“This book has scarred me for life” or On the Negative Impact of Books

When I was younger I believed that books could change your life. To the good or the bad. My belief in the power of the word was almost infinite.

I suppose this belief in the power of books lies behind censorship, banned and burned books and the like. I also suppose that each of the parties banning, burning or forbidding books have different reasons. I personally think very little of banning books. I still belive in their power though.

While reading Nick Hornby’s House Keeping vs The Dirt I was reminded of this when he mentioned he bought Georges Bernanos’ book Journal d’un curé de campagne or The Diary of a Country Priest due to a negative amazon review. He posted the review but the way he wrote about it made me think, he made it up. Being the curious person I am, I checked and to my amazement there it was. On amazon.co.uk

1.0 out of 5 stars Dont read this book, 17 July 2003
By A Customer

This book has had an enormous impact on my life. Having had to read it as part of my French A level course (in French!)it left me psychologically scarred. Grinding through each passage was like torture, making me weep with frustration and leaving me with a long-burning and deep-felt resentment against my French teacher and the A level exam board. This resulted in a low grade for my French lit paper, which offset a decent language paper, resulting in a ‘C’ which wasn’t good enough for my chosen university. So I had to switch from French to business studies, so changing the course of my life. To say I detest this book is an understatement. So he’s dying, but the main protagonist is a drearily introspective little creep. The pace is crawling and the whole vibe simply turgid.

Is he really serious? I don’t know but it made me think of books that had a negative impact in my life and I found three. One was a one of my parents’ books. A short story collection with illustrations by Japanese painter Hokusai. I think it was relatively valuable and I was forbidden to touch it. Like Bluebeard’s wives,  I disregarded the interdiction and opened the book. Finding the book with wide open pages  – I had run off to hide – told my parents later that I had been at it. I don’t think I was punished. It wasn’t necessary as the drawings had terrified me enough. The ghostly figures haunted me in my dreams. Mind you, the drawings, not the text. I was too small for reading.

But what about the written word? What about stories? Have there been books that had a huge impact? Yes, I would say so. I have read two books as a young teenager that had a profound impact. I think they managed to take away my innocence forever. Maybe it was about time. The world isn’t a perfect place and there are a lot of bad things happening, the sooner you face it, the better. While I know why the first one had such a negative impact, I’m not so sure about the second anymore.

Choderlos de Laclos’ famous epistolary novel Les liaisons dangereuses or Dangerous Liaisons (1782)  was the book bomb that blew up in my young girl’s life. Before reading it I had thought that people fell in and out of love, unfortuntely often not at the same time which could cause great heartache but that was about the most negative I was aware of. That someone could pretend to be in love, to manipulate and deceive in order to achieve something was a concept that was utterly new to me. New and deeply shocking. I remember I was really depressed and became quite mistrustful. There is also a make-believe friendship in the book which meant you couldn’t even trust friends. Once your eyes are open you start to see and my teenage self became aware of similar things happening around me. In the end I was glad I had read Les liaisons dangereuses. Better to learn from a book than through pain and heartache. I must add as well that I loved this book. I was shocked and depressed but also fascinated and amazed by the story.

The second book was not a novel but a philosophical text by Julien Offroy de La Mettrie. The idea that we are just machines acting and reacting, not much different from a robot, as he described it in Machine Man – L’homme machine (1747) – depressed me incredibly. After having read it, life felt quite pointless for a while and I had to come to the conclusion that he was maybe just plain wrong, before I could enjoy it again.

I wonder if it’s a pure coincidence that all the examples which had a negative impact on my life are from the 18th century? And three of the four examples are French books.

Luckily some books have had a very positive impact but that will be the topic of another post.

Have you ever read a book which had a major impact? And what do you think about banning books?

Dangerous Liaisons (Penguin Classics)

76 thoughts on ““This book has scarred me for life” or On the Negative Impact of Books

  1. I can honestly say that no book has ever had the impact to scar me for life. And to blame a book for changing the whole course of life because he failed his French class etc. etc. is just ludicrous. Give me a break!
    Funny you mention Les liaisons dangereuse. In French class our teacher suggested it as reading material but one parent objected (this was the closest I have ever come to book challenging). So we had to read Le rouge et le noir, but, of course, I went and read de Laclos immediately. And LOVED it. It is still one of my favourite books, don’t know how often I have read it.
    I have read books that had a major impact, but never in a negative way, so I will keep them for another post, :).

