Friday, February 18, 2011

The Wince Factor

RoomEach month, I wait for my book club’s pick with some trepidation.

Book clubs are frequently fond of books that make me wince a good many times during the course of the novel. These books are usually pretty popular with readers, though, and do sell well.

I just have a hard time stomaching the content.

I didn’t used to be such a delicate, sensitive, squeamish reader. I’d read just about everything and, while I might skim during some sections, I wouldn’t just stop reading a book because of the subject matter.

I think I started noticing the shift around the time my first child was born. (Yes, we’ll blame parenthood. :) ) It also bothered me when I watched movies. My husband rented Saving Private Ryan and I wouldn’t watch D-Day. “Elizabeth!” I remember him saying, “It’s not gratuitous in any way. You should watch it—it’s supposed to be very much like the actual event.”

Precisely why I didn’t want to watch it! And those guys were too young to have to go through it all—they were practically children. I ended up watching D-Day with my hands mostly over my eyes.

So excessive violence, gore, and child-in-danger stories… I just can’t handle them.

And my book club has taken on a few child-in-danger stories, probably because it’s a group of (mostly) moms.

This month’s pick, to be discussed next week, is Room by Emma Donoghue. As soon as I heard the subject matter, I was worried. The waiting list at the library for the novel was huge, so I bought the book online, downloaded it to my Kindle and hoped it would be something I was able to finish.

The reader who chose the book said that I shouldn’t have a problem with it—although the story revolves around the fact that a woman and her five year old son are held captive in a one-room prison that the child was born in. So far, I’ve found the book really interesting. Disturbing, yes, but not explicitly horrific.

As a reader, my tastes seem to change over time. Right now, I can only handle so much violence against children or animals. And frequently, lately, I’ve been looking for lighter reads—nothing too dark or disturbing.

As a writer, I know I couldn’t write anything really dark right now—I can’t read it, so how could I write it?

I just finished writing the rough draft of a book that included a fairly dramatic death. I’m writing cozies (traditional mysteries where the murders happen offstage), so I’m definitely thinking about my reader—many of whom share my dislike of explicit violence and gore. I wrote very carefully, giving the death a certain impact, but not exploiting the violence by using graphic detail.

But it still bothered me! And I’d made it up!

Are you able to write subject matter that would be difficult for you to read? In other words, does the writing put a filter in place for you or does it make you even more engrossed and disturbed by the material? (I’d like to think I can write with some detachment, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s the case.) And--do your tastes change, in either reading or writing?