Need Book Recommendations
November 15, 2006 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Why are the good books these days always so disturbingly violent? Looking for suggestions.

Okay, due to my own experiences, I cannot read a book or watch a movie that has sexual violence towards children, or torture, or serial killers. It disturbs me for DAYS. I don't get how people can do such horrible things to other people, and I don't know why they would write about it and call it entertainment. I can understand about writing for the healing process. I would like to say that I don't hide from the ugly dark side of human nature... but damn it all, I do, and I don't care anymore who knows it. I don't want to read about that kind of pain. Why is it a pre-requisite these days that any "good" book have something traumatic take place in it. I don't want to NEVER AGAIN read a book with some kind of violence in it... I just want some damn options. Maybe some kind of rating system.

I'm hoping you brilliant people can help me read something of substance that meets one or more of the following criteria:

1. Current release (within the last 20 years)
2. Fiction of any kind except pulp fiction
3. Well written
4. Meaty

Thanks in advance.
posted by vermontlife to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had a handful of suggestions, but I need clarification- is it only sexual violence, torture, serial killers or are you looking for books with NO violence or trauma in them whatsoever?
posted by headspace at 8:46 AM on November 15, 2006

Kidding right?

There's a plethora of books that fit your criteria (no sexual violence toward children, no torture, no serial killers).

For the sake of not having a never ending list, I'll simply suggest the most current book I've read that fit your criteria: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

No sexual violence, torture or serial killers, current releases, well written and "meaty," I guess. The book, however, does deal with "pain," albeit in a more psychological way.

You'll be hard pressed to find a book without some kind of "pain" intrinsic to the plot--maybe not outright violence, but certainly most protagonists often deal with incredibly wrenching psychological struggles and painful experiences of one shape or another. It's what makes reading interesting because it allows us to identify with them and also provides the tension necessary to keep a story moving.
posted by dead_ at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2006

Have you already read all of the classics? Those tend to be meaty and brilliantly written. As for current books - hmmm. Depends on what kind of genre. Do you want a love story? I kinda like Nicholas Sparks stuff every once in a while.

But, I see where you are coming from - I LOVE to read but haven't read a book in forever for the same reason. Not only do I not like to read about violence, especially toward children, but the stories seem to be the same these days.

Another option - write your own book!
posted by Sassyfras at 8:58 AM on November 15, 2006

I can personally recommend Life of Pi , The Curious Incident of the Dead Dog in the Night-time and Life After God.

Existential anguish and one dead dog are present however. Not sure how 'meaty' any of these books are though.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2006

I can't believe you're having difficulty finding a book that fits your criteria. I'll ignore "meaty" as I have no idea what you mean by that unless you mean "epic" or long.

Endless Love by Scott Spencer
Sparrow Nights by David Gilmour
The Fuck Up by Arthur Nersesian
I. by Stephen Dixon
The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
Well by Matthew McIntosh
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
The Tender Bar by I forget
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet
Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
Claire Marvel by I forget

The list could go on forever.

Note that most all of these books have psychological "pain" in them. Conflict is the root of drama, afterall.
posted by dobbs at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2006

I hear you - I hate reading about extreme violence of any kind (serial killers, rape, torture, etc.) and it is often difficult to find a current book that's free of all that. I second Kazuo Ishiguro as a skilled and deeply moving author who never has explicit violence, and I also recommend Haruki Murakami, whose books tend to be eerie but not violent (although skip his latest one "Kafka on the Shore" since it is much more violent than usual).

You also might want to check out Alice Munro. Her latest book "Runaway" (a collection of short stories) has no explicit violence, and is exquisitely written.
posted by deeparch at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2006

Too bad you're limiting yourself to the last 20 years. Otherwise, I'd recommend any number of authors, especially Nevil Shute.
posted by Rash at 9:30 AM on November 15, 2006

I'm also surprised, unless -- and this is truly not meant to be snarky, although it might come across that way on the screen (and for which I apologize) -- you're getting most of your books at the supermarket checkout line. The vast majority of good contemporary fiction has nothing to do with serial killers or torturing children. There are so many that I can't think of them all, but here are a few random ones that are stacked up around my desk:

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova (is a vampire story, but heavy on the literary more than the discussion of people being killed)
Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco (some people do die, but again, it's not "about" that. Extremely meaty and wonderful book -- probably my favorite cotemporary novel ever)
Possession - A. S. Byatt (incredibly fun, smart, romantic literary novel)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (mentioned above)
White Noise - Don Delillo (social satire)
Atonement - Ian McEwan (one of the best novels I've read in the past decade)
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahari (short story collection that won the Pulitzer a few years back -- fantastic)

Other very popular novels of the past couple of years that also spring to mind: The Corrections, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Middlesex... I'll post more as I think of them. You also might want to pick up a weekly book review (NY Times or another major paper) to get an idea of brand-new releases, authors you might like, etc.
posted by scody at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2006

Hello All, Thanks for the suggestions. I was reeling when I wrote the original post because I picked up "The Kite Runner" as suggested by a friend, and the boy rape scene in it just had/has my head in a spin.

