Sometimes I Take Books Way Too Damn Personally

Discussion

I’m not the type of person who curses a lot – in fact, the occasional swear word I throw into a review or discussion post tends to be more than I ever say in real life. I’m the type of person who definitely prefers using language like that when I’m really stressed, mad, frustrated, or some other similar, strong emotion. So, using even a small word like “damn” in the title of a post is my way of telling you that this is a discussion post full of strong emotion – but, in this case, it’s more frustration, stress, and sadness, rather than me being pissed off. So, really, this paragraph has nothing to do with it, but I felt like starting things off by saying all this first.

OK, on to the actual bookish stuff. Normally, when I write a discussion post based on a book I recently read, I wait at least a few days before writing the post. This time, though, I pulled out my laptop in the car (I’m currently traveling, thus the lack of posts at the end of November – well, that and NaNoWriMo and a very minor blogging slump and general busy-ness) right after I turned off my Nook, on which I was reading one of my latest books: The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris. I was kind of excited about this book because it just sounded like a fun and fluffy book, complete with one of those fake relationships that’s obviously going to turn into something more. I knew that it would be fun and not too serious, and since that was what I was in the mood for, I was looking forward to it.

As I started it, I was a little unsure what I thought of the main character, but beginnings can be a little rough and I was ready to keep going and get to the cute, couple-y moments she was sure to have with her male best friend once they obviously started having a fake relationship. I got to chapter two and even though I wasn’t super invested yet, I was prepared to enjoy myself in the car while getting farther into it. However, I never made it past the second chapter before I DNFed it.

Now, before I say why I did that, I want to make one thing clear: I don’t think the book is a bad book. I obviously didn’t read enough of it to know, but I’ve seen good reviews of it and there wasn’t anything to offend me in it. However, I just couldn’t go any further because, as I mentioned in the title, sometimes I take books way too personally. It’s not their fault – I’m sure the books all want me to enjoy them, just as I want to enjoy them, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen.

You see, this book involves a trope that once kind of annoyed and bored me, but has now started really depressing me: oh no, I’ve only had one boyfriend in my life! I’m a 15/16/17 year old freak! It’s obviously something wrong with me, rather than simply a lack of boys or girls to choose from.

There’s not really anything wrong with this trope, but it rubs me the wrong way. High school tends to be the first time that people start getting into real relationships. Sure, there was a girlfriend-boyfriend duo as early as fourth grade in my school, but it was never real – they just had the title and might sit together at lunch or have a play date (emphasis on “play,” because fourth graders are still just kids!); it wasn’t until you reached high school, and specifically the freedom of being able to drive yourself, that a lot more people really began dating. Some people had lots of relationships in high school, some had none; some were casual, some were really serious; some developed slowly, some seemed to come out of nowhere. There are so many kinds of relationships, just like there are in college and after schooling is over. So, guess what – it’s totally possible to get through high school without having a single relationship! It doesn’t make you a freak (and you’re not a slut if you do have a lot of relationships or kiss a lot of boys/girls/both)!

So I’m getting tired of reading all these books about teenage girls moaning about the fact that they’ve only been kissed once or twice or only had one boyfriend or only gone to school dances with boys who are friends. I know this is a stereotype in itself, but many big book readers are always reading books because they don’t have all that many romantic entanglements. Yes, there are great, outgoing readers – there are even some great reviewers you might now, like Renae from Respiring Thoughts – but there are also plenty of quiet readers. These people might be reading these books, looking at their own lack of relationships and wondering if there’s something really wrong with them.

This is where I’m going to get personal in a way that kind of scares me (not in a Kathleen Hale kind of way, though – definitely, definitely don’t put personal information like your address or last name or something that can help people find you): it might not come as a shock if you’ve been reading the whole post up until this post, but I’m one of those girls. I’ve never had a relationship or really done anything, and as a college student, I guess that means I’m a freakish spinster old maid or something by now. I say that in a slightly joking way, but there are definitely times when I truly do believe this. I’ve never been asked to a school dance, even by my guy friends – I would always just go with a group of people and dance in the big groups and either leave the dance floor or sway in a circle with a bunch of girls during the slow, “romantic” songs. And even though I think I’m a pretty well-adjusted person, it definitely gets to me.

I don’t want to be a freak, whether it’s true or not. After my issues with stress and the fact that I’ve begun seeing a therapist who is very helpful, I’m hopeful that I can stop being so damn shy, but until then, I’m much too scared to try to reach out to someone as more than friends, and when I’m so quiet and seemingly uninteresting, no one’s really going to come knocking on my door. I know that it’s partially my fault – I can’t be too scared to open up to people even a little bit – but it’ll take a little while before I’m in a place in my life where I’m brave enough. I can accept that, and much of the time I do: but when I read books like The Fine Art of Pretending, where the protagonist thinks there’s something wrong with her because her first boyfriend was in her junior year and they broke up a few months ago, it’s hard to remember that. Instead, it just depresses me and makes me feel even worse about myself, which can definitely be a problem with my anxiety issues.

