December 21st, 2010 / 12:46 pm

Are there any books you really wish you hadn’t read, and not necessarily because you thought they were bad, but because they altered or opened or predicted or made bad practice or negated something in you in a way you maybe wish you could go back from or forget?


  1. RGV

      I had a professor in college who refused to “reread” certain books because he was afraid his memory of them would be altered. (Here I am thinking of Orwell’s 1984.) But that’s a different question. I can’t think of any novels that I wish I could “forget” (in the way Blake Butler suggests). But I do feel that way about the French film “Irreversible”.

  2. Mike Meginnis

      I am confused by this. Vonnegut was the first writer I really absorbed. What do you mean?

  3. Mike Meginnis

      I am confused by this. Vonnegut was the first writer I really absorbed. What do you mean?

  4. Mike Meginnis

      I am confused by this. Vonnegut was the first writer I really absorbed. What do you mean?

  5. Mike Meginnis

      I am confused by this. Vonnegut was the first writer I really absorbed. What do you mean?

  6. Bart King

      When I was 13, my aunt gave me Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” trilogy. To my eyes, these books were dense, obtuse, dull, and nearly unreadable.

      Stubbornly waiting for a pay-off, I read every one of their 1,000-plus pages.

      Wish I could go back and warn myself off of them.

  7. Adam Robinson

      Everything by Kurt Vonnegut. I’m still unlearning what I never really learned from him.

  8. Brennen

      Much of Faulkner is an infection.

  9. Joe Ahearn

      Jean-Francois Steiner’s Treblinka. I read it in a single night, unable to stop and by morning I was a different man. I had not lived before in a world where that horror of evil was possible.

  10. Adidas Heel

      Twilight (post-partum dementia) Alive (couldn’t sleep for weeks and not because of the cannibalism but the isolation) and the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom (the movie was so much better).

  11. TWS

      “Pimp” by Iceberg Slim

  12. RGV

      I had a professor in college who refused to “reread” certain books because he was afraid his memory of them would be altered. (Here I am thinking of Orwell’s 1984.) But that’s a different question. I can’t think of any novels that I wish I could “forget” (in the way Blake Butler suggests). But I do feel that way about the French film “Irreversible”.

  13. JakeLevineSpork

      Celan and Milosz, both for different reasons pushed me into writing about my relationship to the holocaust for 9 months. Those poems are crap. First I tried fracturing my syntax and confounding diction, then I appealed to straightforward rhetoric. Jesus. I can’t read either of those two and try to sit down to write a poem as myself. I have this reoccurring nightmare where I am at a Parisian cafe with Celan and Benjamin and they are swearing at me in German, and I am thinking how nice Benjamin’s face is with those lovely glasses, how I want to squeeze his cheeks, but I am crying and I can’t stop crying.

  14. sm

      Houellebecq always makes me feel paranoid and depressed but I can’t stop reading.

  15. RGV

      Now I have a candidate…Gravity’s Rainbow. As I read it, I couldn’t believe it exists! Pynchon’s sentences are mindblowing! But something is missing. I could never precisely say what it is. Then I read Richard Locke’s 1973 review in the New York Times:

      “His imagination–for all its glorious power and intelligence–is as limited in its way as CĂ©line’s or Jonathan Swift’s. His novel is in this sense a work of paranoid genius, a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture. Its teetering structure is greater by far than the many surrounding literary shacks and hovels. But we must look to other writers for food and warmth.”

  16. susan

      Richard Yates by Tao Lin

  17. Mike Meginnis

      I am confused by this. Vonnegut was the first writer I really absorbed. What do you mean?

  18. james

      totally agree about the “irreversible.”

  19. Adam Robinson

      I don’t think I got Vonnegut as much as I thought I did. I think I thought I was influenced by him, but really I just developed a knack for short, declarative sentences that sounded funny in my own head, and the asshole proclivity to say “Listen:” occasionally.

  20. Mike Meginnis

      I can see that. His style tends to take you over. I spent several years of my life processing him to the point where I could write as myself again. But I generally felt that was a good process; short declarative sentences are generally undervalued.

  21. Jack M

      Funny, but I read Cat’s Cradle in tenth grade, and it really opened my mind as to what was possible in fiction. His later work became a parody of itself, but CC was invaluable to me as a young reader.

      I wish I had not read Faulkner’s The Bear in high school, as I was not ready for it. His work made more sense to me in college, and now I love his work.

  22. Andrea Lawlor

      Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” — I found the writing compelling and even very beautiful but the powerful bleakness of McCarthy’s worldview (and the lazy default social Darwinism of his speculative future social relations) is something I regret having ingested. I also felt this way about Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls.”

      This actually gets at a question brought up for me by Lily Hoang’s recent post about her pleasure in reading about immoral characters. I find myself reading more science fiction, YA fiction, and 19th century social realism to avoid the hopelessness/spiritual emptiness of so much contemporary literary fiction. This doesn’t mean I don’t love books which depict violence, just that I can no longer really enjoy books which seem to be coming from a place of uncritical stimulation of trauma. Anyone else in a similar place? I sure could use reading recommendations.

