Triggering books: When do you set them aside? When do you keep reading?

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This question occurred to me because right now I’m reading Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid, a book that delves intensely into eating disorders and the deeply unhealthy thought patterns that are associated with them, and I’ve been struggling to decide whether or not to set the book aside. When I wrote about this book for Friday Bookbag, I mentioned that I was excited to see how the author handled the issue…and unfortunately, I’m not enjoying Reid’s take.

The cover copy led me to believe that Pretend We Are Lovely would have more of a dark humor component, when instead it’s just dark: we dip in and out of the thoughts of the four members of the Sobel family, all of whom have lots and lots of baggage around food. I also don’t think this book is very good, complicating things further, because I’m dealing with all of this unpleasantness without the payoff of beautiful language, plotting, characterization, and all the other things I expect from good fiction.

I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I do have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can create unhealthy eating patterns for me when it flares up. Pretend We Are Lovely has left me feeling jittery, anxious, and unhappy with all its reminders of the difficulty I’ve had managing my mental health at times, especially since so far, none of the Sobels are getting the help they need.

I do think I’ll finish it, but this has happened to me before, and I’m curious how other readers cope with this. This isn’t so much a matter of trigger warnings as what happens when a reader finds a book triggering for any reason, whether PTSD-related or due to another trauma or sensitivity. I knew this book would contain discussion of eating disorders, so I was warned, but I’m still finding it a much more difficult read than I had anticipated.

So, I thought I’d throw this problem out to the internet.

Have you ever read a book that triggers unpleasant or harmful thoughts and memories? Did you finish reading? Did you set it aside? Do you try and screen books for these triggers beforehand? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Triggering books: When do you set them aside? When do you keep reading?”

  1. I dnf’ed The Lovely Bones, but it was weird, it wasn’t in a personal experience trigger warning, but it just made me generally unhappy. I wasn’t feeling spooked, or thought I was learning anything, ….it was just an overall bummer. It actually ruined my night just sitting there reading 50 + pages of this really depressing book. I don’t like it when authors write things JUST to be triggering or have shock-value. I can take these topics when they are done skillfully and for a purpose, used as a device for something greater. Similar themes were present in John Fowler’s The Collector, and Lolita, but there it was done within a larger context. But that’s just it, I didn’t put it down because it was badly written, I put The Lovely Bones because it was in a way triggering (not for personal memories) but because it was a very sensationalist portrayal. I felt like I was watching a YouTube video of it happening ….you know…

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    1. I did finish The Lovely Bones back when I read it (years ago), but I wasn’t a fan of it for similar reasons. And I certainly agree that how genuinely a shocking event comes across plays a big part in my reaction to it. If it feels like a cheap shot (or it’s just not skillfully done), not only does it cheapen the book, but it tends to upset me far more than a skilled and heartfelt portrayal would. Thanks for sharing!

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