    • I really wonder if the review is true, on the other hand, it’s anonymous, what could he have gotten out of writing it if this wasn’t what he felt?
      I guess it really depends what and when we read it. I don’t think Les liaisons dangereuses is a book that cannot be read at a relative young age. In my case I’m afraid the book opened my eyes to something sadly happening in my own family. My mother was a Marquise de Merteuil type.

  2. Quite interesting. But I would say that even getting depressed from a book just shows the power of literature and doesn’t make it a bad thing. I am totally opposed to banning. But then there is the category of books that contain untrue things, or vicious pornographic things, or vicious racist things… At that point, I move to the unfortunately not true hope that education is the panacea….

    • I don’t think it harmed me having read that book and having had this type of reaction and I’m against book banning but like you, I think there are harmful books but they are of another kind and can hardly be called literature.
      I think it’s obvious, whether it’s my own experience or the guy’s with his amazon review, things like this ususally happens at a young age.

  3. Not into book banning.

    I can’t think of any books that had any sort of profound negative, long-term impact on my life. As for the Country Priest, I once thought about reading it, but I’m not religious, and books with central religious characters are boring-esp. when they are motivated by their religious rules. So for example, if there’s a book about a priest who falls for a woman and then spends 400 pages wracked with guilt, I just don’t see the point. Perhaps useful indoctrinal reading for other priests but I couldn’t care less.

    As a child I snooped into my father’s magazine collection (those lurid true detective mags that are an excuse for voyeurism), and came across a story about a vampire sex killer. Scared the hell out of me as we had bats hanging on the eaves of the roof.

    • Book banning isn’t very popular in Europe but there are books like Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” which are not available everywhere. You can buy it Switzerland. I think it’s one of the most liberal countries when it comes to book banning. Since my early teenage years this hasn’t happened to me anymore either.
      Oh that magazine would have scared me as well. I guess the Hokusai experienece was twice as powerful as I was forbidden to touch that particular book opened it and those faces staring at me made me feel as if I had been caught.

  4. An intriguing topic, and not one for which it’s easy to formulate a quick response. I can’t think of books that have “scarred me” (or rather, that haven’t in some small way – every book seems to cut some little change into my neural circuits), though I can certainly recall books that vexed me to no end. And certainly books have the capacity for altering the course of one’s life. In any case, I have been scarred and scared by Amazon reviews, and once made the wretchedly depressing mistake of reading all of the Amazon reviews of Wuthering Heights (Note: do not attempt this).

    • It is a rather interesting topic, I think so too. I would love to be able to say that every book has made a change but that is not the case. I have been vexed by some books as well – I wasn’t scarred either but a bit shocked at first.
      Oh yes, amazon reviews are a topic in itself. I find it intersting to read reviews on the same book on different sites. That’s an amazing experience. German readers are far kinder or much more through, depending on the book while there is more emotion on the American site.
      I do read them occasionally but try not to base my decisions whether I will buy a book or not on them …
      Hmmm Wuthering Heights.. Guess who will read them…

  5. I don’t believe in banning books, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some kind of warning label attached to them. I liked the idea of being in bookstores and seeing the graphic novels that had explicit sex were wrapped in shrink wrap with a mature content sticker posted on it. That would keep younger children who are more interested in things like Naruto or Yu-Gi-Oh from seeing something they’re probably not ready for.

    Seriously that guy couldn’t just Google and get what he needed to pass his course?

    • Yes, I think when it comes to sex and violence there should be some type of label especially for graphic novels.
      It’s done for movies, they are all rated but as far as I know it isn’t done for books. I think in shops here where graphic novels are sold, those not for children are in another corner. That’s as good as a label, I suppose.
      The story of that guy is hard to believe that’s why I thought it wasn’t even true.

