Bookmares

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How I feel about choosing my next read.

How I feel about choosing my next read.

Lately, I’ve felt traumatized by books. Two of the books I was able to stop reading when they upset me. I didn’t care enough about the characters to make myself read any more about teenagers doing drugs and blowing up their lives or risk running into another scene like the botched horse euthanasia that I long to unread.

Two more recent books have had me fully bought into what happens. I care about those characters about as much as I care about my high school or Sunday school students. I need to know what happened to those kids and that they are okay.

I’ve been listening to their stories on audio (iPhones and libraries make great partners for my morning commute – I can’t even get late fines). So I have had to get the printed books to let me skim those scenes about parental abuse of the character kids I want to scoop up and rescue from their writers’ words.

All of these authors are skilled. Very skilled. Even the ones who wrote characters I didn’t connect to have an amazing writerly superpower: they make me see in my head what they experienced or imagined in their own heads.

When I first took a class on fiction writing, I couldn’t get past the idea of conflict in writing. I didn’t want to believe I needed it to make a good story. Even more, I didn’t want to create stories to fill people with more feelings of conflict. I used this excuse for a long time to stop myself from writing.

Recently I scared one of my critique group members with the opening scene to my book with too much conflict. So I try not to hold my readerly stress against authors, and I know I’ve accepted that fiction needs conflict to pull the story forward.

But I am shopping for books with a tad fewer chest tightening scenes for my next reads. I crave great stories that pull me through without ripping my heart out over imaginary people. If you’ve got a minute, I’d love suggestions. Bring on the Pollyanna. My reading heart needs mending. Maybe this makes me a wimp. I’m okay with that.

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9 thoughts on “Bookmares

    • Karrie Zylstra

      No, but I have Looking for Alaska that a friend lent me. John Green is high on my list of to-read authors. I’ll check him out. Thanks!

  1. Atikah

    I’m actually the opposite. I LOVE gut-wrenching books. The more it hurts, the better. It usually means that the story is so good to the point that I cared for the characters. Do avoid “The Bookthief” by Markus Zusak! Such a sad, sad read.

    • Karrie Zylstra

      Excellent point about some people being the opposite of me. That’s why I would never tell an author what she should write or advocate for banning his book.

      Oddly enough, I loved *The Book Thief.* It was sad but nothing in it left me feeling traumatized. I suppose everyone has a line that hurts too much to cross as well as a line of tension we need to keep us moving forward in a story.

      Thanks for sharing your take, Atikah. The differences in book reading tastes never ceases to amaze and encourage me in my own writing.

  2. Zarkon

    I’m not sure if I can organize my thoughts about this coherently, but please bear with me as I try. I was watching a television show the other night that depicted a scene where a group of people fearful for one of their own were torturing another person. I had a very visceral reaction to the scene and almost turned it off not wanting to witness it. But, I got to thinking about where we are as a society and the depiction is addressing where we are now. We were traumatized as a society on 9/11. We have spent a lot of time and energy as a society traumatizing others continuously for more than a decade now. That is creating blowback into our society in many ways. We are still afraid. We have many people who have been on the front lines of war committing heinous acts in our name, traumatized by what they’ve been ordered to do, coming back into our society, needing to live with their actions. This comes out in various ways. The militarization of our police forces. Decisions that human rights do not apply in many situations. The summary killing of people without trial by drones. The attempts to watch all of us at all times through any means possible. I think that the scenes we’re seeing on television, in movies, in books that are especially traumatizing are writers reactions to the current zeitgeist. I suspect that the scenes you read that were so traumatizing are coming out of this ground of being. An expression of our pain and uncertainty of our society. Most of these visions lead to optimistic resolutions, some do not. It may be the dissonence inherent in a developmental change as a society, or a reaction to the regression our society has gone through over the last decade or so.

    In any case, I’m rereading Robert A. Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love”. It’s from a simpler time in our history, but anticipates many of our current problems. It’s focus is largely optimistic and is an interesting exploration of what it means to love.

    • Karrie Zylstra

      I’m going to think on your thoughts for a bit, Zarkon. I have seen a shift in reading since September 11th. Let me ponder and get back to you.

    • Karrie Zylstra

      Okay. Here are my thoughts, Zarkon. I wonder if we have regressed or just continued the same cycle. There was a time when I was growing up that I thought our wars were behind us. And then came the first Iraq war when I was in college. As I watched war planes on TV and listened to my housemate’s fears, I began to feel that not much had changed over history but rather that we repeated mistakes while also repeating our efforts to correct them.

      And our art in books reflects us in our mistakes and efforts.

      I’ll look into Heinlein’s book and see if my brain can take a better look at what you are saying. I could use some optimism.

  3. Martha Grover

    I don’t read much fiction, but when I do, I like it, learn from it, and wish I did it more often. I read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. Some friends found it too horrific to enjoy. I don’t like horror movies, but I found the book empowering. The victim gets strong and wreaks deserved revenge. I hurriedly bought the second in the series, but haven’t opened it yet, a year later. Back to my habit of eschewing fiction, even when I know better.

    • Karrie Zylstra

      I have had that Dragon on my list for a long time but I am nervous. I think I’ll be sure to read it in print (or on a screen) rather than attempt the audio. If you liked it, I’m betting it’s worthwhile and am willing to take the risk. And one of the books that traumatized me in this latest string was non-fiction, Martha, which made the tough scene even tougher for me because I know it happened in my own reality.

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