5 Books that Disturbed Me

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Although today it’s more like the labyrinth of a library.

During the first round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, I read Lolita by Nabakov. This novel is often listed among the best ever written, and I agree that it was well-crafted and intriguing. But it was also incredibly disturbing, as it tells the story of a pedophile who pursues a relationship with a twelve-year-old girl. And it is told from his point of view. *shudder*

I got to thinking of books that stayed with me, crawled up my skin, lodged in my brain.

Dracula book coverDracula by Bram Stoker. I picked up the classic vampire novel my sophomore year in college. I remember it well because I was reading on a Saturday night while my roommate was out. (Yeah, yeah, I was a boring reading geek. Anyway…) My roommate unexpectedly came home early, and I nearly jumped to the ceiling.

I had been mesmerized by the eerie quality of this vampire who was nothing like the caricatures I had seen up to that point. Whenever people think they know who Dracula is, I ask whether they’ve read the book. The tale is sufficiently creepy, and hey, this is the one that started it all; without Dracula, there would be no Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Johnny Got His Gun book coverJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. This novel was recommended to me by a pacifist friend in college, but I didn’t pick it up until years later. Trumbo tells the story of a soldier horribly maimed in World War I. He cannot move, cannot speak, but his mind is completely intact.

The deep pain of his new existence is poured out onto the pages with gripping narrative. I’m among those believe that some wars are necessary, but it is chilling to know that the worst victims may not be the ones dead on the battlefield.

The Bell Jar book coverThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath wrote this semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman who is slowly but surely losing her mind. She writes poignantly about the slow descent into mental instability. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like for those plagued with mental illness, this is an excellent read.

I just wish that Plath had overcome her own battle with depression. Instead, she committed suicide at the much-too-young age of 30.

Nineteen Eighty-Four book coverNineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Room 101. Just those words now send a chill up my spine. If you’ve read the novel, you know what I mean.

Published in 1949, George Orwell imagined a 1984 dystopian society in which Big Brother watches its citizens and assures compliance with the party line. The imaginary world Orwell constructs seems far-fetched, unless you’ve read any history of Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Even today in the United States, we worry about what technology allows others to know about us. And this is the book that got us thinking about the spies in our midst.

Lolita book coverLolita by Vladimir Nabakov. How did Nabakov so ably get into the head of a pedophile? Protagonist Humbert Humbert pines for a 12-year-old girl, and the novel tells of his desire, his pursuit, his success, and his demise. Having studied the psychology, I know that there are categories of pedophilia, and Nabakov seems to have achieved accuracy in his telling of an older man longing for a prepubescent girl. It’s sick honestly.

Typically, I want a main character that I can relate to and/or root for. Humbert was neither, but Nabakov kept me engaged because I was rooting–for the young girl and for Humbert to be stopped.

Just writing about these five books has my skin shivering a bit, but I would recommend all of them. They’re not vacation reads by any means, but they are well-written studies of personality and behavior.

ROW80 Update

  • Edit/rewrite SHARING HUNTER, a YA contemporary novel. Rewrote one chapter, then had to put this on hold to get ready for church camp (for which I write curriculum).
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Not yet.
  • Read 10 fiction books: White Cat and Red Glove last week and Black Heart this week–all by Holly Black (Young Adult, Curse Workers series); now reading Firelands by Piper Bayard.
  • Finish craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. (I read the first half last round.) Not yet. I actually went back and scread Wired for Story by Lisa Cron–one of my favorite writing craft books.
  • Visit and comment on five ROW80 blog posts per week. Done.
  • Attend at least one RWA meeting. Printed out the national RWA membership application and have three chapters meetings on my calendar for August:West Houston RWANorthwest Houston RWA, and Houston Bay Area  RWA.

What books have you read that disturbed you? Do you recommend them anyway? And how was last week for you?

32 thoughts on “5 Books that Disturbed Me

  1. I’ve read The Bell Jar and 1984, and yes, they both disturbed me as well. Other books which stuck with me, that were good novels, but that creeped me out were Lord of the Flies, Slaughterhouse-Five and The Handmaid’s Tale.

    I always wonder: should my goal as a novelist be to write a book that everyone likes, or one that remains in people’s heads whether they like it or not?

    1. Lord of the Flies is a great pick! It’s been so long that I didn’t think about that one, but that story definitely stuck with me in a creepy way too. I have not read Slaughterhouse-Five or The Handmaid’s Tale.

  2. My week was good, despite being under the weather. I seem to be in ‘absorb writing craft’ mode, so nothing particularly tangible to show for my efforts (unless stacks of printing counts?) but I still feel like I’m moving forward. 🙂
    I LOVE Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story” too. It’s one I keep coming back to. It’s so well explained and she gives bullet points for how to put the techniques into practice. An excellent addition to a writer’s bookshelf! I’m reading Dara Marks’s “Inside Story” and it’s another excellent resource. It’s all about the character transformational arc, the internal arc.

    1. I hope you’re feeling much better! Your description of Wired for Story is great. I agree! I hadn’t heard of Inside Story. Thanks for that tip, Lisa!

  3. Dracula freaked me out when I read it in high school. And Lolita…ugh, *shivers* Totally creepy. 1984 freaked me out too but in a different way because I could see that happening in society. So that was both disturbing and scary! Congrats on your ROW80 progress thus far and have a great week!