      • Caroline, I’m actually against the idea of movie ratings. I think parents should be more responsible for what their children read or watch or listen to rather than leaving it up to a “ratings board” that operates in secrecy and/or is otherwise unaccountable for their actions. For many years in America, for example, almost any movie that had a “substantial” amount of nudity (esp. female nudity, which was apparently deemed more “dangerous” to the average moviegoer) would earn an R-rating whereas all kinds of horrific violence would be OK with a PG-rating. The message: sex–or even nudity–is bad for minors to know about; horrific violence is OK. I don’t trust ratings boards to make these kinds of judgements for me about what is “appropriate” or not, and unfortunately they are not just guidelines since many movie distributors and theaters won’t book certain movies for distribution or in theaters unless they meet certain ratings benchmarks.

        • I must admit I’m not familiar with the details of the rating. What you describe seems quite problematic and in that case parents certainly should be responsible. I’m not even sure we have this in Europe. We have only an age rating which indicates how old children should preferrably be to watch something. Nudity is generally not handled as strictly in Europe. Sex must be quite explicit for a film to be restricted. I remember having seen the one or the other movie to be forbidden under 18 but that’s super rare and I cannot remember whether it was violent or explicit. I suppose it was a combination.

          • There’s a 2006 U.S. indy documentary called This Film Is Not Yet Rated which will give you a rather amusing (and occasionally eye-opening) introduction to the hypocrisy of the U.S. ratings board and system. It’s not a great film per se, but I think it’s an interesting one if you’re at all interested in learning more about the topic. I think I also remember reading that Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, one of my all-time favorite movies, was rated X for extreme violence at the time of its 1969 release, but it’s usually rated R now. Don’t know if it suddenly magically became less violent in 40 years or what, but this is another example of why depending on somebody else to decide on the appropriateness of a viewing audience for films is way less than ideal.

            • Great documentary, isn’t it, Richard? One of things I’ve noticed it that the number of things picked up by censors seems to be ever-increasing. The latest: PERVASIVE LANGUAGE. It didn’t specify what sort of language–just that it was pervasive. Well it was a film with dialogue, so of course the language was pervasive. I thought that was hilarious.

            • Thanks for bringing this up, Richard. I’m fairly militantly opposed to labeling books, films, etc. for content – not only for the reason you raise (the arbitrariness of who decides how something is labeled), but also because it’s an approach that tends to encourage the reactionism that fosters it, rather than promoting the kind of critical capacity that could be developed through engaging and questioning whatever might offend one’s sensibilities. And I deeply dislike children being employed to further arguments in favor of censorship. I probably owe most of my curiosity as an adult to having read or seen things I “shouldn’t” have when I was a child.

              • Richard, Guy, Scott, thanks for the input, I’d like to see ths documentary.
                Scott, I agree with you, I’ve learned a lot from reading age inappropriate books.
                I have never seen a movie wrongly labelled here but as I said before, all we know is an age restriction. With someone a few years older, the kids/teenagers can still go and watch it.

              • Loved what Scott said – “I probably owe most of my curiosity as an adult to having read or seen things I “shouldn’t” have when I was a child.” 🙂 I totally agree!

  6. Two books right off the top of my head that have had a major impact in my love both come from my teen years: Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary (there’s that French novel again!). They showed me how deeply falling in love can pierce someone, and how making the wrong choices (adultery) can really make one’s life a disaster. They were very powerful books to me, but perhaps in a more positive way than a negative one.

    I, too, once believed in a good world…that the written word can change your life. I guess I still believe the second premise.

    • Ha. The French. I was older when I read those, so they didn’t have that impact anymore but I see how that could affect you at a younger age.
      Ultimately I don’t think reading Choderlos de Laclos was such a bad experience. It oppened my eyes but I had to go through some uneasy moments before appreciating that. La Mettrie was different as that has something to do with spirituality or rather the total absence of it in his book. He denies the human beings any spirituality, the soul etc … that was very troubling but I ended up just discarding his materialistic world view.

  7. Perhaps the reviewer’s issues are more about setting rubbish as A-Level texts. I’m sure I’d have got a better mark in A-Level English if I hadn’t had to study The Color Purple and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I would have been more interested / put in more effort. As it was, I was marked down for filling my essays with sarcasm and contempt.- I can imagine it would be a lot worse in a foreign language, where you’d have to struggle a bit to understand what’s going on. A book in French really has to be interesting for me – more so than an English book – because it’s inevitably going to take so much longer to read.

