Thoughtful Thursday | Triggering books

Happy Thursday, bloggers. I have been in a bit of a weird head space for the last week and a half and as much as I wanted to work on some blog posts, I didn’t seem to have the motivation. As with any type of social media, I think if you have to force yourself to work at it or participate, it’s not fun and so I’m trying to not allow my inconsistent scheduling to make me feel guilty. Love what you post and post what you love.

For today’s Thoughtful Thursday post, I was stuck between two ideas and left it up to my followers to decide for me.

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When my editors for the magazine I review books for surveyed me about my reading preferences with regards to what I enjoy reading, have knowledge of or can relate to (diversity), one of the things I mentioned is that I’m always looking for more stories which genuinely depict mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression which are relevant to me. I believe my exact words to them were, “I have a tolerate/hate relationship with 13RW…I just know there have to be better books on mental illness out there.”

They sent me one story (title left out for privacy purposes) which focused on two characters living with depression. I was glad to read it and despite its near melodrama, I felt the authors honestly portrayed how a romantic relationship between two people struggling with their mental health can become extremely toxic.

The main issue I had with this novel is that it was extremely triggering for me. There were two significant instances during the course of the story when I had to put the book down. During each of those moments, many unwanted and negative feelings and memories came rushing back and so I had to take a break from continuing the story for the rest of the day.

When you read a book that is triggering to you, do you feel the need to stop reading it altogether or continue on at a later date? I was motivated to continue reading because obviously I had to (it was assigned to me) and also because I was eager to see how mental illness was handled overall. I want to be able to tell others whether or not I believe a particular novel, though possibly triggering for readers experiencing similar stresses or issues, offers valid or effective representation.

Obviously, I believe that books which make readers uncomfortable do not have to be read at all or can be left unfinished. When executed well, a book focusing on characters with mental illness gives voice to an underrepresented group and also offers opportunities for learning and empathy to other readers.

I also believe trigger warnings for books are absolutely and 100% acceptable in reviews. Readers will respond to triggers and mental illness representation differently, which is why a variety of unique and diverse opinions and reviews are so important.

But I want to know more about you and your thoughts. Have you ever been significantly triggered by a story? What are your thoughts on trigger warnings for books? In my YA literature class, some classmates argued for trigger warnings and more relevant sources in sensitive reading materials for those who may need them. Other classmates pointed out that every story is an experience, readers won’t always be affected by certain topics the same way and not every story with “mental illness” is a “mental illness story.” For example, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is not just a “cancer” story.

Do you think stories with mental illness are firstly for those struggling with mental illness or for those who don’t understand it enough?

If interested, check out one of my previous Thoughtful Thursday posts: Mental Health Representation in Fiction.

And I just wanted to end this post with an uplifting reminder from one of my favorite twitter accounts.

lovejasmine

Twitter: @jasminesreading
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*2018 Reading Challenge Update: 109/200

11 thoughts on “Thoughtful Thursday | Triggering books

  1. You’re asking so many great questions in this post, if I answered all of them you would get an essay in the comment section haha. I will say that trigger warnings are valid and important, because if some people need them then it doesn’t *hurt* those who don’t want them if they are there. And books with mental illness, or any topic that can be considered triggering, are handled differently by every author — just like you said. some books use the topic to educate and some authors just through it in as a fun plot device. All the more reason for book reviewers to explain how a particular “trigger” is handled in a book. I would enjoy (despite the emotional consequences) a book that showed the dark sides of depression for education purposes, but become angry and upset if depression was used to explain away a character’s murderous intentions in a mystery/thriller.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your response, Sha. I agree that trigger warnings deserve to be heard for those who need them. It can be tough as they may hinder the reading experiences for others, but there are some things–for some people–that are so hard to read about and they can be really painful when they appear unexpectedly. I think there are some books out there that show the darker side of mental illness, but I agree that sometimes it is unfortunate when it just used a plot device, which is why I advocate for mental illness to at least be used consistently throughout the story and not just conveniently for the author.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have not given considerate thought to how someone would consider trigger warnings a spoiler. Do I want to be utterly surprised by triggering topics? No. But I can see why some people would want to see how these topics flow naturally into a character’s life (without advance warning).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Jasmine. This post brought me to ponder. I often wonder why books with triggering scenes are created, but I feel like when I dive into the thought process of it all, I overthink it. (I tend to do that with everything I do). I think it’s plain and simple why books with triggering attributes are written: because the author wants to get the story out of them. I’m writing a triggering story myself, mainly triggering to me… I don’t think that authors write in the intention to trigger other people, I think they just hope that whoever is reading the book they wrote, will relate to the experiences they inflicted and projected onto page. Triggers differ based on experience and memory — which you know anyways, I’m just hyped on this topic in general. But that’s why I find it so hard to label or deem books as triggering at times, because triggers depend on the reader and what they’ve been through. Whenever I read AS King books I’m effected by a few of the scenes. She loves writing about hardships and warped teenage minds. I love that. I relate to it, to the point where some scenes terrify me. Same with the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Brilliant book! I continue each book until I’m done. If I need to step back from a book, I go outside and take a breather. Constantly reminding myself that I’m at a good place in my life along with all my blessings. I center myself and continue on.Each word becomes a backbone to my broken spine, as I mend with each book I read.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Winnie. I can understand writers who write about difficult and painful situations which they themselves have endured and can give voice to. I think that’s one of the issues I had with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why–I felt like he was mainly writing a story about someone else and used Hannah’s poorly-executed depression as a plot device. But books which depict mental illness are so hard to judge because I agree that everyone responds to them differently. Some people disliked 13RW because of its poor representation, while others attribute it to their will to keep living. I know for me, I’d want trigger warnings for graphic scenes. I can’t imagine what it might be like to be a victim of sexual assault and be completely taken aback when a book they’re reading contains a graphic rape scene. Leslye Walton’s beautiful book “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” contained a rape scene which terrified me (I was not a victim of rape). Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a great book–read it back in middle school. The book I mentioned in my post contained somewhat graphic scenes of something else related to mental illness which I have gone through, but despite the negative feelings it evoked, it was honestly intertwined into the story I think.

