Masochistic Reading

WHY?! Why do I read things that hurt me?!

I just finished Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King and I’m SO DEPRESSED!! My Goodreads review simply stated, “this was sad 75% of the time, and I’m not about that life,” but AM I?

I am known for my commitment to intake as much WWII and Holocaust information as I can (seriously, I imagine my Nexflix documentary history has me on some sort of watch list). Now, we all know how those stories turn out; aside from the general overthrow of the Nazi party, there is very little about that time that was… uplifting. Every time I read Holocaust literature, it makes me cry. It gives me nightmares. It weighs on me as I continue living my privileged life. Nevertheless, as soon as I finish one, I anticipate which will be next. If these stories continue to break my heart, why do I continue to seek out more? In this particular case, it’s hard to explain, but it’s a matter of respect and remembrance. My life has been beautifully and blessedly persecution-free, so the least I can do is read the stories of those who have endured things beyond my comprehension in order to give respect where respect is undoubtedly due.

If you know anything about The Serpent King, you may be asking, “why are you rambling about the Holocaust?” Valid question, since Zentner’s work has nothing to do with WWII. However, similarly, it was crushingly sad for the majority of the novel. It tells the story of three high school kids living in a poor, rural area in Tennessee. It addresses difficult topics like domestic abuse, child pornography charges, being disowned by one’s own parents, depression, bullying, and the loss of a loved one. It was heavy and disheartening, and I know of at least 5 trustworthy reader friends who LOVED IT. WHY?!?!?! Why love this? Yes, I’m from the South so yes, I find the small-town characteristics to be relatable. Aside from that, nothing about this book was relatable. I wasn’t bullied or “othered” in high school, I don’t find myself swimming in a sea of racism every time I go home to southern Georgia, I didn’t endure alcoholism or abuse or extreme poverty during my childhood and I didn’t watch friends endure it. This depiction of life in the South is far more severe than my actual experiences while growing up there, so why did others from the South recommend it to me?

I think we all have our own “thing.” That something that speaks to you and calls out to your interests. Whereas Holocaust literature is something that educates me on the experiences of a certain peoples, it may be Southern Lit that educates others. Again, my privileged childhood may be the reason that I can’t find solace in this depiction that directly contradicts my own experiences, but it may parallel the experiences of others. And sadly, it may parallel the experiences of my current and/or future students. I couldn’t disconnect the experiences of the protagonists with the possibilities that my own students are enduring these horrible circumstances, which further contributed to my depressed state. This book hurt my heart; I will NOT seek out more books like it, nor will I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being happy and unburdened. The fact still stands, though, that people I trust derived joy from this text. It caused them sorrow; it made them cry; and yet they value it. Book masochism at its finest.

First of all, sorry for all the caps. The wound is still fresh. Secondly, does anyone else experience this? Are there any stories that cause you pain but you just keep coming back for more?

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Filed under Book Review, Lindsay

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