I'm so glad to hear that not everyone has this problem (finding good fiction without disturbing violence). I'm even gladder to hear that some of you do. I do not buy my books in the grocery store, and I've read a lot of the books/authors suggested in this post. I've read a lot of the classics and want some options for more modern writers.

The real underlying problem of mine, if you must understand it to give me some suggestions, is that there is no rating system for books. No book cover states, "caution, child rape scene contained within" I'm not sure I'd want any kind of rating system, but I'm sure I don't want to come upon another violent scene unexpectedly. So to avoid that I thought I'd get some help. I'm not looking for criticism... just some book recommendations that loosly fit my criteria as best interpreted by the reader.
posted by vermontlife at 9:52 AM on November 15, 2006

Vermontlife, it may suit your purposes better to actively screen books. When a book is recommended to you, or when you decide something looks interesting, check it out reviews and information on the web. This will almost always warn you if anything is potentially disturbing. Kite Runner, for example, disturbs even those who usually cannot be disturbed (such as me), and nearly every mention of the book makes it clear that this is the case. I don't screen all books, but I do frequently check Amazon to see if a book matches particular criteria. It's not a foolproof system, but it works most of the time.

As others have said, making a huge list of books without violence, which is most of them, especially when you've apparently already read a lot of them, seems like a clumsy way to approach it.

My personal recommendation would be to consume the classics. They're classics for a reason!
posted by jdroth at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2006

I highly recommend The Thirteenth Tale, particularly if you like gothic-style romances akin to Jane Eyre. I was going through a bit of a book funk and this title had me hooked from the first chapter...the last time I was so engaged was when I read The Kiterunner around this time last year.

The Debt to Pleasure is another great read with a diabolical's a bit slow to start, but once you get into it, it's very dark and funny.
posted by phoenixc at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2006

nd I also recommend Haruki Murakami, whose books tend to be eerie but not violent (

Except for that truly gruesome bit in Manchuria from Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
posted by canine epigram at 11:11 AM on November 15, 2006

I'll second Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Murakami, especially Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, but AS SOON AS THE BOOK SWITCHES SCENES TO MANCHURIA SKIP AHEAD FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS GOOD AND RIGHT. That scene gave me nightmares. [shudder]

Also, Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld, is great, and very sweet. Not at all chick lit nor teen drama. Actually really wonderful and adult. I also really like Wonder Boys and anything else by Michael Chabon, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
posted by The Michael The at 12:41 PM on November 15, 2006

I strongly agree with jdroth. As someone who works in publishing, the idea of a ratings system for books sounds like about the worst thing ever. BUT. If you read editorial reviews of books, they will give you clues about whether they are violent or not. And major editorial reviews are always listed on Amazon. Double plus, if you browse books on Amazon, and a book is violent, you can bet there will be an Amazon customer review that says something like "it was good but I wasn't expecting it to be so violent!" Tip: sort the customer reviews by lowest number of stars to highest. Then you'll see what the hardest-to-please people think straight away.

For instance, on the Amazon page for Kite Runner, the PW review doesn't mention the rape, but it uses words like murdered, brutally beaten, shot, that kind of thing. No real illusion that it might not be a harrowing story. Then, if you look at the one-starred reviews, the fourth one down mentions the rape.

So between customer and editorial reviews, it's pretty easy to screen the books you read yourself, without a ratings system. Also, when your friends recommend, just let them know you're looking for nonviolent books.

And avoid Chuck Palaniuk.
posted by lampoil at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2006

Thanks lampoil, I did what you did after I read jdroth's email I went out to Amazon to try to educate myself on how to read the reviews. I also saw that it was the reader's reviews that mentioned the rape. I also noticed that lots of people said that they had a hard time reading the book, but most people loved it. I'm actually going to be brave and finish The Kite Runner now that I'm pretty assured that that will be the last bit of violence that I, personally, would consider too much to stomach.

I've written down all the suggestions thus far and will pop into the library ASAP to see if I can get a few.

Thanks everyone and I look forward to any more suggestions.
posted by vermontlife at 4:39 PM on November 15, 2006

Warning, Vermontlife. The Kite Runner is good, but there's still plenty of more violence ahead. I personally didn't find the rape scene disturbing. I was more disturbed by a later scene in which a person is buried and stoned. That haunts me. My wife is haunted by the scene in which a character loses an eye. There's plenty of violence left in The Kite Runner.
posted by jdroth at 5:09 PM on November 15, 2006

I really enjoyed Aloft by Chang-Rae Lee. Mostly about family and getting older.
posted by Famous at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2006

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