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Footnotes 2017-2018 > Sunday Conversation Topic 3/18

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Tough reads......not horrible writing and bad stories that your struggle to finish finish a page and continue the story, but sensitive topics that are too emotional or just repulsive enough you can't go further.

We have had some comments recently, and the Lolita discussion was a good example of this.

What topics are too sensitive, disgusting, or emotional for you to read. How do you deal when a book you are enjoying surprises you with this topic. Does the quality of writing or story change your reaction? Do you cry or become angry or disgusted? Is there a particular book that has stuck with you in a nightmarish way because of these particular topics?


message 2: by Elise (new)

Elise (ellinou) | 525 comments All I can think of for this are exorcisms.

When I was 12 or 13, I watched the movie The Exorcist with some friends, and it seriously traumatized me. I had trouble sleeping for months after it, and I developed PTSD or a phobia or something regarding that movie, and exorcisms in general. I once randomly found myself face to face with it at my video stare (by complete accident, I normally avoided the horror section like the plague for that exact reason) and burst into tears. At the library, a friend came up to show me a book he'd found on the making-of of the movie, and I pretty much ran away with tears in my eyes. When another exorcism movie came out and the previews would be shown on TV, even if they weren't graphic, I had to grit my teeth, make tight fists and look away until it was over.

And I remember once, in a book I was reading, there was mention of an exorcism. I wasn't expecting it at all and seriously considered stopping right then, but after a few deep breaths I kept going, and the bit about exorcism was over in a couple paragraphs, so it was all good.

Now it's been a decade in a half so thankfully I'm over the exorcism-induced panic attacks. I won't ever purposefully go looking for anything related to that movie (people called Regina still kinda make me shiver, lol), but for example I can see The Exorcist TV show on Netflix without freaking out, so it's all good!


Tessa (FutureAuthor23) | 229 comments Of course there are some subjects that are hard to read about. But there is no subject matter that I WON'T read. The last book I can remember that the subject felt hard to read about was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Mainly because the book was so long that I started feeling overwhelmed by the sensitive subject matter and it made me cry a little.


message 4: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6423 comments Jason wrote: "Tough reads......not horrible writing and bad stories that your struggle to finish finish a page and continue the story, but sensitive topics that are too emotional or just repulsive enough you can..."

Well, I just finished American Psycho without feeling overly traumatized, so honestly, I can't imagine it getting any worse than that in the reading department. I've never been unable to finish a book because it was too graphic or horrible to contemplate. Not sure what this says about me . . .

I agree with Tessa that A Little Life was one of the tougher ones because I was emotionally invested, but I definitely don't actively avoid books that are dark. In fact, I often rate those books highly.


message 5: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3808 comments I can't really think of anything. Yes, there are lot of tough reads that take the right mental place to read them- but I wouldn't put any books off the table because of sensitive subject matter. One particularly tough one I remember was A Child Called "It". Terrible.

I might be the weirdo who has the opposite feelings. I'm often drawn to stories of dark subject matters. More in fiction than non-fiction, but still. My Listopia list was "The most disturbing books". Like Anita, I'm not sure what this says about me, lol.


message 6: by Magdalena (new)

Magdalena | 414 comments About a month back a was looking up historical fiction books when I came upon a book called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It looked interesting and I was getting excited about reading it when I saw people taking about how a big portion of the book went into great detail describing the brutal art of foot binding. Now I'm normally not a squeamish person but when I was about 12 I read a National Geographic article about it (with lots of pictures) that made so repulsed and freaked out by the subject that I haven't been able to read the book yet.


message 7: by LibraryCin (new)

LibraryCin | 8315 comments Magdalena wrote: "I saw people taking about how a big portion of the book went into great detail describing the brutal art of foot binding...."

I could be mistaken (it's been a long time since I read it), but I don't think it actually took up a big portion of the book. There was detail, though, and I imagine that's what stuck in many people's heads, so it's often mentioned in reviews.


message 8: by Karin (new)

Karin | 6991 comments I frequently stop reading the book if it's fiction, since I read fiction for fun most of the time.

That said, there are times I do read very upsetting things, such as when I read the memoir of a woman who survived the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s ( Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust ). There were many parts I could only read so much of before I had to take a break. While she spent three months with 5-7 others (it increased) in a 3 foot by 4 foot bathroom, malnourished (and went from 115 to 65 lbs), etc and lost most of her family, there were also many atrocities written about and descriptions of how some of the people died, etc.

