totally get what you mean about having so many books on the TBR pile that it becomes a chore. When this happens to me, I stop reading any of them until I want to read again - because the main reason I'm reading is to enjoy it and I can't truly enjoy a book if I'm trying to rush through it to get to the next one.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Horror. Just can't do it. And probably Cormac McCarthy. I like books with just a tad more hope in them, I guess. So, when the book pile gets too big, I work my way through them based on how hopeful I think they will be based on reviews. But, eh, sometimes even then I read them. I'm a sucker for a story.

Katt said...

I'm with you on the animals. Kill one, I'll never read another book you write. Period.
I grew up with a love/hate thing for Disney. I loved the animals and really LOVED their voices but just couldn't stand the pain.
The INcredible Journey reduced me to a puddle of tears... and they all lived!

Unknown said...

I loved The Lovely Bones, but yeah, it was difficult at times.

Animal abuse in books always gets to me. I read The Dogs of Babel and it was soooo hard to get through some parts of it. Same with Water for Elephants.

tanya bell said...

It's funny you should say that. The animal thing has never bothered me until I was doing a rewrite on my first novel. At some point in my first draft a beautiful golden retriever befriended one of my main characters. Later I found myself doing away with the dog in a car accident. When it came to the edit stage I just couldn't shake the horrid feeling I had about it. I tried to leave it in, as it was integral to the narrative arc.I thought I was being silly as I had already killed off the main characters child, why shudder at the dog? But I just couldn't and I ended up rewriting the scene. Although I had to make drastic changes to the plot I removed kept the dog alive. I hope one day my readers get to appreciate my weak stomach for animal abuse.

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Dr. Goose said...

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I may get strung up for this but I don't find Stephen King's books to be as entertaining as everyone else thinks they are.

Sooooooo, I'm trying to listen to a Stephen King book on tape to see if listening is more entertaining.

Trisha Leigh said...

I am with you on the animal thing. I was reading a thriller one time about a budding serial killer and then - wham - right in the middle lay a scene (which I will not describe to you or anyone, ever) that ruined my heart for days. I still recall it, he wrote it in disturbingly vivid detail.

It pissed me off, honestly. I avoid books like Racing in the Rain and Marley and Me because I KNOW I will hate the sad animal part. I didn't see I Am Legend because I knew the doggie died and I wouldn't be able to focus on the rest.

I prefer if I know going in what's between the pages, at least an idea. If there is going to be the worst animal abuse I've ever read about - fair warning would be nice.

Geez. I guess I'm still angry about that.

Melissa Gill said...

So funny that you say that, because I feel exactly the same way, but it even extends to inanimate animals like Edward Tulane. Even funnier because I wrote a novel called Zombie Rabbit, where the first thing that happes to my character is that he gets maimed and killed. But he does get to go on having hillarious adventures as a member of the undead. In fact I don't really think of him as dead at all, just breathing challenged.

Génette Wood said...

Books I cannot read: textbooks. Other than that, I don't know that they exist. I can't handle scary movies, but I'm okay with books.

Then again, I haven't read any books that deal with animal abuse or any of that. Those could be my breaking point--not that I'm going to purposely seek them out and find out.

Jason said...

I think I can read just about anything. Sure, there are things I don't necessarily WANT to read about like some of the scenes mentioned above that include torture sex, anal rape, and the murdering of puppies, but to me it's about degrees. Is the author using it to help tell the story? Or is it gratuitous just to be sick and twisted with no point?

Personally, The Lovely Bones is one of my favorite books. The scenes in question helped tell a fantastic story and framed the entire novel. Without them, I the entire story loses its power. It's the scenes that at the end make you wonder why was that even there that bug me.

Of course, despite all of this, I read every Chuck Palahniuk book when it comes out. Doesn't get more sick and twisted than him, at least in my reading experiences.

Unknown said...

Why is it, when I'm scrolling through my umpteen blogs on Google Reader and I stop at one that makes me smile, it's usually yours?

I loved Outlander, Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse. I can't read books with child abuse or that make me bawl excessively.

I picked up two romance novels recently and stopped not too far in. One for over-the-top violence (supposed to be romantic suspense, not romantic HORROR), and one for downright poor writing.

I picked up another book at the store tonight because I am every hopeful that the next one will make me favorites list. :)



So sorry I've been falling behind on replying to everyone! It's been a nutty week, and next week might be nuttier, but rest assured I'm reading and loving everything you guys are sharing. Have I mentioned that the readers of this blog are hands down the best EVAH?!

Thanks so much!

A. S. Boudreau said...

As difficult as some subjects are, like rape and child abuse, sometimes I simply force myself to read them because the book is just too good to miss out on because I have an issue with the subject matter and sometimes it helps me work through the issue. Which is why I am reading Lucky by Alice Sebold. I think if I pass up books because the subject matter isn't easy then I am missing out on too many fantastic books.

There are some books I won't read, haven't read, simply because I don't have time. I never read the Harry Potter books. I only read the first three Twilight books before I got bored stiff with them.

Crystal said...

I can't even comment on this.

I can't believe how many people -won't- read something, just because of a small scene, or two in the entire story.

That would be like saying, I'm not going to eat this muffin, because it has two chocolate chips in it.

Insane right?

You have no idea what you're all missing out on in the literary world.