    • That’s certainly one way to interpret it. That means you couldn’t choose your A-Level books yourself?
      In French I chose Le Voyage au bout de la nuit, Le Cid and I think one of Tournier’s books. In German we had to choose 6 and English three as well. In Latin I had a bit from Apuleius. That would have been a piece of cake for you but I struggled with that.

      • You can choose what books you study?! What kind of madness is that? Next, you’ll be letting children choose whether they want to go to school at all.

        Do you choose though from a list? How does the teacher deal with pupils choosing any book they like? How can you teach classes, if everyone’s reading something different? Or do the pupils just get taught the analytical skills? How do the examiners mark them?

        I’ve never read Apuleius in Latin. I seem to recall he uses a rather elaborate style, though. I’ve only read Robert Graves’ English translation, which is marvellous in itself, but I’m not sure captures Apuleius exactly.

        • We choose books for the A-level because everyone has to have different books. It’s a challenge for the teacher. Mine was glad for my Céline choice although it’s a chunkster because he dadn’t read it that often.
          So that was only for the final exam. During the year, pupils can wish for books to be chosen but the teacher will have the final word. At least we were interested in what we were reading.
          We read Gravity’s Rainbow and Vonnegut in an American literature course.
          I didn’t think Apuleius was as difficult as that. Maybe elaborate but I was struggling more with others.

  8. Amazing post. Got me to thinking and have to admit there is no book that had that kind of impact on me. I do remember The Hound of the Baskervilles taught me that books can be scarier than television. Run Silent, Run Deep taught me that the written word can be more interesting than a movie. Books like The Ragged, Rugged Warriors taught me that non-fiction could be more fascinating than fiction. But no book changed my perspective on life. Wait, does Playboy count as literature?

    • Thanks, Kevin. It seems, although not negative, books have influenced you or rathe your point of view.
      That’s the first time I see you mention you liked a book better than a movie which means I should check out Runs Silent, Runs Deep. And the Ragged, Rugged Warriors.
      Maybe you didn’t read enough French books for that kind of impact.

      • I definitely do not recommend you read Ragged, Rugged Warriors. You might like RS,RD. It is much better than the movie. I know I have stated that a movie should be better than the book, but that does not mean that there are not plenty of books that are better than the movie.

        What are you saying about the French? I am not prepared to resume my French from high school just so I can read some life-changing literature. Unless you can suggest a book that is based on the theme that “Phillippe est a la piscine.”

        • Oh that would be an exciting topic…
          Maybe you should read Céline’s book. It would maybe not be life-changing as such but change your view of French literature.

        • Yes, someting like that. From what I saw those lists do not make these books banned in the sense of not even being available anymore but it seems some school libraries and similar institutions remove books based on these.
          There is only one case of real “book bannin” I know and that is Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Germany – and maybe other countries. German Neo Nazis get it from Switzerland.

  9. This is something I wrote for my own blog a couple months back. It seems a propos.


    It’s already one of the most banned books in the United States. Why bother to ban it all over again?

    These days it’s mostly the “N” word that gets the book taken off school library shelves. There are still plenty of people, mostly of the older generation, for whom that word is so fraught that they don’t want to see or hear it used under any circumstances, even in a work of literature. Perhaps in past days the reason Huckleberry Finn was kept from the impressionable minds of the young had more to do with its presenting the South in an unfavorable light. But my contention after four readings of the book is that it should be banned now, right now, because it contains downright seditious material.

    It should be prohibited on at least two grounds: First, the book is unpatriotic, is in fact anti-American. Second, it is immoral. In fact it goes right to the heart of the bedrock of our morality and makes of it a mockery.

    I’ll address the second offense first. I’m referring, of course to the episode in one of the small towns along the Mississippi that Huck visits. A local storekeeper is being harassed by a fellow townsmen who stands outside his store and holds him up to scorn. The shopkeeper warns the man that if he doesn’t desist he will be shot dead. The harasser does not desist, and the shopkeeper shoots him, much to the delight of the other townspeople, who seem to enjoy a good killing to break up the monotony.

