Books You Can’t Bring Yourself to Read

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 10th, 2015

Have you ever found yourself avoiding a book a friend has recommended, or that everyone in the universe seems to be reading, orworst of alla gift book you just cannot force yourself to crack open? I want to hear about it.

I’m one of the only adult women of a certain age I know who never read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbertdespite its appealing cover and many rave reviews, and even after enjoying her wonderful TED talk. I think it was partly because that book sold itself by the dozens; other books needed me more, to read them so I could recommend them to customers. There are several books like that: The Red Tent, Room, Gone Girl, Water for Elephantsbestsellers so popular they have no trouble finding their audience. Those, I don’t feel so bad about. But then there are the books that have dogged me for years.

I must have been 10 when my mom gave me a book called Shush’Ma, a novel with a pastel palette featuring layers of mountains in the distance and a big bear in the foreground. Books were my favorite gifts, but for some reason, this one left me cold. I wasn’t that interested in bears, and I didn’t like the pale cool colors and static composition of the dust jacket. For years, I looked guiltily at that book, intending to read it, and for years, I avoided it. The Shush’Ma-related anxiety that accumulated over a decade or two surely would have surprised my mother; I think I’d gotten it into my head that this was a special book to her and that by refusing to read it, I was somehow rejecting a part of her.

Googling it now, I see that it was a Navajo story, and perhaps if she’d told me that, I might have been more interested. I spent half of my childhood in Arizona and we had several books of Navajo and Hopi tales that fascinated me. Shush’Ma, sadly, was not among them. I never did read that book, nor did I read My Antonía by Willa Cather when my favorite high school librarian recommended it. I felt guilty about that, too, and when I finally did read it, I loved ityears too late to tell her.

I see this avoidance sometimes in the store: books whose covers are such turnoffs to kids that they don’t even want to touch that book, much less hear a booktalk about it or read the jacket copy. People are increasingly visual animals, and even adult customers admit to rejecting books based on cover art and design they find unappealing.

But there are other reasons for rejecting books that are quirkier and funnier. Once, Josie recommended Water for Elephants to a customer, who said, “I don’t like circus books set during the Depression”as though there were an entire genre. One kid said he “didn’t like any books where the animals talk like people.”

Some kids refuse to read hugely popular series like Harry Potter just because everyone in the world has read them, and it becomes a point of pride for them to be different. I can be a contrarian myself, and often avoid bestsellers for similar reasons. But not always. I haven’t completely figured out my own underlying rationale; I raced through Life of Pi and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but wouldn’t read The Art of Racing in the Rain despite everyone absolutely loving it. What’s that about? And I can be worn down; I eventually relented and listened to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and thoroughly enjoyed it. But reading a book is a solitary experience, and part of me likes the private intimacy of reading a book not everyone has read.

It’s funny to catch yourself resisting a book, and to figure out why. I rarely read the final book of any series. I’m not sure if it’s because I lose interest along the way, ormore likelyit’s that I don’t want the world of the book to end, so by not reading the last one, I prolong the dream.

What’s the weirdest reason you’ve ever avoided a book? And do you feel guilty about it?

P.S. I’ve lived in least 15 or 20 houses/apartments since I was 10 years old. I have brought Shush’Ma along with my other books to each one. I still have not read it.

16 thoughts on “Books You Can’t Bring Yourself to Read

  1. Sharon

    Good to see others resist (or try and quickly give up) a lot of current bestsellers and favorites…but, the guilty ship sailed a long time ago for me…and a lot of others I suspect! And whoever said you have to read every word or long-winded passage of every book?
    I skipped Eat, Pray,Love as well and wish I’d skipped Room, Gone Girl, Water for Elephants, stopped Grafton’s series at letter F, like the Harry Potter movies, but never finished the first book (I didn’t like Harry and it says something when an owl and multiheaded dog have more appeal than main char), All the Light We Cannot See gave up on after 100 pages but skipped to the end and the last page was wonderful but not sorry I didn’t read the 600 pages before it.
    I avoid Oprah books as well.
    I do have to say sometimes it’s not the right time for some books….it took me three tries to read Secret Life of Bees and Dune and Lord of the Rings but loved them when I finally read them.

  2. Debbie Vilardi

    If a book is such a huge hit that everyone is talking about it, I resist reading it for two reasons. The first is that few books can really live up to that kind of hype. If I read during the hype, I’ll likely feel more disappointed than if I wait until the hype has settled. The second is that I invariably come upon spoilers. I have correctly answered Jeopardy questions about books I haven’t read for this reason. Ten years from now, I hope I’ll be less likely to remember those little details.

  3. mary ann rodman

    I don’t know how many times I’ve tried and failed to get through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. After twenty years, I gave up and accepted that hobbits are not my thing.