Foot binding was hard, too, but I have to say this book was much harder for me to get through.


message 9: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments I stay away from the death of children, I also avoid child abuse, and lengthy physical and mental illnesses. Long drawn out Cancer or Alzheimer’s. Like Karin I read for fun and pleasure. As a therapist, I am connected to more than enough trauma and loss. I mean sometimes it happens in the book I’m reading as an unfolding in the plot but at that point I’m already in it and and and I’m engaged. But I think if I knew a book with completely about that subject matter I probably wouldn’t be too keen on picking it up. The other thing to mention is that I really hate it when a book ends and that even with the tragedy in the devastation there is no reflection or hope for insight. This is why I didn’t enjoy the Lucy Barton book. It feels to me that devastation is survivable if some kind of transformation or change has taken place or at least some insight. Otherwise what’s the point? So books and negatively with no insight from the main character, are not for me. They don’t need to and happy but they do need to and reflective, transformative, and insightful.


Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) I'm not terribly squeamish in real life, but I do not use up reading time with child abuse, even if the book is supposed to end on a hopeful or redemptive note, or with anything blurbed as 'dark' or 'thrilling.'

Does the quality of the work matter? Certainly. Sonya Hartnett writes about some intense subjects, and if they were being explored by anyone else, I'd not bear them. But for the brilliance of her ideas and her prose, I soldier on.


message 11: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments I love Sonya Hartnett’s writing too.

I don’t think there are any topics that I shy away from. I don’t really like horror, but it’s not because I’m sensitive. It’s just not that believable!


message 12: by Kszr (new)

Kszr | 172 comments I pretty much stick to the Literature category, avoiding Horror all together. While I try to avoid anything that is too graphic, I am always drawn in by a good writer. A Walk Across the Sun (Corbon Addison) is such a book. The writing was amazing, but the topic of human trafficing was very difficult. I ended up jumping past some graphic parts because I was unable to put it down, the story was so compelling. It was so worth the read!

I like to be challenged when I read, but not so much that I am always sad (books impact my mood when I put them down). They don't have to be Hollywood Happy, but they also don't need me to only see the worst in people.

For example, Accordion Crimes (Annie Proulx) was a book where people died horrific deaths in parenthesis of the main story, and I couldn't wait for it to end - I only finished it for a book group discussion.


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 18, 2018 03:39PM) (new)

Throughout the years, I have become less sensitive to certain genres such as horror. Still, I shy away from Stephen King novels because they don't sound appealing to me. Horror movies used to bother me but now I find many of them to be predictable and silly. I don't really like crime novels either, although I plan to try Still Life based on a friend's suggestion. For other topics found in books that I might find disturbing, I usually rely on the book's synopsis and opinions from friends on GR to make a reading decision.

Years ago for a group discussion, I listened to the audio version of Lolita and the narration by Jeremy Irons was excellent, maybe too good, but I could barely get through the story otherwise. In contrast, I am more likely to stick with a non-fiction book if I feel I will learn something from it. Even for non-fiction, I don't think I could read an in-depth discussion about forensics.

Some unpleasant subjects are an unavoidable part of life and perhaps reading the right book will help change a person's perspective or ability to cope with a situation. In order for me to tackle certain books, I need to be in the right mood though. Having recently completed Lincoln in the Bardo, followed by H is for Hawk, I probably shouldn't have read them back-to-back. I need to delve into some lighter reading material for a while, to clear my mind and cleanse my reading palate before tackling something like Lab Girl.


message 14: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments I forgot to mention I don't do horror either. Or anything with a lot of senseless gruesome killing.


message 15: by Ladyslott (new)

Ladyslott | 1880 comments Anything that involves sexual abuse of children.


message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Cheryl wrote: "I'm not terribly squeamish in real life, but I do not use up reading time with child abuse, even if the book is supposed to end on a hopeful or redemptive note, or with anything blurbed as 'dark' o..."

This is interesting. Intuitively I thought it would be the opposite. The great writing and connection with the characters would make it harder to read than a passage by sub par writer. Thank-you for sharing.


message 17: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Ellie wrote: "All I can think of for this are exorcisms.

When I was 12 or 13, I watched the movie The Exorcist with some friends, and it seriously traumatized me. I had trouble sleeping for months after it, and..."


