Is there a certain topic that- no matter how well written a book- just gets under your skin and leaves you a little unhappy?
Last week, I finished a book- The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom- that had been pretty popular a few months back. I had a strange feeling as I read this book, one I couldn’t put my finger on. I wasn’t enjoying reading it. Was it written well? Yes, it was. Were the characters feel developed? Yes. Was it somewhat historically accurate? Yes it was. Why didn’t I like it?
Then I realized it wasn’t the book itself, but the topic of slavery. Don’t get me wrong- I can read about awful things and still really enjoy a book. I have read some books with tough topics-the Holocaust, sexual abuse, etc- that I though were amazing. So it’s not that. I do not need books to leave me with a shiny happy feeling. It is something about THIS topic that just gets under my skin. I read two other books over the past year- The Wedding Gift by and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd- that were about slavery. They both bothered me. I really enjoyed The Invention of Wings– loved it actually, but I was still left uneasy by it. When I realized this pattern, it made me stop and think a little. What are some topics that bother other readers?
I don’t mean things you don’t like- easy romances, bad erotica, science fiction, etc. I mean a topic that can actually make you not enjoy a book even though it is actually a good book. After reading The Kitchen House, I realized that, while it was well written and had great characters, the whole history of slavery in this nation made it almost impossible for me to actually enjoy a book written about it accurately, which these books were! An author would literally have to change history for that to happen, The only book I actually like about slavery- Gone With the Wind- isn’t really about slavery at all. It’s actually a love story- loosely set on and around a southern plantation. Come to think about it, more than half of the book takes place away from Tara.
So, tell me- what really bothers you enough to prevent you from enjoying a book?
For me, it’s WWII and the Holocaust even though my family is neither Jewish nor German. A more local and close-to-my-heart theme is the Spanish Civil War because I grew up hearing stories via my grandma about hunger and soldiers burning books, but above all, my great-grandfather who was executed for running a workers’ union trade. If I read about those two topics on the back of a book, I am more than likely to never ever even consider them again.
I’ve always avoided books on the Holocaust because I’ve been terrified about reading of such immense tragedy. I have never read anything on the Holocaust…though i have watched a movie or maybe two. My first Holocaust book is going to be Anne Frank!
I just finished Schindler’s List- very intense, you might like it because it is trying to read as a novel, but it is 100% based on fact with out much embellishment at all.
Wow- intense. It really interests me how each reader goes into a book with a whole different set of expectations.
This is a really good question! I know exactly what bothers me. Only this morning I was telling my sister, who was trying to convince me to watch Catching Fire, that no matter how well that movie was made I simply couldn’t watch it. I dislike dystopian fiction. They disturb me terribly. My sis had forced me to watch The Hunger Games, and I was depressed for over a week. Even now, thinking about it upsets me. It has always been that way….I avoid anything to do with the dystopian genre because it completely unsettles and disturbs me.
I’m glad that the topic of slavery bothers you that much. It should. And I know exactly what you mean about it making you feel uncomfortable/uneasy/icky. It does that to me, too. There are some books out there that aren’t meant to be “enjoyed” at all. I’ve read lots like that. It’s hard.
Another topic that makes me feel so icky that I try to avoid books in which it’s too detailed is childbirth. (And I don’t feel bad about avoiding them since I don’t think childbirth is something everyone should read about, like slavery.) Reading about childbirth actually makes me feel nauseated. Blerg.
I pretty much can’t read books with children being placed in danger, especially thrillers/crime dramas where the victim is a young child. It’s just too awful, and I can’t separate myself enough to view the book as entertainment, so if I know that’s what the book will revolve around, I’ll avoid it!
I hate historical fiction that uses real historical figures as their characters. I don’t mind historical fiction itself, at all. I don’t even generally care if the things that happen in it are accurate for the time period. But there’s something about taking real people and giving them fake words, mannerisms, deeds that just makes me uncomfortable.
It’s ironic that you say that- I just finished Schindler’s List. The author wrote it as a novel, but everything that happens or is said was completely from history, so it read more like a memoir or even non fiction .
I’ll read just about anything, though I have my favorite types of things. Still, I think reading is one of the best ways to challenge our boundaries and confront what makes us uncomfortable. Even though it makes me squeamish, it’s important to understand what slaves and victims of the Holocaust lived (and died) through, and reading is one of the very best ways to do that. Books that make me uncomfortable are some of my favorites. They stick with me and make me think, and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing.
Having said that, I wish I’d enjoyed The Invention of Wings more than I did. Part of it is my fault, because I have a hard time reading books set where I live. I chase down too many rabbit trails trying to place the last time I visited a particular scene or setting. I admire Kidd’s attempt to bring a slave girl to life, but in the end, her narration felt sort of stilted and flat to me. I loved the Grimke chapters, though she had way more material to work with to make those real.
I don’t mind things making me uncomfortable, but there is something about fictionalizing slavery that makes it hard for me to read. I don’t know why this happens for this topic but not others. I agree that the Grimke chapters were much better in Wings.
Great post! Slavery’s a big one for me too. It just makes my skin crawl, and I have a very, very hard time forcing myself to continue reading about it as close up as fiction makes it (I can manage nonfiction much more easily). Anything with flooding — images of rushing water make me uneasy — and anything with graphic sexual assault (see also: slavery). It’s not that I don’t think books can deal with those topics well, or that I don’t consider them important, but I have a really hard time reading about them myself.
I feel the same way!
So interesting…I just finished Invention of Wings and am currently reading The Kitchen House and completely agree w/your feelings. I’m appalled at the fact that this type of treatment of others existed.
As difficult as it was to read The Invention of Wings I still really enjoyed it! I don’t go looking for books centered around slavery but I don’t avoid them either.
As for topics that I DO avoid, I would say domestic abuse. It just makes me feel really uncomfortable, not something I want to read about.
PS…LOVE the green!
Thank you- it was that or a major haircut- I wanted yo keep the hair.
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For me it is anything to do with abusing children – its a mother thing I think. I just can’t…although I just read Room, which was hard for me, but still a brilliant book.
Gone with the Wind is an amazing book with so many themes – perhaps the fact that slavery wasn’t the central theme (but definitely one of them) it is easier to read.