Let’s Talk: Uncomfortable Topics In Books – What Are They & Why Are They There?

uncomfortable topics

I actually had some trouble deciding the topic of today’s discussion post. 

Usually, something will happen during the week that instantly inspires the next discussion post, but this time nothing really happened. So I had to resort to my list.

But then just at the last minute I thought back to one of my latest reviews: The Manifest On How To Be Interesting. And I remember how uncomfortable I was when reading certain passages from it. And on instagram, other people admitted they were just as uncomfortable.

So now I’m wondering…

What are uncomfortable topics & why are they there?


I’m pretty sure we all know the sort of topics I’m talking about.

When you’re reading a book, and there’s just that feeling in your stomach, almost like a knot of revulsion. Sometimes you feel sick when reading certain passages of a book. Sometimes they just make you squirm, and sometimes they make you want to put the book down and not pick it back up again.


So what ARE uncomfortable topics?

Well, there’s not really a specific answer for that, is there? Because it changes for everyone.

While one person might hate violence and gore, another will be able to happily read it. Another person might not be comfortable reading sex scenes, but that won’t stop someone else frantically turning the pages of the same book.

I honestly thought I didn’t have certain topics that would make me cringe away from books. As a person, I don’t get disturbed that easily; I can read and watch pretty much anything without flinching away.

For me, it’s hard to pick out “uncomfortable topics”. I think the few I can pick out are detailed sexual abuse, attitude manipulation, and incest.

BUT…I can read those topics. So how can they be uncomfortable for me?

But I honestly think this is the difference – it’s how it’s written.

Put it this way. I’ve read the A Song Of Ice And Fire (Game of Thrones) series and thoroughly enjoyed it. But as I’m sure everyone knows, that includes a huge amount of violence, sexual scenes (both wanted and abusive), incest, death…you name it. So how did I enjoy that series, when a book much tamer can make me squirm with just one of those topics?

It must be how it’s written. The way the situation is explained and dealt with. The world it takes place in. The character it happens to. Why it happens. There’s so many elements to these situations, surely that must be what makes the difference.

But also the reader themselves. The situations they’ve gone through in their personal life, the way their imagination strays, their attitude. A whole host of things merge together to form a person’s opinion, and that’s why it’s so difficult to pinpoint.


If they make people uncomfortable, why are they written about?

Well, everything should be written about. I honestly don’t think there’s any topic that shouldn’t be written about. Because while it might be difficult to read about, it raises awareness and educates the public that little bit more. And I know I’m not the only one that thinks this, because I’ve already done a discussion post on the topic.

Also, think of it this way. What would happen if there were guidelines to what people could write and publish? Well, first there’d be the obvious issue regarding freedom of speech. But other than that, how on earth could the guidelines be decided? It would be incredibly difficult to decide what classes as an uncomfortable topic or not, since everyone’s opinion on that is different.

So it wouldn’t really work, would it?

I feel like books should do what DVDs do. You know, with the content warnings on the back cover somewhere. I feel like it’s already doing well, since books targeted at younger readers sometimes have warnings for sexual content, swearing, violence, things like that. There’s also trigger warnings on books related to mental health. And often enough, it’s easy enough to judge from the synopsis of the book what sort of story it will be, regarding violence etc. I just think that if anything else could be added or possibly needed, those small boxes with content warnings on DVDs could be included too, just for the readers peace of mind when buying a book.


Join the discussion!

What do you think about uncomfortable topics?

What classes as uncomfortable topics for you? What sort of situations do you struggle to read about?

Has there ever been a book you had to put down and not finish because it made you too uncomfortable? Which book and why?

Are there any books you won’t even attempt to read because you’ve heard they include difficult topics? 

Do you think there needs to be more warnings on books? How do you think this could work?

Join the discussion in the comments!

Until next time…


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17 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Uncomfortable Topics In Books – What Are They & Why Are They There?

  1. What an interesting topic! I don’t really think that anything is really “uncomfortable” when reading. When I read, I find that I can really get lost in the world and whatever the book tackles – whether it be superficial or super deep – I just take it on the chin, because I’ve made the commitment to pick up the book, and that means that I’ve dedicated some of my life to it – I’m not going to shy away from it, if you know what I mean (unless it’s just really bad, in which I’m not going to waste any more of my life on it). Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      I have the same sort of attitude. I think I’ve only actually put down a book once, and that was because I really didn’t like it, not because it was uncomfortable. I feel like when it comes to “uncomfortable” topics, I SHOULD read them to sort of educate myself more, and almost feel as if I need to hear the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I think uncomfortable topics need to be addressed because as authors we have a duty to write honestly for the audience. Honesty is something that a reader can pick up on, and they know when you’re just trying to be controversial or shocking… and that’s like a nail in the coffin. But GRRM can write such uncomfortable scenes/themes because they are real- they happened in that universe because it also happened in real life. War is not packaged in a pretty little bow, and GRRM knows that. I really love that you brought this up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      I understand completely what you mean. I’m glad that authors realize we want to read about the realistic side of things, but not just for controversy! While the topics can be hard, it’s almost refreshing to be able to understand it all 🙂


  3. I definetly agree that everything should be written about especially taboo subjects like mental illness, abuse and incest. But it annoys me when authors wrote about these subjects in the wrong way and created more stigma then there already is.

    I get very uncomfortable when reading anything to do with child abuse and rape but I have ptsd from those things so that’s why.

    I’m very thankful for authors who do their research and get it right! I always seem to do a little dance when I read a book that just gets it right!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate it when authors write about and manipulate those sort of topics because they think it’ll sell more copies. It’s not right. Especially, like you said, when it’s not done right and creates more stigma.
      But those times when you find it’s just written in such an understanding way, THAT’S when you get the feeling that reading and writing can be such a wonderful thing ❤


  4. This is such an interesting discussion, Ashleigh! I wholeheartedly agree that everything should be written about, but, like you say, not everyone will enjoy reading books that make them feel uncomfortable. I’m actually more likely to read books with uncomfortable topics because they remind me to never forget that people do suffer, and it puts me into their position. I don’t necessarily enjoy reading about it, but I feel like I have to, you know? Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      I definitely get what you mean! I’m the same. I feel like I SHOULD read those stories, even if they might be uncomfortable, purely because someone out there has gone through it and someone wanted other people to understand. So I feel like I have to be that person. I WANT to be that person!
      It’s like at the minute, I’m reading Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. And while it’s not particularly uncomfortbale to read in the sense of abuse or sexual content etc. the fact that it’s a diary from a jewish girl who lived during the war made people ask me why I’m reading it because “it’s so morbid”. And my reply was “Well it was published for a reason. While her story may be said, I need to know it.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. YES. Exactly that. It’s so important that we don’t forget what people have went through. Reading about it allows us to experience it and actually put ourselves in their place. I can’t believe people have asked you why you’re reading it! Why can’t you?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think some sort of warning/trigger guide on the back of he book (or even inside the front cover, it woulnd’t necessarily need to be on show) would be extremely useful, so long as it wasn’t spoiling anything and was deliberately vague. Many times I’ve started reading a book and realised the subject either hits too close to home or I’m just generally uncomfortable with – I keep trying to read Holly Bourne books and find them good but also uncomfortable with how relatable I find them.

    Liked by 1 person

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