When books traumatize you instead of entertain you

I thought of this a few weeks ago, but I didn’t have the drive to actually write it up and post it. However, something happened today that made me think of it again. Also, my sister basically forced me to write something yesterday and it has all my writing juices flowing. I guess it’s about time I used my blog for something other than SLS; although, I’m told it’s perfectly fine that my blog is only that.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book by one of my favorite authors. The synopsis had me intrigued and I couldn’t wait to dive into it. That feeling was very short lived. I had a hard time reading it and it made me anxious. I thought at first that I was simply in one of my moods, but it became increasingly clear that it was the book. It only took about a hundred pages before I finally realized why.

It was the premise and ultimately the bad guy. It brought back a time in my life that still manages to haunt me to this day. I decided to keep reading, but the more I did it, the more anxious I became. I started leaving the book at home, rather than taking it to read during lunch. On Saturday mornings, when I’m normally excited to get a few pages in, I glanced at it and then walked away. It wasn’t until today that I decided to pick up another book. It was like a breath of fresh air. Finally, a book that didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin.

It does trouble me, though. Part of me wants to read it. I want to face those demons head on and exorcise them. But is that really the way to do it? Do I really want to go through that just for a story? I’ve done it before. I read a book called Sharp Objects, and even though I knew it was traumatizing me, I ended up finishing it. It’s the first book that I ever truly felt like flinging across the room when I was finished. I’m not even happy that I read it, to be honest.

It’s hard for me to leave a book unfinished. I’ve only abandoned a few books in my life and it’s hard to know if I’m making the right decision. Do I keep traumatizing myself in the hopes that some part of that hell will be put to rest? Or do I let it go?

I’m interested to know what you think, since we are a writing community. Do you read books that traumatize you, or do you move on to other things?

I’d love to hear from you!

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56 thoughts on “When books traumatize you instead of entertain you

  1. I don’t have much time to read these days so I can’t ever say I’ve found a book traumatic personally, though some of my required readings in high school just pulled my heart strings. Of course, I had no choice but to power through them but it was tough. Had it been just a normal situation I’d have probably put it down.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know anything about you or this book but I feel this is an important issue and I hope you get some answers here that will be more on point than mine.

    I’m also not quite sure about the word “traumatise” in the context of a book. If you mean that you were triggered since the book describes something similar and bad that has happened to you, I usually finish reading such accounts because I’m curious how similar our stories are and if there is a lesson in it for me. That said, I never had something truly horrible happen to me. When I read, some bad guys clearly resemble my ex or two but my view is that if I call memory of them “traumatising”, it is my loss.

    What I’d do is finish reading it as a case study (even if my own) and then truly hurl the book across the room and then even burn it (if it’s not from a library). 😉 Much luck with that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much. Yes, I mean the book triggers bad memories. I’m honestly on the fence about it. I was planning to finish it just to see how the characters react and hopefully overcome, but it has been difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I just read the synopsis of this book and it would traumatize me too. I have a hard time not finishing a book even though I am not enjoying it as well. It is a silly thing…if you don’t like it, stop reading and move on. There are plenty of other books out there to read!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have to be very careful what I read. I do not like being traumatized with the material I read, so I just choose not to read them. If I do I suffer even at night when I am trying to go to sleep. Good positive books are the best!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can only think of one time this has happened as an adult. I read a crime thriller from an author whose other books I’d really enjoyed, only to find it was full of the most sickening violence against child victims. To make matters worse I was actually pregnant too. It really disturbed me, but I kept with it – I don’t know why, I just don’t usually give up on books. By the end I was feeling, like you say, like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. And it took a long while to fade. After baby was born I kept having horrible fears about bad things happening to her. I really wish I’d just stopped reading. You did the right thing.

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  6. Generally, before abandoning a book, I keep reading much too far, for several reasons. (1) I feel like I “owe” the author a chance to prove him/herself. This is even when the author is long gone. (2) It’s a book I “ought” to like, either because I like the subject matter or the author or because others with similar tastes have liked/loved it. For example, a biography of Truman Capote I finally abandoned mid-way when I realized I’d been reading bit and pieces for FOUR months. Long enough, don’t you think? (3) It’s a book assigned for a class. Complained so much about Saul Bellow’s “Adventures of Augie March” so much, the prof finally told the entire class they could skip one of the required books. And, bucking popular opinion at the time, I loved all Henry James’ books. THAT’s how much I hated Augie. Having said all that (sorry to hi-jack your comment section, but I might as well finish my thought), I can think of only one book that upset me too much to finish: Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” That’s how much I hated (& still hate) the self-centered type of individualism she espoused. (That my soon-to-be-husband loved it and lived by it should have been a little clue that he would one day be my ex-husband. LOL)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Those are all the reasons I keep going, but yes, when you find yourself still reading the same book months later, it might be time to put it down. Sometimes I have a hard time pin-pointing why I don’t like a book, but this one became obvious very quickly!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know what to tell you Helen. I know you enjoy reading so why subject yourself to painand discomfort. I have read books and seen TV series and films that have brought back bad times from my past. There is enough in our lives that can trigger these feelings so why subject ourselves to more💜💜