  23. Sean

      Chekhov, in the way he marches out weather in this very intent way, usually to begin a piece or to juxtapose off a character’s “stormy” (or whatever) interior state. I read all of Chekhov maybe 15 years ago and just seemed to fall into this technique. Then it seemed everything I read I would monitor the interior world with anything in the exterior world, of the page/book/etc.

      I still can’t decide if it’s good wiring or exposed wiring or something to be done away with. The technique.

      It has altered me. Possibly scarred.

  24. Mike Meginnis

      I think it was good technique at the time but it’s been developed to the point where you usually have to sort of hide what you’re doing or modify it somehow to make it feel like something worked for and not just a technique.

  25. Rebecca Loudon

      Urs Allemann’s babyfucker. Sincerely disturbing and not all it was cracked up to be.

  26. M Kitchell

      i’m curious to what was disturbing about it? like specifically? i just felt like totally disoriented and not-even-there when i finished it, but those feelings are totally amazing to me.

  27. M Kitchell

      when i was a freshman in college i was in a totally stupid relationship and i was simultaneously realizing that bataille was the best thing ever. but, unfortunately, because of how fucking perfect the opening few sentences are of The Impossible, I definitely turned into a completely ridiculous emotional-masochist as I let things ride out.

      Incredible nervous state, trepidation beyond words: to be this much in love is to be sick (and I love to be sick).

      Of course, I’d rather erase the relationship than my portal into Bataille.

  28. Lyrian

      Easy – Three Dog Night by Peter Goldsworthy. I normally love his work, but from almost the second page I was frustrated with the arsehole characters, the pathetic depiction of the female character without agency, the general abuse of the incredible Australian outback for such poor, obvious and lazy characterisations. It got into my head and stayed there for such a long time, and his irrevocably changed the way I feel about Goldsworthy’s other novels. Sad.

  29. Guest

      *”On Moral Fiction,” John Gardner.

      I read this polemical manifesto when I was too young and wasted years taking myself too seriously as a writer. The book is also incredibly unfair to many notable writers, like Stanley Elkin and John Barthelme, and I held negative opinions about them (and others, like John Hawkes) as a result of Gardner’s Puritanical influence.

      *The preponderance of traditional minimalism I read as an impressionable undergrad, and the comments in workshop from peers that touted this aesthetic at the expense of others. Anything that had humor, surreal elements, or pushed style to its breaking point was bad; it was almost like you were considered a bad person or something for refusing to drink literary Slim Fast (as Kellie Wells once put it). It took me years to give myself permission to be weird, and to use language that might assert itself as much as content and plot.

      Both Gardner and the above really stunted my growth, then, because my most natural voice and way of seeing the world don’t jive with the predominant aesthetic that was shoved down my throat, or that I assumed was the “correct” and most “proper.”

  30. Ryan Call

      mfbomb, have you read anythign else by him? i mean, besides grendel and art of fictoin, which im also assuming youve read…

  31. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      This comment makes me feel grateful to alla y’all for keeping me omnivorous and flexible from the get-go, aesthetically and critically.

  32. susan

      Richard Yates by Tao Lin

  33. Guest

      I’ve read both Grendel and Art of Fiction.

      I like many aspects of Art of Fiction, and I love Grendel.

      What’s most odd to me is that many of his proclamations in Moral Fiction seem to go against some of his own work, esp. Grendel.

  34. Darconville

      John Barth. I was probably 17? He’s like a dog who constantly eats his own shit, so almost shits his shit verbatim, but I step in every pile.

  35. Dreezer

      The food and warmth came along later with Mason & Dixon.

  36. Ryan Call

      acutally, i remember thinking that the last time i read grendel also. but i couldnt be specific as i havent read on moral fiction in a long time. im curious to read more by him, but i dont know where to start.

  37. Kyle Minor

      Gardner’s not my favorite writer, Ryan, (and he doesn’t practice what he preached, but neither did Gass — Elkin did, though, and I like him best of the three), but Gardner’s “big” book is The Sunlight Dialogues. I think it’s mighty bloated, and prefer Grendel. Nickel Mountain and October Light are two others people still read.

  38. Guest

      I mostly like his fiction. I enjoyed October Light and Nickel Mountain. I just found him to be unnecessarily abrasive in parts of Art of Fiction and throughout Moral Fiction, which–looking back–is a rather bizarre book and one that can be harmful to a young, developing writer still searching for his or her voice.

  39. Ken Baumann

      The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. I wish I could ignore the power of the traditional structure of story.

  40. Kyle Minor

      There’s no limit to the possible variations it can birth, though. It’s not the only way to imbue a story with power, but it’s a reliable one. I’m happy to have it in my arsenal.