    The scene then shifts to the shopkeeper’s home outside of which an old-fashioned lynch mob has gathered (both these scenes could have been lifted out of a Hollywood Western, no doubt inspired those Westerns, however indirectly). The shopkeeper, a man of few words who means what he says, appears on his porch with a gun and challenges the crowd to do what they have come for. He not only challenges, he ridicules, telling them that one or two of their number are “half a man,” but the rest are no better than an “army” which — and here comes the sedition — is no better than a “mob of cowards“!

    But my first reason for banning the book is even more serious. The incident with the shopkeeper could possibly be written off, with some expert academic help, as not really the author’s opinion but only that of the character. But Huck Finn’s long wrestle with his conscience about allowing Jim the slave to go free, to aid and abet him in the quest for that freedom, occupies much too great a part of the book not to question the author’s intent. When, despite knowing it is not only criminal but morally wrong to deprive someone of their property, in this case their human property, Huck Finn does so anyway, accepting the fact of his guilt, even of his condemnation to hellfire, as a consequence, he makes it clear he has done exactly what his conscience told him not to do.

    What’s a conscience for if not to guide us toward good and away from evil? Do we really want to give our young people the message that conscience is only a repository for whatever society accepts as right or wrong at that particular moment? If so, are we prepared to take the consequences?

    I say it isn’t worth the risk. Therefore, I submit Huckleberry Finn should be removed from all public and academic library shelves, with the exception of special permission to be granted for its perusal by accredited and approved scholars whose intent is the study of seditious literature for the purpose of protecting society from its corrosive effects.

    I hope you will write your congressperson to urge him or her to pass appropriate legislation without delay.

    • Thanks for your comment, I find it interesting but I cannot follow it completely. I have only read Tom Sawyer and would need to read Huck Finn as well to be able to fully grasp what you write.
      And why Huck Finn? Because it is such an important American book? Surely there are worse examples, if one wants to start banning books.

    • @pianomusicman – ‘Huckleberry Finn’ is unpatriotic and immoral – really?? Because someone calls a lynch mob, a mob of cowards and Huck Finn struggles with his conscience whether he should follow the law or whether he should follow the better part of his heart? Really? I see your whole comment as satire and it makes me smile when I think of it that way. Please tell me that it really is satire 🙂

        • I hope it is a satire / parody, Caroline. I checked out the page where it was posted originally here and I am not able to say from the comments there, whether it is satirical or not. It makes me remember a movie called ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’. When I saw the movie, I laughed the whole way till the end, but when I read reviews of it, I discovered to my surprise that they all said that it was a violent movie and some said that it was an action movie. To me it was satirical and made fun of the action movie genre and the superhuman action hero. I hope pianomusicman’s article is just poking fun at people who want books banned 🙂

          • I looked too – there is only one comment which sounds like being a parody as well.
            Maybe you were the only one who got that the movie was a parody? When people are not sure they tend to start following other people’s comments.

          • Hi Vishy, I can no longer see the comment here, but I visited the page. It definitely read like caustic tongue-in-cheek satire.

  10. Great post as always Caroline.

    Like most folks around here I am 100% against the banning of books.

    Though the idea of a work of fiction scarring one’s life seems a little extreme, there have been a few novels that really disturbed me. In particular George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has left me depressed for days on both occasions that I read it. Something happens to the characters in that book that is a bit too troubling for me. There is a passage near the end where the protagonists meet and it is apparent that the love that they shared has been effectively extinguished by torture and manipulation. To me is the most chilling passage that I have ever read in a fictional work.

    • Thanks Brian, and thanks for sharing this.
      There was a scene in 1984 which got to me as well. I read it when I was already in my twenties, so could handle it better but that would have disturbed immensely at a younger age.
      It’s one of the powerful books. Unfortunately I can’t remember the last part you mention. Maybe I should re-read it one day.

  11. I think banning books is useless, the banned ones are just more appealing. Plus, who is conceited enough to think they know the absolute truth and decide for others?

    My first encounter with American ratings was a sticker on a CD “explicit lyrics” I was more than surprised by this. My parents never censored what I was listening or reading. (Granted, I’m not sure what they would have said if they had taken the time to listen to Hubert Félix Thiéfaine with his songs like Enfermé dans les cabinets avec la fille mineure des 80 chasseurs…)

    Did a book changed my life? “Au delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable” did. Definitely.

