Monday, March 07, 2016

THERE ARE SOME BOOKS I SHOULDN'T READ

In the last two weeks I've finished three books and am about half-way through another one.  I really do love reading, and I've had a lot of travel time where I could dive in.  Attachments took me one day and was breezy fun.  Modern Romance was interesting, free to borrow from the library and helped pass my drive to Wichita.  The Kitchen House was a different story entirely.

It was first recommended to me back at Camp Create by someone whose reading taste seemed to overlap mine a great deal.  After seeing it plugged in several different places, I didn't read many reviews and dove in.  I should have read more reviews.

Let me just say that the writing is beautiful, and the story is compelling.  The characters are well-developed, and I found myself loving them.  The subject matter is extremely important and based in history.  But the book was not for me.

Here's the summary from Amazon: In this gripping New York Times bestseller, Kathleen Grissom brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War, where a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate.

This book follows people over the course of about 20 years in the late 1700s on a plantation and focuses both on the slaves and the masters at the home.  Their relationships are familial, complex, multi-faceted and laden with tragedy, because people should not own other people.  There are horrors throughout the book, and I've realized that I don't do well with horrors.  The book does end on a hopeful note in the last couple of paragraphs, but that was not enough of a payoff to redeem the reading experience for me.

It got me thinking about a lot of things, obviously.  First off, the characters kept swirling around my mind, which was part of my problem with this book.  I cared so much and so many bad things kept happening to them, one after another - usually each one more awful than the last.  Then, I tried to parse out if I'm just a wimp for not wanting to deal with such heavy subject matter, or if there is something to be said for guarding my highly sensitive wiring.

Have you ever heard the term "HSP," which stands for Highly Sensitive Person?  I came across it on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and immediately related to it.  I certainly don't tick all of the boxes, because I would still score as an extravert (though I am more introverted than I used to be), and I can multi-task and take in a lot of information at once.  But, I do not like really loud environments and am usually overly attuned to the noise level wherever I am.  I have also always been extremely sensitive to any kind of graphic content in books or movies.  I vividly remember watching The Princess Bride as a kid and being shaken by the torture scenes in the movie.  We attended Sunday night church after watching it that afternoon, and I started crying uncontrollably when I thought back to it and had to be taken out of church.

To this day, I rarely watch R rated movies, and when I do, I have thoroughly researched what I will be getting myself into.  And forget any horror movies - I never go there.  I also usually research any book I choose to read for several reasons - I don't want to read a dud, and I don't want to end up in content too graphic for my sensitive tastes.

Even as I talked through this with John, I wondered if I am just a giant wuss.  I don't like hard anything, in my life or anyone else's.  He helped me come to a better understanding of the standards I need to have for myself.  We also made some critical distinctions - I don't back away from real, actual hard things in real life.  I've walked my own roads of pain, and I've walked beside friends and family in their difficulties - I'm not a wimp about real life. (most of the time)  I also do want to be informed about history, especially the kind of history that affects the racial tensions still present in our country.

But - for me - I don't need to read about it in a novel format where my emotional investment in characters that don't actually exist is too deep.  I become fixated in unhealthy ways that impact my entire mood and demeanor, and I'm not exactly in a stage of life that affords me that time and space.  Reading this book was an ongoing reminder that being careful about what I put into my mind is critical for my well-being, and we all have different sensitivity levels.  Mine are probably higher than a lot of other people's, and that is okay.  It's the way that God made me, and I'm thankful for the empathy that it affords in normal life.

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