  4. Stacy DeKeyser

    I can’t bring myself to read the last ten pages of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, and I just can’t bear to know what happens to Marie-Laure’s father.

  5. Ellie Miller

    Two thoughts from two different POV. (1) Perhaps selfishly, I’ve all but given up recommending…or maybe especially giving…various books which I(!) really love to my family members…my brother who’s my age; his daughter and her husband, two 50ish adults; and their two college age youngsters…because I seldom if ever get any response despite the fact that my choices are always both thoroughly considered and quite appropriate for the person involved. Or…if I press the issue, the usual response is, “Well, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.” And damnit…it hurts! I’ve freely tried to share something of myself…something important to me…and it’s been rejected. However, without that kind of intimate connection, I DO get a great deal of pleasure out of recommending books to friends or even complete strangers on FB if I think they’re apropos to whatever’s being discussed. (2) So far as my own choices are concerned once I left grad school, I made a solemn promise to myself that I would never again read a book simply because I HAD to. One reason why I’ve never joined a reading group. I’ll happily and DO read reviews and comments searching for treasure, but if the book then doesn’t stand on its own merit and appeal to me personally, back it goes. And as I’ve aged, I do agree with Carol that there are certain subjects (child and/or domestic abuse/serial killers/gross sexual deviance) that I usually refuse to consider because life’s too short to spend my precious reading time dealing with ugliness and brutality. “So many books! So little time!”

  6. Jean

    Thank You! Friends and family call me a book snob because I rarely read the best sellers. I think the part about reading being solitary is a part of my response. I love finding a new author, reading a well-written book, and often emailing that author to tell them why I think their book deserves to be read more widely.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      I have to say that Rohinton Mistry’s A FINE BALANCE changed my own Oprah book club avoidance. It was extraordinary. Didn’t hurt that it was also a Booker Prize finalist.
      I’ve thought a lot about the Oprah book club snobbery, because she picked some truly great books among the more popular, less literary titles. I think her book club coincided with the height of the “chick lit” boom and that affected some of her choices but also the perception of her choices.

  7. Carol

    I find that as I age I am less likely to want to read violent thrillers with sadistic and horrifying crimes. I still love a thriller, but I want it to be more cerebral. It makes it hard to read some of the books that are recommended, and even bestsellers that deal with incest and adultery are ones I avoid. Apparently these acts of evil, as I call them, are not something I want to inhabit my brain or soul.

    On the other hand, if it’s too innocuous, spiritual or uplifting, I don’t want to read that either. It’s not that I get bored ( although sometimes I do) but that it doesn’t seem true to life. It doesn’t match my reality.

    I seem to be wanting something in the middle. Real but not disturbing real. Maybe my escapism reading has to be limited somehow to what is believable and not too daunting.

  8. Venessa

    My daughter (9) refuses to read Charlotte’s Web because “A talking pig is just weird.” She says. I ask my My Little Pony/Littlest Pet Shop obsessed child how are talking (and magical at that) ponies and pets any different?

    This has been going on for awhile now and has become sort of a game between us.

  9. Venessa

    I cannot bring myself to read The Summer Garden, book 3 in The Bronze Horseman trilogy, by Paulina Simons. I cannot emotionally handle anything else happening to Tatiana and Alexander. With another book, something has to, right? Otherwise what’s the point of a third book? Once, I started to read the first page but slammed it shut and put it back on my shelf. I pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve concluded that I either need a support group or someone to hold me while whispering “It’ll be okay” in order for me to get through it.

  10. Kath

    I agree completely. Generally the highly popular books seem less well-written. Sometimes someone will recommend a book and I will add it to my list only to hear from someone close to me that the book is not for me, so I delete it! Although I loved the Harry Potter movies, the books really weren’t my genre. I tend to follow particular authors and read mostly mysteries, some fiction, and biographies. Having a full bookshelf makes me feel rich with potential new friends to meet and authors to pursue. My favorite websites e-mail me book sections to enhance my reading list.

  11. Kathy Wolf

    My father told me to read The King Must Die by Mary Renault. He always told me to read good books, and I always enjoyed the ones he recommended. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t pick it up. I’d look at it, but I wouldn’t open it. He’d try to sell me on it, telling me a bit of the story, but still I couldn’t pick it up. A year or two after he died, I was going through the books and there it was.

    I started it that afternoon and finished it at 4:00 that morning. I read it in one sitting. I don’t know what prevented me from looking at it when we could talk about it afterward, but it is a book that I treasure and hold close to my heart. Thanks, Dad!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Maybe your resistance was the universe’s way of giving you a gift of connection after your father passed away. Or at least it’s nice to reframe it that way. Thanks for sharing that touching anecdote!

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