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Essays

Triggers, Trauma, and True Crime

Vanessa Diaz

Managing Editor

Book Riot Managing Editor Vanessa Diaz is a writer and former bookseller from San Diego, CA whose Spanish is even faster than her English. When not reading or writing, she enjoys dreaming up travel itineraries and drinking entirely too much tea. She is a regular co-host on the All the Books podcast who especially loves mysteries, gothic lit, mythology/folklore, and all things witchy. Vanessa can be found on Instagram at @BuenosDiazSD or taking pictures of pretty trees in Portland, OR, where she now resides.

Few things in this life induce a more immediate cringe for me than the “on this day” feature on Facebook. As recently as five or six years ago (so well past the point of blaming the cringe on my 20s), I was posting every cliché about the reader’s life (“I like big books and I cannot lie!”) or being entirely too emo on main. I had occasional moments of clear-eyed observation, a couple of funnies, and cute pics. But I was a sad sack of cytoplasm having feelings all over the internet, often accompanied by a book quote or cryptic song lyric.

For similar ick reasons, I generally avoid listening to myself on podcasts or reading my earlier work. I try not to be too hard on myself there because I’m not ashamed of growth. It’s more the self-righteous tone and indignation over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things that make me wince as I look away, which is why I surprised myself this week when I actively went in search of one of my very first pieces for Book Riot.

The post is On Personal Trauma and Trigger Warnings and I wrote it in 2017, both just a few years and an entire lifetime ago. I was closer to 30 than 40 and probably dealing with some unprocessed trauma. I’d only recently made the move to writing and bookselling, and it was the first time I was really dialed into the bookish internet. I was naively bewildered that anyone would fail to see the value in trigger warnings, writing my little unpolished heart out in defense of their use. 

Then there was some new discourse on the topic in 2021, and Carmen Maria Machado and Silvia Moreno-Garcia weighed in with perspectives I hadn’t considered, namely that not only are the trigger warnings applied to books online often grossly inaccurate, but they’ve been weaponized for the purpose of banning the books of marginalized authors in schools. Given the state of censorship and book banning in the U.S. today, that second part weighs heavily. They also decried the use of trigger warnings for diminishing the impact of their art. 

With this perspective on content warnings, I still elected to seek out the warnings. The authors’ points made sense to me, and I respected them, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let go of content warnings for myself. For years, I’ve had a little circle of trusted sources who are used to getting texts from me about this stuff or who beat me to the punch to suggest I maybe skip a book or show. They know I cannot engage with media that contains sexual and/or gender-based violence. At least, I thought I couldn’t.


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