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  3. There’s only one book that has triggered me and that is Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. That was a my bad. I was in the midst of an episode when I picked up that book. So everytime I read it I got an anxiety attack. Needless to say I didn’t get that far into it. It’s the only book I’ve DNFed and will probably not return to. Even though it’s months later and I’m in a better head space, I can’t possibly bring myself to go through that again. I’ve read tons of books about mental health and with characters that have had similar experiences to me but those have never affected me. But Challenger Deep did. Trigger warnings can only go so far, I think. A person responds to a book differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Suziey, thanks for sharing your own experience with a triggering book. That’s so hard–especially if it takes you by surprise and you’re already in a negative headspace. I agree that trigger warnings can only go so far as they could potentially ruin another reader’s experience. But I do appreciate when reviewers include them in their reviews just because I’ve experienced those moments when books surprise me with triggering or graphic scenes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh man, do I ever love discussion posts/talking about mental illness in books. I think that these type of novels are written for both people who suffer and for people who don’t understand it and want to know more. If the book is written really well, it can be for both audiences at the exact same time.

    While I’ve never been drastically triggered by a book to the point of a DNF or any sort of relapse, I can 100% understand that there are plenty of instances where someone can be. I have definitely had times in novels where I’ve had to put it down and take a breather—whether that be a 20 minute break, or a few days away from the book. Normally I have to do that if the book is just too much or if I find myself agreeing with the character who’s suffering in the novel too much.

    I do think trigger warnings are valid and important, I would NEVER want someone to fall back into a negative headspace or behavior because of a novel/tv show/movie. I do also think that it is up to the person who is looking to read/watch the book/movie to do their research before choosing to engage with that story. If there is graphic content or imagery shown, I think a trigger at the beginning is always a good idea—especially with visual media such as movies/tv. However, if your concerned a book may be triggering, do some digging, look at reviews, ask the author or even message someone on social media that has read it if the trigger you have is present in the book. Also take a second to actually reflect on yourself and your headspace because you can read hundreds of reviews where no one found it particularly triggering but yet you could read it when you aren’t prepared to and it could negatively affect you.

    Now that I’ve basically written you an essay, I will say this: In the end we all have different experiences and relate to or have different things that trigger us and I think it’s important for everyone to really take a second and acknowledge if you’re in a healthy enough place to read these books. If you aren’t, take a step away from the book, your mental health and happiness is worth significantly more than reading a book. Besides, the book will always be there later!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your super insightful response, Erica and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I like that you offer the important piece of advice which is to consider your current headspace when picking up a potentially triggering book. What made the particular book I mentioned in my review a unique experiences is that I was assigned to review it (all my review assignments are books that have not yet been published), so there is not too much out there in terms of reviews and trigger warnings. Also, I am technically not allowed to research other opinions on the book anyway, just to ensure that outside opinions do not creep into my review (my editors also suggest not reading the synopsis before reading).But I definitely believe that if I had known more about the book and its potentially sensitive content, I would have planned when to pick it up more consciously.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that headspace is the most important part when it comes to potentially triggering books. You could read a book at one time and not find it triggering but read it during a different time in your life while you’re in a different headspace, and end up finding it incredibly triggering!

        It’s definitely different in an arc/review situation because it’s a little more out of your hands unless you’re able to directly ask the company or something like that(i totally understand that isn’t always an option though!)

        Liked by 1 person

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