    PS: what’s a “N” word? Isn’t that prudishness?

    PPS : Of all the enjoyable books that exist in French literature, why impose Journal d’un curé de campagne to students? Really! Why not Claudel too?

    • I was very puzzled the first time I saw “explicit lyrics” – my parents spoke all sorts of languages but not English – pretty useless sticker in non-English speaking countries.
      I adop a liberal approach when it comes to books as well but there are certainly problematic books out there. I just think they are not really “literature”
      Oh the N word — should I write it – no I won’t – The N-word is the pejorative term for Afro- American.
      I would understand the choice of Bernanos in a FRench school where you certainly cover far more but not in a UK school.
      Never heard of “Au delà de cette…. ” I’m intrigued.

      • Well it is by the G writer
        I find utterly shocking to use that word today but to ban it from vocabulary when referring to the past is also shocking. It’s a tentative to deny it happened and that it was how Afro-Americans were treated.

  12. Wonderful post, Caroline! I was interesting to read that Amazon review of ‘The Diary of a Country Priest’ – a very literal case of a book influencing someone’s life. I can’t remember whether a book influenced my life in a not-so-good way. I have watched the movie version of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ though. I hated Glenn Close after watching that movie. She is a brilliant actress and it is not her fault for portraying a vicious character so well, but still I can’t get around to liking her. I don’t know whether there is something peculiar about French literature – because as you have said, three of the books you have mentioned are French 🙂

    • Thanks, Vishy, I think it’s not entirely coincidental that they were French books but I wouldn’t know for sure.
      You should watch Roger Vadim’s Dangerous Liaisons version. That’s fantastic. He set it in our time, or rather the 60s and chnaged the ending. A chilling ending. Made me think for years. In both movie versions Mme de Merteuil is seen as the most negative character. He isn’t any better.

      • Thanks for the recommendation, Caroline. I will try to watch Roger Vadim’s version, when I can muster up the courage. I am loving reading the conversation in the comments. Looks like your post has stirred up the pot 🙂

        • Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it.
          I hope you will get to watch Vadim. I think it’s so much closer to the spirit of the book that then version with Glenn Close despie fact that it’s a period drama and the Vadim isn’t.

  13. The amazon quote made me laugh. I think Bernanos would have been quite chuffed, actually, to have provoked such an emotional response. But the writer (and I think it’s quite serious, not a joke) really needs to take a long look at his or her capacity for taking responsibility. After all, I really disliked Le Grand Meaulnes at A level, but I still passed the exam okay.

    In fact, thinking about this leads me to posit a slightly different question. Do books reveal our capacity – or otherwise – for thinking beyond our own responses and emotions? Banning books is simply the desperate attempt to suppress something that makes us feel devastated and inchoate inside. The book has to go, or the book banner can’t cope. I was educated to be curious about the emotions books aroused in me, but to then use them as a springboard for analysis. They were where I began with an interpretation, but certainly not where I ended up.

    • This is well said, he most certainly doesn’t think he was responsible for his failure. You don’t need to like a book in order to have something to say about it. I often had better result when I liked a book less. I didn’t mind picking it apart and analyzing it in depth.
      I think that the only thing the different bans and interdictions have in common is that they believe in the power of the book to influence. The reason for being afraid must vary greatly. It would be interesting to know what parents forbid and why. I had a close friend at school whose father got his Ph.D at 24, a first collection of poems published at 26. He was barely 23 when that friend was born. Now the friend in question was forbidden to read children’s books, comics or a nything remotely smelling of pure entertainment. He was read Heidegger as a five year old. His father came from a famil of peasants and it seems a lot of shame about his upbringing must have been the source of this severe interdiction. I won’t go into the deatils of what became of this friend but it isn’t funny.
      A book can open your eyes and stir rebellion, show other ways of thinking. It’s interesting to look at who bans what and when.

