Book talk: I just can't bring myself to read that book

When it comes to books, I've never been one to shy away from dark themes, controversial subjects and taboo topics.

From literature about incest and polygamist cults to books about child kidnapping and stolen identities, there are not many topics that have stopped me in my tracks.

In fact, I'm actually planning to start reading A Game of Thrones soon (I broke my rule about reading the book before the series and am now in the midst of watching season 1), and from what I've seen and heard so far, blood, death, sex and incest are pretty much the order of the day.

The fact that I often delve into the darker side of fiction, in no way means that reading about such disturbing content brings me any form of pleasure.

I don't read these books because I want to hop, skip and jump for joy. Rather, I read them because I always find it fascinating to see how authors portray these dark subjects.

For me, it's all about the psychology behind the characters' inner thoughts and motives, their resilience and will to survive and most of all, to see whether or not a hopeful (if not happy) ending can be carved from the very darkest of situations. I suppose it's also a good reason why I'm such a huge fan of dystopian fiction.

But, having said that, I have to draw the line somewhere.  And sometimes, when I find myself saying “no” to a book, I'm often surprised by my reaction.

You see, some of them, on the surface, may not even seem half as bad as books I've already read, but yet they still trigger an instant "I can't read this" reaction.

I was browsing through some of my favourite book blogs, and stumbled across a very well-written review of a book that, in spite of (or maybe because of)  the interesting perspective on it, had me thinking "No way do I want to go there."

The book is called Thousand Words and it deals with a teen, who in a moment of weakness, sends a naked picture of herself to her boyfriend. After a horrible break-up, the picture is circulated, and you can pretty much guess what happens from there.

My lovely bookish friend, Wendy, the reviewer of this book, labels this as a "modern cautionary tale" and had some pretty thought-provoking comments on both the book and subject of teens distributing explicit photos of themselves and how it could get them (yes them) into trouble with the law.

My thing about this book is that not only does it hit a little close to home regarding the vulnerability of our young kids and teens out there, but the underlying themes of cyber bullying and abuse and the repercussions of "sexting", had me thinking of our own cases in South Africa and just how susceptible adolescents are to this sort of thing.

The other reason this has me playing the avoidance game with it, is because of the bullying aspect that usually go hand in hand with explicit texting.

Perhaps this is just speculation on my part, but I can't picture a scenario like this without the sender of the pic being the target of vicious slander, verbal abuse and name-calling.

I realise that reading about books that deal with this topic is empowering, and as I've mentioned, I often read these type of books because I want to see the victim finding a new strength from his/her past experiences.

But the truth is, I just can't read this (or Speak or Some Girls Are - these are two of my other no-go books) because I don't want to relive my own years of being bullied at school. I've moved past it, yes, but I'd rather not revisit it.

And I think, herein lies the answer. Some dark aspects in fiction are easier to read because they tend to be more far removed from our reality than others, especially when the book is set in an alternative universe or in a place where that which is being dealt with, occurs more commonly elsewhere instead of close to home.

Perhaps that makes me a coward, but I'd like to think that we all have those books that instinctively have us backing away in discomfort and that we just can't bring ourselves to read.

What's your "can't read" book? And what is it about that book that makes you shy away from it every time you see it on the shelves?

This originally appeared as a column on Women24, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.