Wow, that legit messed you up.


message 18: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments I don't have any topic that I avoid do to toughness. Tough subjects are reality. I do tear up when I read about anything bad happening to children or when the victim and completely helpless, such as rape. WWII, though these can be difficult at times, do not affect me nearly as much as children and helpless victim crimes. It may be because my mother died when I was 10, it might be because I have two children. I don't know, but emotionally, I break down. Great writing makes reading it even harder for me. The scene is so real, the helpless is intensified in brilliant prose, and I feel close to the character already. I can't even describe how it makes me feel. A Child Called It was really hard (though its said that much of the book is not true) long with The Glass Castle, Before We Were Yours and others. John Grisham's A Time to Kill was my first experience with both reading rape and a crime against children when I was 14 or 15.

I do not like excessive violence or gore for violence or gore sake. Movies and writing are an art form and the excessiveness of anything takes away from the art. I also do not read spiritualistic or paranormal for religious reasons. I think if I watched the Exorcist I would be like Ellie.


message 19: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments Funny that no one is mentioning the Holocaust. Many of us read a tremendous amount of WW2, even WW1 fiction or non-fiction, also a tremendous number of books set in the Holocaust. And yet so many of us don't even seem to turn away from it, in fact many of us are drawn to it like moths to a flame.


message 20: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Amy wrote: "Funny that no one is mentioning the Holocaust. Many of us read a tremendous amount of WW2, even WW1 fiction or non-fiction, also a tremendous number of books set in the Holocaust. And yet so many o..."

Even though its atrocious, I don't think it feels personal. Many today don't know anyone who went through the Holocaust or similar circumstances. It feels almost fiction. it was so horrible how can it be true. I think this is where good writing makes it more horrible.

Another theory is we've become desensitized a bit. We study about the Holocaust in school. It feels like half of our books are about WWII and many of our movies.

Just theories. Holocaust does not bother me as much, but in The Pianist there is a mother who smothered her infant to not be detected (didn't work) and it took all my will power not to break down while delivering mail.


message 21: by SANDYE (last edited Mar 18, 2018 08:20PM) (new)

SANDYE (sandye_c) One of my biggest sensitivities are stories where someone recieves a transplant and then later dies due to some transpant related issue. I'm currenty awaiting a double lung transplant, so these types of stories scare the you-know-what out of me. I avoid any and all bookks that even hint at someone needing any kind of transplant. Even with the movie Steel Magnolias, I can only watch it until they get to the transplant part of the movie and then I have to turn it off.

My second sensitivity is child and/or animal abuse. I get extremely angry and can't finish the book, story, or movie unless someone tells me ahead of time that the abuser gets killed, seriously hurt and/or arrested. If I can't see the abuser brought to justice in some way, I just get to mad to continue reading or watching. I will be mad for several days and won't be able to think of anything else for days.


message 22: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2321 comments Wow, Sandye - hugs and warmest thoughts to accompany the op xx

Horror is not my genre - any half way decent horror story gives me nightmares for weeks, even if it isn’t particularly plausible. So annoying.

I’m also not keen on graphic sex scenes though I don’t completely avoid them. I think it’s more that they are usually so badly written, rather than the subject matter per se. Not that I should judge all erotica by Fifty Shades of Boredom, I know, but that remains my sole ventures into that particular genre, lol


message 23: by Anna (new)

Anna Schoner I am pretty open to reading most things, but I have a hard time reading about rape. In particular, if the rape is described or outlined in detail. I am a mental health counselor so I deal with this topic and other tough topics all the time, but reading a description of rape is just hard for me. Sometimes I just get enough of "the real world" through my work that I go for awhile without reading anything really heavy because I don't want to overburden myself with extra emotional work so I can be emotionally and cognitively available for my clients. Yet, rape is the topic that I am most likely to avoid reading about unless the book is reeeeally good, or it is psychoeducational to advance my knowledge on treatment for my clients.


message 24: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments Just to dovetail on what Jason said, it’s really interesting about your point of view. Depends on where you live, differing faith communities, and to what your region offers in terms of who resides there. I have three good friends who are children of Holocaust survivors. Each were late babies, and their parents were teens or children in the Holocaust. Where I live, it’s immensely personal. I have other friends and even extended family who survived hiding in caves. Many folks found their families emigrated to other countries, some landed in Israel, some here. The generation of holocaust survivors are largely gone or dying off now, but their direct descendants are still around. My father’s half aunt and her husband got stuck in Poland and had to hide in caves in Russia, and when they came back the Pogrames were even worse. They got married and moved to Israel, right around 1947, just as Israel was opening doors to survivors and hiders. They were the first group of people to settle in their town. They sat around, those first settlers and tried to start a community. They said who can drive a truck? My great uncle raised his hand, and that’s how he became the fire chief of Afula. The fire station has been in our family for generations since. It’s through them that I have all my Israeli cousins. So I would say for some of us, that genre of literature is not so far off. It’s how the European Jews all got here. Differing times and stories, but all too true. Just depends on what you’re close to. Other cultures and faiths are close to things that may feel far away to the rest of us.

