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Confessions of a Literary Coward

Our Reading Lives features stories about how books and reading have shaped who we are and how we live.

I was at a recent event at the bookstore where I work, explaining to a customer how I hadn’t read The Yellow Birds because I knew it would make me cry. It was a lightbulb moment- I do this all the time, actually. I avoid reading books that I’ve heard are totally heartbreaking. I like to say it’s because I Know What I Like, thankyouverymuch, but that’s not the whole truth. I’m just afraid of my feelings. I hate being weepy when it’s over something I can’t fix (like war, for example), and I will go out of my way to avoid books that I know will cause this frustration. Books I own and really want to read (sort of). A few examples:

Matterhorn
I’ve heard nothing but gushing about this Vietnam novel, and I do actually own a signed copy. I just can’t bring myself to read it because it will make me FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS. I did take a small step and read The Things They Carried (another Vietnam war novel notorious for causing public waterworks), but that’s about 300 pages shorter.

The Diary of Anne Frank.
I read excerpts of this in middle school and I still have the book. I’ve toted it through countless moves because I keep telling myself I’ll read it in its entirety one day, but again. I know the off-stage ending. I will weep.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
I’m not ready to read a 9/11 novel. And yes, I do know how long it’s been.

The Book Thief.
Fans of this book really need to stop promoting it as “a book about death that will make you ugly cry.” That is the exact sentence that will make me shove a book into the back of my bookshelf, somewhere behind Proust, never to be seen again.

I take this as a sign that I read for escapism more than I like to admit (who wants to escape to The Land Of Tears And Sniveling?). I also recognize that this is a weakness in my bookish armor, and something I should work to improve. Toughen that flabby heart of yours, reader (she says to herself)! Maybe my bookish resolution for 2013 will be to be braver in my literary choices. Who wants to buy me some tissues?