Booking Through Thursday – Unread


Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that  you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?

The nightmares came in cycles, most often during my own time of the month, in some strange synchrony with the protagnoist’s performance of her official duties as a “handmaiden” – a faceless woman chosen only for her ability to breed.   The dream images were stark and evil, and in them my world was filled with imprisonment, terror, and darkness.

417SV938KJL__SS500_I read The Handmaid’s Tale  soon after it was published in 1985.    It was a time in American history when the conservative ideals of a very popular President were holding sway in the minds of many.  And while I didn’t really believe the authoritarian, patriarchal society Margaret Atwood was describing in her dystopian novel would actually come to pass, nevertheless, the horrifying vision of  the Republic of Gilead made a deep impression on me.   Gilead can best be described  as  a “feminist nightmare, a place where women were strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various class –  the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the “morally fit” Wives.   The tale is told by Offred (read: “of Fred”), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.” 

And nightmares I had, for months after reading this book.  Naturally, I assiduously avoided the film, which starred Faye Dunaway and (the late) Natasha Richardson.  I’ve never had a book affect me so deeply, and while I might not wish it “unread,” I would  wish the horrifying images of those nightmares erased from my mind. 

Perversely, I’ve kept the book on my shelf on this time, and could right now go into the basement and pluck it from the spot where it’s been resting quietly for almost 15 years.  But I believe I’ll leave that terrifying story remain tucked safely away between Gail Godwin’s A Southern Family  and Helen Hoover Santmyer’s And Ladies of the Club, both very kinder  versions of a woman’s world.

Now tell me – have you ever had nightmares about a book?

13 thoughts on “Booking Through Thursday – Unread

  1. I used to read horror on a regular basis, and I still read some here and there, yet I’ve never had nightmares. At least none that I remember. I’ve heard many things about this book, but I don’t think I grasped how horrifying the story was until just now. It sounds like something that would definitely give me the shivers.

    • I’ve never read horror novels because I’m too impressionable! I once started to read Stephen King’s The Shining, and was just terrified. I had to give it away.

  2. It’s interesting that the book had such an effect on you–it speaks to its power or to some kind of deep resonance that it could.

    I had a nightmare about Jane Eyre before I’d read it and before I’d even (at least consciously) heard of it. In the dream I pronounced the last name Ire rather than Air, so I might have seen the title. Anyway when I was talking about the dream which was really scary and involved looking for bones and the voice of the departed speaking, I found out that the name was the title of a book. I was 11 and I liked the first part of the book best, but the madwoman scared me as much as the dream had.

    However I don’t wish I could unread it. That is such an interesting question and I’ll have to think it over.

    • I actually read Jane Eyre the first time when I was about 11, after seeing the movie on tv several times. I wasn’t scared of the book, but I remember being obsessed with it, until my mother threatened to take it away, saying I was “too young” to read it.

  3. I went through a Stephen King phase after college, but have stayed away from horror since then. The Handmaid’s Tale was very, very disturbing…I agree. I read that in the mid eighties, too and quickly got rid of the book.

    BTW, I loved And Ladies of The Club! For many years, I gave it to friends placed on bedrest during pregnancy. Last summer I bought a trade paperback edition at the library book sale. I’d love to revisit that book one day.

  4. I also went through a Stephen King phase all throughout high school until the early years in college, when I started having nightmares every night. Since then, I have never touched a horror book. Until now. I’m reading 2666 and I didn’t know until I started reading it that it feels much like one, only eerier because it’s psychological. I was so scared last night but have to move on because there are a number of us reading along. Lol. I’ll probably be saying this same thing in my post. Very timely. I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale for the same reasons that gave you nightmares.

  5. I haven’t encountered something that is irredeemably bad. Books that I want to “unread” are ones written by authors whose previous reads I have enjoyed. Sometimes they just have a bad day I guess. I would like to defy time and start over again with another book.

    I enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s so disturbing that I don’t think I’ll re-read it anytime soon.

  6. True horror – a la Stephen King – doesn’t give me nightmares, because it’s not plausible. Although, I think the reason King’s stuff appeals to me when I WANT horror is that he sucks you in with his folksy, Garrison Keillor-esque story-telling, and it’s only after you’re fifty pages in that there’s a murderous clown peering up at you from the sewer.

    I confess, whenever I see those old-style (read: largely found on the east coast) sewer openings, I HAVE to look into them. I have, however, never seen a clown in one.

    As to Margaret Atwood…I was fifteen or sixteen when it first came out, and yes, I agree, it’s horrifying. More so when in so many ways women’s rights are backsliding or remaining stagnant. I wouldn’t erase it, but I wouldn’t read it again either. Seriously, I think Ms. Atwood had serious childhood trauma because ALL of her work is, in some way, disturbing.

    Jane Eyre is an old favorite of mine. I think I first read her when I was eleven or twelve, but I’ve always liked the classics.

    Sorry to babble in your blog.

  7. Well there was the supposedly true memoir of a woman who had suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of her satan-worshipping parents, which I read around age 14 and still have nightmares about. The less said about that, the better!

    The book I really wish I could “un-read,” though, is A Prayer for Owen Meany. That book gets me sooooooo riled up because of its suspicious similarities to Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business. After writing an angry blog post a couple of years ago, I did some research and discovered that Fifth Business itself has suspicious similarities to an Iris Murdoch novel. So two strikes against Owen Meany for 1) being such a clumsy example of homage, if not downright plagiarism; and 2) leading me to question the integrity of my favorite author of all time (Davies, that is, not Irving). 😦

  8. Great comment Becca. I really identify with you wanting to unread something so horrifying. I haven’t read the book myself, and I don’t think I will now – thanks for the heads up. It is good to see a comment that delves a little deeper into the the desire for “unreading,” rather than expressing a simple dislike of a book.

  9. I have nightmares whenever I read anything about wars and genocide- Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, the Holocaust and WWII, Vietnam…Yet I still read books on these subjects…

    The Handmaid’s Tale really got to me, too. I read it when my son was just two, and the scenes where the main character was missing the daughter that had been taken from her really tore me up. 😦

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