  4. I actually try and stay away from books that disturb me. It’s one of the only reasons why I’ll stop reading. Yeah, I’m a wimp like that, lol. I hope you have another great year with church camp and I’m looking forward to reading about your RWA experiences.

  5. I’ve heard great things about Lolita, although I admit to a certain amount of temerity when considering reading it. Perhaps one day. Also, love Wired for Story, Cron’s concepts are spectacular and changed the way I look at writing–in a good way. Have a fantastic week, Julie.

    1. Just don’t take Lolita on vacation expecting a relaxing read. I thought the book was worth it, but there were some stomach-cringing moments for me. And I would never suggest it for younger readers.

      Another vote for Wired for Story! Thanks, Gene.

  6. A creepy story that comes to mind for me is “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” It takes place in 18th Century France–when people couldn’t bathe very often, so they used perfume. The story is told from the perspective of the murderer, who has the gift of an absolute sense of smell. One day he tracks down an irresistible smell; the scent of a beautiful young virgin. It’s terrifying, but at the same time, you can’t put the book down.

  7. Some of those I’ve read; some not. I read Lolita in high school and don’t remember one word of it. Same for 1984.

    Books that disturbed me: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, anything by Richard Laymon, Rage by Richard Bachman/Stephen King, Serial by Black Crouch.

    Of course, my choices are NOT in the literary cannon. 😉

    1. The Killer Inside Me also stuck with me, Catie. And I’m going to confess ignorance here: I didn’t know that Rosemary’s Baby was a book before it was a movie.

      Thanks for your additions!

  8. The most disturbing book I’ve read recently is Sharp and Dangerous Virtues by Martha Moody. It’s a dystopian futuristic about war in a place where people think it could never happen: Dayton, Ohio (so of course I had to read it!). What made it disturbing was the lengths the government would go to for the good of the many, and the way being in a war zone brought out the best – or in most cases, the worst – in the ordinary people living there, and how one of our greatest resources (in this case, water) could be used against us. I read it six months ago and am still thinking about it. Oh, and seeing the places I know and live in destroyed was somewhat disturbing, too. And yes, I’d definitely recommend this book.

    Good call on RWA! I went to my local meeting yesterday, and one of my chapter friends recommended Wired for Story to everyone, so now I really have to check that out!

  9. I haven’t read the others but I did read Dracula. Truthfully I didn’t find it scary but a bit boring.

    The Wired for Story sounds really interesting. I’ve never heard of it but now I’ve reserved it through the library system. Thanks for the recommendation.

  10. I just read the Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button, and I don’t know why, but the ending just stayed with me and left me feeling so uncomfortable but not knowing why. A friend of mine said the same thing happened to her, and maybe it was because we are moms . . . whatever the reason it was definitely unsettling . . . I will have to read The Bell Jar though, I’ve been meaning to read something by Sylvia Plath!

  11. Like S. J. Maylee, I tend to avoid books that I think might creep me out.
    I think the book that came closest to having that effect on me was Wicked, just because the ending made everything without hope.

    Not that Dracula didn’t creep me out, but it didn’t have the lasting effect on me Wicked had.

  12. I foind dracula boring – 1984 scary in the same way as Animal Farm and I think because this was my youth – the cold war just started ,second world war just finished – governments had been doing and were still doing unspeakable things and so it felt really it as if we were living it. On the Beach by Neville Shute about the destruction of the world by atomic bomb – we had all see first hand in present relaity the effects of the two bombs on Japan – us kids grew up terrified of this destruction.

    Then def Lord of the Flies – terifyingly beleivable and again I knew how thin the veneer of civilzation was

    Now Lolita is a about a nasty character but it didnt creep me out so much as the above – I must re-read it. We have been going through major sex scandles here in Uk this last year dating way back to the 60s -and us old female wrinklies are remembering the social climate for women and children back then – so different from now – of course Lolita wasn’t acceptable behaviour back then but I suspect us underdogs didnt expect much else. – I will re-read and report back – interestingly have just started a book called reading Lolita in Tehran – will report back to you on that also (true nonfiction of reading group in Iran which reads forbidden western books Lolita is one.

  13. Dante’s Inferno stayed with me for quite a while. Some of the thought pictures are still in my head. I had to stop reading Twin Peaks. The book gave me the willy’s.

  14. I’ve read 1984 and The Bell Jar. I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier has stuck with me for years as well as Edith Wharton’s ETHAN FROME and Henry James’ THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE. Good stuff. Nothing like the pedophilia stuff that has haunted you, but books that disturbed me in other ways. I’ve tried to learn from the characters’ mistakes.

  15. As I return today to my writerly world (of tweeting, reading blog posts, and, of course, writing) I find this post particularly timely. Thanks for that! I have been sitting all evening in my empty house, writing a scene which, I found as the evening wore on, increasingly fanned my paranoia, especially in my office surrounded by windows. I retreated to my living room, straining my ears to decipher subtle scratches and clunks in between the “tic-tock” of my antique mantel clock. When I read your description of sitting at home on a similarly creepy evening reading Dracula, I think I laughed out loud. I needed that, because I swear all manner of creatures are lurking outside my house right now =)

    Thanks too for this list! I like disturbing, and I’ve only read one of the books you mentioned. I will definitely have to read “The Bell Jar” and “Dracula” now. I’m also interested in “Lolita” and happy to have a little added understanding of the song, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” =)

Comments are closed.