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I am sorry you are having difficulty with the book. I think as it is having such an effect on you and giving you anxiety, I’d leave it alone. Books are supposed to be a relaxing past time, not intended to make us a nervous wreck. mind you, When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase was harrowing.
    I used to read a lot…………… mainly horror actually, so Dean Koontz is familiar. I’ve read books that made me cry (Cathy Kelly Lessons in Heartbreak, Sandra Brown Breath of Scandal), books that were so predictable I had to finish them to see if I was right (anything by Danielle Steele so I gave up on her completely) and several that just didn’t make sense (a couple of Stephen King and James Herbert).
    I’m reading Linwood Barclay’s The Twenty Three at the moment and enjoying it. I’ve read a few of his. These days though, I have to be in the mood to read, which for a few years hasn’t been very often if I’m honest.
    If you like light reading, I’d recommend anything by Erica James or Cathy Kelly. Their stories and characters are realistic and so very true to life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Books, non-fiction or fiction, don’t usually bother me. I like true crime books, and horror novels a lot, but after reading that kind, I have to read something light and fun. The only time I couldn’t even have the book stay in the house with me, was called the Demonologists, which was true accounts. I did finally finish reading it, and the 2nd time around it wasn’t as scary.
    That said, if I’m not enjoying a book, I stop and find another one to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Chiming in here. Leave it alone. I suffer from PTSD and one thing I’ve learned over the years is “leave it alone.” I believe that the mind will allow us to explore the demons when we are ready, not before. If the book gives you anxiety, don’t push it, trust your gut. Healing takes different paths for different people. I read “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it gave me flash backs for weeks. Could NOT stop reading it though. If you can set it aside, or throw it out, do so. A story isn’t worth the anxiety!

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  11. I can relate We could be twins. My therapist suggested I stop powering through books that triggered me. Simple really. She asked me to ask myself why do I do that? When I could come up with no plausible reason beyond I am not a quitter, she laughed. I needed someone to give me permission to quit and she did that. Still to this day I have very few books that I have not finished. Instead I try to be uber picky before I even start reading.

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  12. I think most of us will have experienced similar situations with books, also with films/tv plays.
    I have, in the past, persevered with books and wished, later, that I had not bothered. I’ve read some books purely because they were “classics”, and I thought I ought to read them. Big mistake sometimes.
    Now, if a book has not grabbed me in a couple of chapters, I put it in a pending pile to maybe return to later.
    With films/tv, we have a 10 minute rule. If it hasn’t proved itself in 10 minutes (sometimes less) off it goes.
    Life is too short to waste on rubbish, or on things that unsettle you!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Through most of my life, once I started a book I felt compelled to finish it. However, in recent years I turn them off pretty easily. I have a lot of choices and don’t have time for those that are not profitable for me to read so I “chuck it” if it does not have some basic positive reasons to take up my time. I choose to read bloggers more often than books.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Absolutely can relate to this! I’ve had that happen to me. I’ve also had times where a book has had such a profound affect on me that I’m troubled or worked up for weeks. Even having dreams about the characters or storyline! I am like you in that I hate not finishing a book, even if it’s terrible (Fifty Shades is one exception. After about seven pages I gave it away. I wrote better fiction in sixth grade for pete’s sake). At least you were able to move on to a book that didn’t make you feel terrible.

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  15. I don’t really get traumatized by books (I think years of reading dodgy fanfiction has desensitised me), but my days of struggling to finish a book because I feel that I have to are over. Life is too short and I’m not going to win a prize for finishing it. These days I abandon ship once it’s clear that I’m not feeling what’s above deck.

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  16. I completely understand. There are some books I won’t go near because of a certain topic. It’s too sensitive to me, and I know I’ll just end up being miserable because I forced myself to read it.
    I do think there is something to be said about reading work that makes us uncomfortable. Work that pushes us to acknowledge the wrong in the world so that we can do something about it. The trouble is finding the difference between constructive discomfort that leads to growth and works that make us mentally unstable in our daily lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I actually had a similar experience a couple of years ago. My foster daughter was in and out of the hospital several times in one week before they decided to take out her appendix. I found a book by an author I liked in the take one leave one box in the lobby. I read the book any time I was there with her and was halfway through when I realized I didn’t feel right about it. Like you, it made my skin crawl and I kept avoiding it choosing to walk the halls when my daughter was sleeping or in surgery. When she was discharged I was still only about half-way through the book but through it back in the box as my “leave one”. I have never been the least bit curious about how it ended because I knew how my story did.

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