I’m not writing this post so that you feel sorry for me – although I’m now strong enough to admit that I am the type of person to fish for acceptance sometimes, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be happy for that acceptance or whatever – but because I think this can be a really difficult thing for book readers. If you’re like me, you often read books to escape from your life a bit – so what can you possibly do when the fun, happy books you read to get you in a better mood end up hurting you in ways you weren’t prepared for? It’s not like picking up a book like Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson – when you read that, you know you’re pretty much guaranteed to cry and get a bit of a sucker punch to the gut because it’s about a parent dying and that’s not a happy thing. It’s when something is sprung on you, something that isn’t meant to hurt you but does it a personal way that many other people wouldn’t understand. If you have a lot of issues with food, for example, reading a book that continually waxes on and on about feasts and desserts might not work for you, but it’s hard for people to warn about that in reviews. You can warn about slut shaming, rape, death, racism, homophobia, sexism, and so many other “big” things, but what do you do about the little things that are personal to you?

This isn’t really a post with a solution, I suppose. This was just my chance to get everything out – a therapeutic want to vent about the ways a book hurt me even though there really isn’t anything wrong with it. And, I feel like I need to repeat this: there’s nothing truly wrong with the book. It’s not the responsibility of every author to think about every small little thing that would bother a person. Yes, it’s important to be considerate, but you can’t expect everyone to know personally what things bother you. So, really, this was my chance to vent about this trope and my feelings – but I’d also love to hear from all of you, to know that I’m not the only one who can sometimes be hurt by taking things so personally. If I can’t keep all books from hurting me, then it’d be really, really great to know that at least I’m not alone in the pain.

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9 thoughts on “Sometimes I Take Books Way Too Damn Personally

  1. I love this quote “You can warn about slut shaming, rape, death, racism, homophobia, sexism, and so many other “big” things, but what do you do about the little things that are personal to you?” It’s also the reason why I believe content warnings never can be perfect or mayeb not even effective at all, as you can’t warn for every thing that might mean something to someone.
    And sometimes those books with the heavy issues can be easier to read then the seemingly light books that deal with an issue that really hits close.

    I am a shy person just like you and I still don’t fully understand how I managed to end up with a boyfriend, although I only got my boyfriend at the end of high school, which is still pretty late compared to many others. I think everyone develops at his or her own pace and I am sure you’ll find a nice person eventually to share your life with. Opening up is scary, but it is necessary to let other peopel get to know you sometimes. The fact that you managed to write this post already says your on the right road :).

    1. Yeah, as much as I would love to know about every little thing, it would be a problem if content warnings were much too detailed. The big issues are really important and we’ll just have to be happy with that and hope that we all have friends who can warn us about other things if necessary!

      Yeah, that’s so true! I can read a book about racism and it can be difficult and scary, but as a white girl in the US, I would never have to experience that kind of racism firsthand, so it wouldn’t hit as close to me as something else might, even if it’s a heavy subject.

      Everyone gets into relationships at their own pace, so I just need to remember that! There were plenty of people in high school who I was kind of surprised were in relationships, but I guess they were simply ready for them in ways I wasn’t. Thank you – I’m certainly trying to be on the right road!

  2. It’s hard not to take things personally! Sometimes when authors write scenes that involve bullying or making fun of someone, I see myself as that one being bullied or whatever, they bring up bad memories and so on.

    I think you have a right to be annoyed/upset and just do you, be who you want to be. I’m shy, hardly ever leave the house and at 25 I’ve made a happy life for myself being just that.

    1. Yeah, I’ve noticed that as well – like, I recently read a book where a character had a panic attack and it affected me way more than I thought it would. I was starting to panic myself – not too much, because I’ve definitely gotten better at handling my panic, but I was still surprised by just how much it made me feel like it was happening to me as well.

      I’m trying to find a nice balance between doing what makes me happy, even if that means having a quiet night in a lot, while also pushing myself to go out every once in a while. As long as we’re happy, shy people, then there really isn’t any issue! 😀

  3. I’m just going to echo what Lola said above – I absolutely love what you said about “You can warn about slut shaming, rape, death, racism, homophobia, sexism, and so many other “big” things, but what do you do about the little things that are personal to you?”

    I think that’s such a tough thing to deal with for both readers and authors, because we as readers carry so much emotional baggage, and it’s hard for the authors to know that. I, for one, am painfully shy in real life and sometimes I just want to read a book where it’s okay for people to do that. Where they’re not constantly wondering if they might be more “normal” if they went out every single night, you know?

    Great post, by the way. It definitely got me thinking. 🙂

    1. I totally get that – being shy is definitely something I struggle with, and so it’s another thing that I take so personally in books. I hate it when a character is characterized as shy but isn’t really – they’re really just called shy because apparently that’s what good girls are or some other lame excuse like that – or when a character is shamed for being shy. But that’s just not something that every author will think about, nor is it something that they can. We’re all unique people with our own issues and hold ups, and we simply can’t expect that authors will know that.

      That’s great to hear that this got you thinking! This is an issue that’s still on my mind and I don’t think it’ll ever NOT be since it doesn’t have a simple answer – but it’s great to hear from other people who understand even if they don’t have an answer (since, obviously, there is no one answer).

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