To speak to another thread, I loved your discussion points on Born a Crime. I so hope that one doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Dragons await us in July, so we shall ride that wave even if kicking and screaming. Bet we both like it more than we expect. All our friends seem to be touting this. Or we could just be difficult- lol.


message 25: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments Anna, plenty of mental health providers in this group, and it’s fair to say we’ve talked about how that changes or affects what we read, or how we see it. Certainly changes it for me.


message 26: by Kszr (new)

Kszr | 172 comments The trend to write so much about the Holocaust, and about WW2 era specifically, in my mind, is because there is a clear "good" vs. "bad". While there have been any number of these types of atrocities happening around the world, there is not always that clear a distinction.

I also believe that the era is idealized with how "great" we were. For quite awhile we got a lot of stories about Vietnam, and now there are some about Iraq, but I believe we are too scarred by these conflicts and the ambiguity of right vs wrong that is tied up in them to move these forward as the era to write about.


message 27: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Amy. I hope I didn't give the impression of minimizing or taking for granted. Was just through in out some theories partly based on personal experience. Thankyou for your counter.


message 28: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments That’s a really interesting point, K, about ambiguities versus a clear fight about good versus evil. And about how we like to perceive ourselves in the US. I had never thought about it in that way, but I think you are spot on. I think we do like to see ourselves as heroes. The allied forces. And, there is much for us to look at and own up to.

Hey - are you about to read the Cooking Gene? Giant local book club through CJP in three weeks...


message 29: by Kszr (new)

Kszr | 172 comments I don't have any info on this. Will look it up and figure out what I can do.


message 30: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments Jason, was just busy praising you on another thread! Totally did not take it as minimization in the least. Looks like neither of us got much sleep. Are you up reading at all hours? Drink a lot of coffee?


message 31: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Amy not a coffee drinker. getting ready for work. I am listening to my book though. And I tend to be a nite owl. I was surprised to see you up late.


message 32: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments KSZ, it’s Monday night April 9th. This is the same group that had 600 people for Jonathan Safran Fore’s Here I Am. Which was excellent! I gather this one might be a bit smaller.


message 33: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments As usual, fell asleep in front of the TV. My other addiction. But in general, I am in fact a bat!


message 34: by SANDYE (new)

SANDYE (sandye_c) KateNZ wrote: "Wow, Sandye - hugs and warmest thoughts to accompany the op xx

Thank you very much KateNZ!


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Sorry for all you are going through right now, Sandye. It is understandable that you would avoid reading certain medical subjects. Sounds like you might need some feel-good types of books right now.


message 36: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7756 comments Sexual abuse of children. I just can't even stomach it. Sexual abuse of adults as well, actually. I also prefer to avoid any type of abuse, but I do not necessarily rule a book out if it has nonsexual abuse, though I am always wary.

I can handle some books where the sexual abuse is not actually in the story. Like if it happened a long time ago and the person is overcoming this trauma. But, not if there are detailed flashbacks or lots of description.

For those of you who read the In Death Series by J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts, that is about the extent that I can handle and, even then, I don't read those few paragraphs but very lightly skim over them. And they still turn my stomach.


message 37: by SANDYE (new)

SANDYE (sandye_c) Lisa A wrote: "Sorry for all you are going through right now, Sandye. It is understandable that you would avoid reading certain medical subjects. Sounds like you might need some feel-good types of books right now."

Thank you Lisa! I've been enjoying some lighthearted mysteries, and comedy books lately. My health situation is old hat to me after 22 years of waiting for new lungs. I'm just not ready to face the bad side of the coin until they start looking for a viable donor for me. Until then, I like to keep things light and on a more positive note. It helps keep me going.


message 38: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6423 comments SANDYE wrote: " Lisa A wrote: "Sorry for all you are going through right now, Sandye. It is understandable that you would avoid reading certain medical subjects. Sounds like you might need some feel-good types of..."

