Monday, June 14, 2010


I'm reading Well Respected Book by Famous Author.  Book justly deserves its approving reviews; Author is appropriately well-loved.

I'm not going to tell you the title or Author's real name; you'll understand by the end of this post.  I was happily reading Well Respected Book this afternoon when I got to the tiniest amount (seriously: roughly 4%) of Book in which Something Bad happens to the heroine.  Bluntly, she's tortured.  But it's the way she's tortured.  She's tortured by someone who wants to impress upon her that he has all the power and she has none.  Oh, and she's friendless, and all hope is gone.

In the hands of a lesser writer than Famous Author, this would just be a bit of melodrama, some Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling with a nasty old henchman.  But Famous Author gets it.  She knows.

She knows that the worst feeling in the world (okay, the worst feeling in my world) is that sense that someone else has you in their control, there is no hope, and they have no compunction inflicting pain.  Of that triad, the infliction of pain is a sliver in the pie chart of horror.  Because the people with the power, the people who've made sure there is no hope, are people the heroine should be able to trust.

Right.  Back to my reading.  So I read this 4% bit of Well Respected Book and thought nothing of it.  Maybe there was a little chill, as if the fridge door was left open too long.  No more than that.  Then I'm futzing around on Facebook, where a woman I have never met and don't know very well politely informs me she can't help me with a game we're both playing.  It's a game.  It's not real.  I have no claim on this woman's assistance.  Doesn't matter -- I completely overreacted.  Now it doesn't feel like the fridge door is open; it's like the door's shut with me locked inside.  I started having really off-kilter thoughts, that somehow I'd committed some solecism, offended this woman somehow.  Bluntly, I went crazy.


This isn't the first time I've had a bad reaction to something Famous Author has written.  Her books are, for the most part, keepers for me.  But one of hers that other people adore was so difficult for me to read I suspect I never finished it, and it's not too surprising that I didn't read any others of hers for years.

Now, I don't know anything at all about Famous Author in real life.  I hope these tiny black holes in her books -- which suck me in but barely register with most readers -- aren't evidence that she too had a Bad Childhood.  I really hope that, but I can't think why else this stuff would make it into her books.

It reminds me of reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  When the Dementors are introduced, the description of how they make a person feel is easily recognized as the symptoms of clinical depression - - but only to a reader who has experienced depression.  To everyone else, they are just particularly nasty bogeymen.  But J.K. Rowling has admitted that she wrote them after a time in her life when she was clinically depressed.

I have been treated as the heroine in Well Respected Book was treated in that 4%.  The pain is negligible; it's looking at people who are supposed to be protecting you and seeing the opposite intention on their faces, that's where the coldness comes from.  And rather like Book's heroine, I assumed I deserved it.  That's not a rational assumption, but then nothing about the situation is rational.  The intent of the perpetrators is not rational, their actions are not rational, that there is no rescue and no one to seek help from is not rational.  So concluding that I have earned this treatment is both irrational and logically consistent with reality.

This isn't my favorite form of emotional synergy when reading.  Like brushing up against a Dementor, these experiences linger unpleasantly.  I suspect if these bits made up more than 4% of Book, I would decline to read Famous Author again with no real idea why.  Which would be a shame, because she's a great writer, and these are great books.

They certainly have the power to make me feel. 


  1. That sounds like a very troubling experience. I hope you aren't still feeling cold/claustrophic as a result of your recent time in the fridge.

    I'd probably stop reading Well Respected Book as soon as I reached something like that, not because I've had any personal experience of a similar sort, but because I stay well, well away from all sorts of "fridge door" type things. For me, too, they have an emotional effect which lasts long after the book is finished. It's never been the kind of effect you mention, but it's nonetheless unpleasant.

    As an academic studying the genre, I do sometimes worry that this type of avoidance means I'm not getting a proper overview of the genre. However, it's such a big genre that I know I'll never be able to read everything. I reckon I'll just have to leave the books with fridges in them to be someone else's area(s) of expertise.

  2. Laura -- Well, I'm getting better at this. The first time it happened, I didn't read mainstream fiction for oh, 20 years. Now I've gotten it to the point where I just need to put the specific book down for a while and "shake it off."

    It was very helpful this time to be able to see that my reaction to the situation on Facebook had been triggered by Famous Author's tiny black hole. I can deal with that which I can face; it's the anonymous unexplained damage I find overwhelming.

    I finished Well Respected Book last night and moved on to a series romance. Talk about your contrast.

    But you're right -- it's a huge genre, and not enough time to read everything. I'm glad I read Well Respected Book, though.

    Thanks for your support.

  3. A good writer captures deep emotions and experiences on the page. I have been triggered in the way you describe. It sounds like you have enough distance and perspective now to handle these reads. I avoid reads that will "set me off" because it's not worth it to me and in general I read with the purpose of having fun. Love me a sweet and caring beta.

  4. That sounds like the sort of thing I would have to space out with lots of other things in between (like categories, YA, nonfiction). And I'd have to be in the right mood for it.

    Stories can be so powerful. Sometimes, I'm not strong enough for the painful ones, no matter how excellent they are.

  5. Ditto what Victoria Janssen said about spacing it out - go read something 100% happy with no dark holes of suckitude.

  6. You're way ahead of the mark if you've identified the trigger and know either to avoid it, or build a containment field around it. I think we all have our vulnerabilities. Mine got pushed far too much in medicine, and it's one of the reasons I had to leave it behind. Takes too much energy to erect compartments.

  7. Victoria & Keira -- A much warmer, happier book already digested; blog post coming soon! Thanks for the good wishes.

    Jan -- Yes, being able to see that it was the book that triggered my irrationality was a huge step in the right direction. I'm pretty sure that was a first -- definite progress.

    But avoiding triggers isn't quite the answer in my case. Recognizing the effects and quieting the aftershocks -- that's where the work is now. I'm missing crucial information from my childhood, so connecting the dots is a labor-intensive business. I'm getting there.

    That said, I completely agree about the profession. I quit the law at the end of last year when I could see that the judicial corruption I was facing constituted an abusive workplace. Hey, that was just me. Another lawyer in my situation would have redoubled efforts to counteract the injustices. I don't have that in me, I'm afraid.

    Good to know our limits, hunh?

  8. This is why my favourite genre is romance. Many books which pass for literature these days are so bleak. While I like a story to engage my emotions, I don't want to read a book which will leave me feeling depressed.


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