  42. michael

      The Book of Disquiet. I had a crush on a girl & it was her favorite book, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt for way too many pages.

  43. michael

      Also, Freud. He’s got about five pages of good ideas couched in a thousand pages of farts. I took those farts to be gospel for way too long, reiterating Freudian exempla and calling it character development.




  45. Amber

      Half the stories I write are deliberate attempts to deconstruct and shake up what that book nailed into my brain. But I think that’s a good thing.

  46. Duchess Cadbury

      I bought my cousin that book while he was in rehab (note the irony). He loved it.

  47. Ken Baumann

      Oh I agree. I moreso want to ignore the psychological underpinnings/the idea that that formula (any formula) can work on so many. It makes me feel fixed in place a bit.

  48. jereme_dean

      the question would be easier to answer if “book” was replaced with “drug”.

  49. Owen Kaelin

      What happened next?

  50. Owen Kaelin

      I always want to dissuade anyone I can find, who’s thinking of reading “Life of Pi”, to resist the temptation to read the final chapter. It’s extraordinary: I’ve never, ever in my life seen a writer use his final chapter to so systematically and thoroughly destroy everything he’d spent so much effort building up, so that by the end of the book the reader is left with nothing but a gaping, dusty hole and the question “Why?” banging its petulant fists against his/her skull.

      If the book had suddenly combusted spontaneously just before I went into the final chapter, and I never pursued another copy . . . I’d feel much differently about that book. I wouldn’t think it was a great book, or anything, but I’d think it was entertaining… .

      Other than that… can’t think of a book I actually regret reading.

  51. RGV

      That’s how I feel about the last chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. Fortunately, it was not included in the American edition (Stanley Kubrick based his film on this version). But recently, the U.K. edition was released in the States…and Burgess, in a preface, defends the last chapter. Sometimes the author does not know best.

  52. derick dupre

      delillo’s Ideas or Theories ruin me, but i keep coming back for the sentences

  53. NLY

      Dostoevsky’s Epilogue to Crime & Punishment continues to strike me in the same way.

  54. mimi

      I think Philip Roth is a great writer, but often his chauvanism/male prancing makes me want to get mad and throw the book and I walk around feeling angry for way too long.

  55. DC

      How does Gass not practice what he “preaches”? What, pray, does he even preach?




  57. Owen Kaelin

      Sigh . . . yeah, and I’m usually such a staunch supporter of the Artist-Knows-Best philosophy… . Still, I don’t like the idea of other people coming in and making alterations. Even if the artist does end up destroying his/her own work… I guess it’s his/her right to do so.

      …But I’m gonna take your advice on Clockwork Orange . . . should I ever get around to reading it.

  58. Andre

      I read Gass’ ‘On Being Blue’ when I was about 21, and loved it. Then I tried reading ‘The Tunnel’ when I was about 35, and absolutely fucking hated it. Worst book ever, unless you include those insipid little Golden Books in the list… I don’t know if I was just too old by the time I got around to reading The Tunnel, or if Gass had just written a terrible novel. Either way, anal pap. To be avoided at all costs!

  59. Tadd

      Hm. I wonder about someone who places Celine & Swift among our “cultural detritus,” magnificent or otherwise.

  60. Tadd

      Gardner was actually pretty big in supporting many of the writers that he later railed against–Gass, for example. My friend Andy has a theory: Gardner was a biker (died in a bike accident, even), & according to Andy, who says he grew up around bikers, whenever things got too calm/easy, bikers like to start shit. Gardner–who had many good reasons otherwise to get along with Barthelme, Gass, Barth, et al–got bored, according to this theory, & wanted to start some shit.

      Almost respectable, when you look at it that way.

  61. kb

      nausea is my least favorite (most hated?) book, period, i have ever read. probably even more so because the great charley patton’s name is invoked in vain at the end.

      sartre was a clown and i think he is the worst and most potentially damaging philosopher, especially perhaps to a highly intelligent teenager… which he basically was his whole life.

      also he was always wrong. outside of a few psychological insights (which only really occur when you’ve got yourself trapped in his halfbaked adolescent view of the world).

  62. Colin Winnette

      I spent years second-guessing all of my friendships/relationships after reading Remembrance of Things Past, suddenly convinced time would prove me wrong in every impression, however longstanding or seemingly well-informed. Of the strongest, I was the most suspicious. This was insecurity, though. And after a few years, I began to reexamine my initial experience with Proust. Though my sense of it now is markedly different, I was likely unpleasant to be around for that period.

  63. letters journal

      Woolf had to stop reading Proust because she couldn’t write while reading him.

  64. Barney

      Have you read Bonnie Jo Campbell? A contemporary writer with an old-fashioned sense of compassion and redemption.

  65. Barney

      I recently reread “Lord of the Flies” and was depressed for a week afterward. I had read it as a teenager and loved it, and while this time around I was more able to admire Wm Golding’s skill as a writer, it was much more horrifying to see human nature in this light as an adult.