I really hope the lungs become available soon for you, Sandye, but admire your upbeat attitude! In the meantime, there are lots of books to read and share, and we look forward to doing that with you.


message 39: by SANDYE (new)

SANDYE (sandye_c) Anita wrote: "SANDYE wrote: " Lisa A wrote: "Sorry for all you are going through right now, Sandye. It is understandable that you would avoid reading certain medical subjects. Sounds like you might need some fee..."

Thank you Anita! I've already enjoyed my time in this group! So many great people and so much activity! Makes me want to try to read twice as fast just so I'll have something to share.


message 40: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 2133 comments There is very little I won't at least attempt to read. I do love a good horror story so that's no problem. Child abuse is extremely difficult as is any kind of abuse. The books I have the most problem with are ones where an animal dies; I cry every time.


message 41: by LibraryCin (new)

LibraryCin | 8315 comments I'm amongst those who are able to read about anything. That's not to say it's not horrible or uncomfortable or whatever, but I will read it. I also often cry easily when I read, whatever the topic.


message 42: by Karin (new)

Karin | 6991 comments I just lost my reply where I was commenting one at a time to quotes, so here goes without them--

SANDEYE - that makes sense. I hope you get your double lung transplant.

AMY - I am the same--I don't like a book that ends with nothing good or insightful if bad things have happened.

NICOLE R - I cannot stand sexual abuse of children in books, either. It is just so horrible.


message 43: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8509 comments Please forgive me friends for belaboring the point, and especially Jason please forgive me for returning back to this. But the coincidence was so amazing, I felt absolutely compelled to share. How could I not? Bizarrely weird. I had signed up for a conference (CEU's at Psychologist graduate school), today and it was on the edge of my consciousness. I hardly remembered it was scheduled for today. Topic: Trauma, Healing, and the Holocaust. Three Psychologists, all children of Holocaust survivors, each born in DP camps, (displaced persons), one with still a living mother at 92. They each told their stories. a packed room of 150 people, sold out with a waiting list a mile long. The moderator asked the 150 people to raise their hands if they were a survivor. I think about 5-7 people did. He asked if anyone was related to a survivor. No joke, about 75 hands went up. I thought they did a nice job talking about how one heals from atrocities, and connecting it to other kinds of genocide in the world, past and present. But an interesting book was mentioned. One of the speakers, the woman with the 92 year old mother, her daughter Amy wrote a book about her grandmother, her mother, and herself and their journeys. Its called the Flying Couch, and as an artist, she self illustrated. So get this. An illustrated Holocaust book, featuring three strong women! Then during the 1.5 hour talk, my friend texts me. Her mother and aunt were in Auschwitz when they were 13 and 14. Her mother passed 15 years ago. She wrote me to tell me that her aunt died today. And I was just thinking about these two the entire time the talk was going on! Weird and eerie, that the question was posed about having exposure to and meeting holocaust survivors. I almost never think about this, and its not exactly often on my radar. But what a sudden weird 24 hours!

Sandye - all blessings and prayers for you. Were all rooting for you to have a peaceful and easy and timely transplant. Meanwhile, enjoying your reviews and your participation.


message 44: by Michael (new)

Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Wonderful story, Amy. And great job linking up all the eloquent threads in this discussion. I have similar aversions to you and others. The good and evil does carry me through a lot of horrors in my reading, but that Die Hard phenomenon of whipping up cruelty in justified revenge is pretty sinful. A little pf that goes a long way. And when enough people get on that track they want a lot more Jews fighting back and not just crushed--i.e. hooked on unreality.

I have some push to understand the worst that can come out of human nature and look for that hope of change you speak of. Am up to 20 books on the holocaust and 10 on other genocide events.
Even just bearing witness through such readings is enough to make the anguish worth it. Through human stories and histories from different angles you can get surprised sometimes. Like learning how the slaughter in Rwanda and Burundi was between peoples of similar language, race, and religion but differing in cultural and social spheres. The efforts taken to forge forgiveness afterwards were amazing. I have begun to stop thinking "they" for perpetrators of all stripes and make them part of "we". That does help me be able to handle the experience of a lot of bad shit. How to inspire more empathy in all young children is something to wish for as a part of the solution.


message 45: by SANDYE (new)

SANDYE (sandye_c) Karin wrote: "I just lost my reply where I was commenting one at a time to quotes, so here goes without them--

SANDEYE - that makes sense. I hope you get your double lung transplant.

AMY - I am the same--I don..."


Thank you very much!


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