  14. The “N” word has a strange, multiple-idenitity life in America now. Older African Americans still find it extremely offensive, while the younger generation use it as a substitute for “person” or “guy”: “The n—– is cool!” Even some young “white” people use it that way. AAs have always used it among themselves (see the Simple stories by Langston Hughes). “Negro” now is used almost always in a perjorative sense (except in an historical context–Martin Luther King’s use, for instance). “Colored” also is de trop, while “person of color” is the preferred word for anyone not “white.” Race is a pathology in America, a bug we are all bitten by however fairminded we may be.

    • It is very confusing and it seems to change constantly. In France the English term “balck” is used and often with some pride while the “n” word would not be acceptable. In Germany the “N” word is absolutely not accaeptable. But you would never hear African-French or African-German or something like that. Not sure about the UK though.
      I have aproblem when a historical movie is amde and the term cannot be used anymore although it would have been at the time…
      In my ears person of colour sounds dubious as well.

  15. Wow what a famous topic…I have to scroll way down to comment 😉

    Great job in making us all think. That image you shared is indeed scary for a little girl…Japan has a lot of scary images.

    I have tried…tried hard to remember a book with such negative impact and found none, maybe it is because of my habit of leaving books unfinished if I don’t like it.

    • Yes, it’s quite a discussion.
      I was totally shocked by the picture. I was waiting for them to go away and then sneaked to the book shleves and got it donw, the moment I opened it this face stared at me and I thought it’s the devil who has come to get and punish me because I disobeyed.
      I think I was a bit on the oversensitive side when I was younger.
      You should try a few French novels. And finish them. the Hugo has some potential. 🙂

      • Hahaha…that teach you to obey your parents 😉

        Still…I don’t think I will ever find one…the minute it gets boring or not interesting in any way, I drop the book. Remember the Japanese book on war I told you about…I couldn’t finish all of them. I will still review a bit of it tho.

        • Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it.
          Those books that had such an impact didn’t bore me at all, they just told me something about human nature I didn’t know and it shocked me.
          Ah, that Japanese book didn’t work. Too bad.

  16. At my age, you would expect me to know all about adultery and fornication, so I really can’t explain why John Updike’s couples (which I am currectly reading) is managing to shock me so much. It’s like a part of me is curling up :/

    • That’s interesting. I haven’t read it. I can still occasionally be shocked as well but I get over it faster. Not like when I read Dangerous Liaisons, that took a while.

  17. I’m sure I must have read my share of ‘shocking’ (well, to a young girls sensibilities) books when I was younger, but nothing has stuck with me so much that I feel like it changed the way I looked at the world–maybe there were many books like that and were subtle enough that built up over time? That Amazon review is almost a little funny–surely the reviewer was exaggerating? I don’t believe in censorship–removing books from library shelves that people think are inappropriate for young minds–I think making a big deal over books and movies is usually the way to make people want them even more and arouse curiosity than had the book been left as is! You always generate the best discussions, Caroline! 🙂

    • Thanks Danielle. I enjoy these discussions a great deal. It’s also nice when people comment on each other’s comments.
      Dangerous Liaisons is one of a kind. I wouldn’t say it’s not for a younger person but it sure can have an impact. I think there were even some more books that affected me deeply. Plath’s The Bell Jar for example.
      The amazon review is funny and I would like to know if he meant but, like Litlove, I think it does sound genuine. I can’t put my finger on it but I really think he’s serious.
      I think that there may be harmful books, pornography and violenece that are inappropriate for young people but not ban or censor something because there is some radical thinking displayed.

  18. Wow, I’m late to the party and the conversation has been raging for hours! I really wanted to defend banning books, Caroline, just for the sake of it, but I can’t think of any good arguments for it. Even in the case of a book that is shockingly racist or sexist, I think it’s better for it to be out in the open and for people to be able to discuss it. You have to then trust that people of good conscience win out over those who defend such views. It doesn’t always happen, but I think the alternative is much worse, and opinions when driven underground can acquire more power from a sense that they are being victimised or persecuted by mainstream society. I can’t think of a book that has scarred me for life. For some reason The Witches by Roald Dahl scared the crap out of me as a child. But I wouldn’t ban it 🙂
    As for the comment, anonymity has a horrible effect on some people. The comments section of newspapers like the Guardian is often full of vitriol and ridiculous hyperbole that nobody would have the courage to give voice to in real life. It depresses me sometimes. I even have a line about it in my next novel: “Anonymity empowers cowards to ejaculate their bitterness over the screen.” Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • I’m glad you liked it and thanks for joining the discussion.
      The Witches is regularly on the “banned books” list. No wonder.:)
      I tend to agree with you but I still think we need to draw some line. If we focus on novels, I really am against banning but Neo-Nazi propaganda and radical political pamphlets cannot be allowed, can they? Or fo example in France, to say the Holocaust didn’t exist, that’s a crime. And a book like that would have to be banned. It’s quite tricky. On the one hand we should be allowed to say whatever we think and write it on the other hand, too much laissez-faire can be dangerous.

