Why I Read Confronting Books

Posted November 21, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

I listen to a lot of bookish podcasts and one of my favourites is The Readers. This week on The Readers they talked about Comforting vs. Confronting Reading which got me thinking. So I thought I would try to articulate my response about Confronting Reads. I read a lot of confronting books and I have been thinking about why I do this for a while now. When The Readers spoke about this topic I thought it was time to blog about it.

One of the reasons I like confronting reads has something to do with my interest in transgressive fiction. I like to understand the mind-set of flawed characters and how their minds work. I have an interest in psychology, while I doubt I’ll ever fully understand it completely. It is the same reason why I like TV shows where the men always make mistakes. There is something about getting into the mind of someone who is making mistakes so you don’t have to.

Consider this; if you read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Tampa by Alissa Nutting, The Yearning by Kate Belle, Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor and other books with similar themes, does that make you more likely to be a paedophile? I think not. Reading is an emotional experience and if you are part of the suffering and the mistakes of the protagonist, then you probably don’t want to experience it in a more extreme and realistic way. For me, I read about serial killers because I want to understand why a person would have that desire to kill without having first hand experience. Does that make sense or am I missing something here?

There are also many other reasons to read a confronting book; most of these books are satirical and are trying to send a message. Look at Tampa, not only is this a disturbing look at a female sexual psychopath, it is also a look at the schoolboy fantasy of an older woman or the fantasy of getting a boy before he has been corrupted by society; trying to show the reader that these fantasies are extremely damaging. A young boy is not developed enough to handle a purely sexual relationship with an older woman without getting attached or if you get a man before he is corrupted, you are just doing the corrupting.

I find a confronting novel far more enjoyable, I like the macabre and I like a darker plot, but most of all I like that satirical messages in these book (read my post on Satire if you still think it is meant to be humorous). The lessons learnt and the experiences had, may prevent me from making the same mistakes. I’ve made plenty of bad mistakes in my past and the consequences are not pretty. I much rather someone else experience them while I enjoy the book with a cup of tea in my hand. What do you think about confronting reads? Are there more reasons to read them that I haven’t covered here? Let me know in the comments.

4 responses to “Why I Read Confronting Books

  1. Violet

    Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. Some people go through their whole lives reading the same story in a thousand different books, because it’s comfortable. Being willing to be shaken out of your comfort zone, to have a mind open enough to want to see and understand “the other side”, is not something everyone wants to experience, but it’s a good trait to have. Satire is a powerful tool, but not everyone understands it or gets the point. I wouldn’t want to be a narrow minded person who sticks to what is comfortable. Like you, I want to be stretched and challenged by my reading, which is why I like translated fiction and being exposed to other ways of being in the world.

    • As always you articulate the point I want to make with such ease and it makes more sense. I know I should read more translated fiction for this same reason but I think I’m stuck on Transgressive fiction at the moment. I love Satire and it bugs me when people don’t understand just how useful it is in fiction, but I’m not a nice understanding person. I rather understand fictional characters, rather than humans.

  2. Andi

    Love this! I’ve been busy responding to Simon’s blog post about this same topic (just haven’t gotten it wrapped up yet). I generally prefer confronting books, though I read Alissa Nutting’s short stories recently and had a really negative visceral reaction. Still trying to figure out what that’s about.

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