trigger warnings

Four Things That Make Me Close a Book

This may be the first of several posts about reading. (Or it may not.)

I’ve been thinking about the process of reading. It seems to me that reading a piece of fiction is more than scanning a text with the eyes and understanding the words. It’s more complex than that. Something happens in the reader’s brain to create the book for that reader. In a way, the reader’s brain works with the writer’s creation to make a new thing. This new thing exists only for that reader, while they are reading. They may think about it afterward, remember it, talk about it with others, or even write about the experience, as one does after seeing a movie.

I will start with a few things (aside from incoherent writing) that stop me from reading a book, or at least make me reluctant to read. They make me want to leave the Mind-Movie Theatre.

  1. Animal abuse
  2. Graphic violence or grossness as the point of the book
  3. A main character or characters I consider hateful
  4. Long sections of nonstop action unrelieved by dialogue, description, or backstory

I am reluctant to read books with scenes that describe animals suffering or being killed, even if the book as a whole is interesting. Human suffering and death are not as repugnant, unless described with gratuitous detail.

Strange, isn’t it? Especially because this abhorrence has grown stronger with age. I seem to recall being able to shrug it off as “only a story” when I was younger. Maybe I can no longer do that because I know too much.

There are books whose point is to induce disgust, or a kind of stomach-churning fascination. Fine, but I’d rather not read them.

Flawed characters are all right, but when a book has no characters with a few sympathetic qualities, I want out.

Reading page after page describing people slashing, stabbing, and hewing each other is too much like work. The mental movie-maker starts to protest. “I’m all out of fake blood,” it whines.

Am I squeamish, cowardly, or in denial? I’m not sure. Am I saying writers should purge such elements from their books? Not at all, but I do want to know they’re there before I commit to reading.

This brings up the matter of “trigger warnings.” While I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out every possible thing that may shock or offend some readers, I do think we authors owe it to our readers to clearly indicate the nature of a book in its description. Words like “harsh,” “gory,” “brutal,” or “explicit” give readers a good idea of what to expect.

Writers and readers, what puts you off reading a book? What do you think of trigger warnings?

Featured image from Pexels.