  19. Banning a book, of course, can be the best thing for sales. The banning of Ulysses was carefully orchestrated by the publisher to make sure the event ended up in the newspapers.

    I don’t think it’s safe to ban any book, especially the worst kind. You only stoke resentment and curiosity and make the banned book seem more than it is. You won’t turn someone into a hating person because they have read a book that encourages hatred. They already hate.

    In any case, I think the argument the American Civil Liberties Union makes for why it defends the most despicable speech seems the best one and may apply to book-banning as well: It’s not just the free speech of the hateful person or group that’s at stake, it’s the free speech of everyone. Once you deprive anyone of a right, you potentially deprive everyone of that right, and historically that’s what’s happened.

    In the US currently the government has empowered itself to assume extra-Constitutional powers in the name of public safety over the past fifteen or twenty years. People acceded to this on the assumption that these laws would only apply to real terrorists. They are learning otherwise.

    • It would really generate more sales. I wasn’t aware Ulysses was banned.
      I agree, once you start forbidding people to say one thing,even something hateful, you may start to make way for more general bans and you end in a dictatorship. It’s a slippery slope.

  20. I actually found Les Liaisons shocking. I stopped reading at some point because I couldn’t bear anymore– at least not at such close range. It wasn’t naivete on my part, rather the power of the author to create that terribly amoral world.

    • I’m relieved you should say so. I was devastated when I read it. My logic was, if someone can make this up, it means it is in someone’s head and could be a way people behave. But, as I wrote, I was very young. I think I got out of the experience the wiser. It taught me a lot and to me careful.
      I think this power is the reason why this book is still considered one of the best.

  21. I so enjoyed your post because I think novels do have the power to change your life. They enable you to step out of your world and into someone else’s, if just for a while. Maybe that will result in empathy like it did for me. To Kill a Mockingbird broadened my mind and enabled me to see a situation from different perspectives.

    • Thanks, Jackie.
      I think there are some very powerful books out there. And the right combination of time/book/person can have quite an impact. I would have loved to read To Kill a Mockingbird at the age when I read Dangerous Liaisons.

  22. I’m still not sure which books it was for me because there were so many impressive ones in a few years.

    I’m sure books can contribute factors to life-changing results. Not singly, but together with other things. You will hear that confirmed by many well-known people. Only a day or so after reading this post, I listened to a BBC lecture by Aung San Suu Kyi, where she said the following:

    “The first autobiography I ever read was providentially, or prophetically, or perhaps both, Seven Years Solitary, by a Hungarian woman who had been in the wrong faction during the Communist Party purges of the early 1950s. At 13 years old, I was fascinated by the determination and ingenuity with which one woman alone was able to keep her mind sharp and her spirit unbroken through the years when her only human contact was with men whose everyday preoccupation was to try to break her.”

    The book is by Edith Bone and out of print. Apparently she devised various mental exercises to keep herself sane during years of solitary confinement. I can imagine that kind of book would make a big impression on anyone at any age, let alone 13. It shows that, if we choose the books ourselves, there must be something already present within us at a young age which draws us to certain themes.

    • Thanks for sharing the quote.
      That’s an interesting thought, Marcus. I like that idea, that, when we are allowed we will be guided to books which will be important for us. Seven Years Solitary sounds like an amazing book.
      Books can be powerful or they wouldn’t be forbidden. Totalitarian societies always ban and burn books. I’m just reading a book on women writers during the Nazi regime and it’s so harrowing.
      I think sometimes we are influenced by a book and don’t even know it because, as you say, there are always so many other factors.

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