Five Books I Used to Love (and Will Never Read Again)
Library books by CCAC North Library (CC BY-SA)

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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May 2, 2017

Library books by CCAC North Library (CC BY-SA)

“Library books” by CCAC North Library (CC BY-SA)

I’ve been reading SFF for most of my life and during that time, I’ve read a lot of books. I have loved a lot of books. However, I’m not the same person I was when I first read them and the problems in the books far outweigh any warm and fuzzy nostalgia feelings I might have. a

So without further ado, here are five books I used to love but am never going to read again.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Robert A. Heinlein

Or as I like to call it: “The one where Lazarus Long travels back in time to fuck his mom.” This book is gross on multiple levels, but the single grossest one is its endorsement of incest between parents and children. Most between fathers and daughters. I tried to reread it a few years back and couldn’t.

Incarnations of Immortality, Piers Anthony

I’m cheating here—this is a series, not just a book. I read these an awful lot and last reread them in my mid-twenties and all I can really remember now is that all the young women were various shades of blonde denoted by varietal honeys (like one was “clover-honey blonde” and I can’t remember the other) and I got so confused by the relationships between all the characters that I drew a family tree and IT WAS A CIRCLE.

Spellsinger, Alan Dean Foster

Talking animals! A dreamy and vaguely hippie-ish guy named Jon-Tom! Magic spells that are cast via song…and I am pretty sure that these haven’t aged particularly well and yet: I can never hear “Sloop John B” without thinking of that time Jon-Tom needed a boat and conjured one up with this song and was a colossal mistake that was. I think there was a lot of puking. Anyhow, I suspect that these are books that I’ve simply outgrown. And I’m not so sure about Jon-Tom entering into a cross-species relationship with his otter sidekick, either.

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

I first read this book at the behest of a guy I was dating in the early 90’s who ultimately ended up ghosting on me. This was a book that was near and dear to his heart and I admit that I liked it well enough to go out and pick up Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide. And then I learned what Card thought about queer people and I found that upsetting, to say the least. Then I started seeing some interesting criticism of the book that really dug into some themes that always made me uneasy, viz: the casual way the text deals with Ender Wiggin being a murderous little git. (Also the whole fighting a war through a video game reminds me a lot of The Last Starfighter—and yet they couldn’t have been inspired by each other as they came out at essentially the same time.)

The Dark Elf Trilogy, R.A. Salvatore

I know, I know—another series. I was obsessed with these books—I found Drizzt’s manpain to be utterly delicious. Like the Anthony and Foster books, I can’t remember much about the plot of the book but there are some details that stick in my memory—the way Drizzt is persistently misunderstood, his magical cat companion, and did I mention the manpain? (I see that there are 30 books in this series now. I only read the first six. That was enough for a lifetime.)

And before anyone complains that the only books on my list are those by men, here’s a short bonus list of books by women:

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

I remember checking these out from my school library in 7 th or 8 th grade—I think The White Dragon was the first one I read, to be honest, but I chose Dragonflight because it’s the first one in the series. There are things I love about this series: that it’s secretly science fiction, the dragons, the telepathy. Things I don’t love: strictly enforced gender roles, dubcon and rape, and the cartoonish nature of many of the villains. My memories of the early books are also, to be blunt, tainted by the books written by Todd McCaffrey, in which there were a lot of problems around consent and coherence.

Brisingamen, Diana L. Paxson

I used to volunteer at my local library in the summers and one year, I befriended a girl who was into the SCA. I remember going to some party at her house and one of her older SCA friends recommending this book to me—this would have been around 1990. It was quite a quest to get the book—it was out of print but when I finally did get a copy via interlibrary loan, I loved it. It’s an urban fantasy—probably the very first one I ever read—but I suspect that if I were to read it now, I’d find it unbearably awkward. I’m thinking about the bad poetry and the goddess-fueled sex and my squick-o-meter is basically in the danger zone.

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

As my best friend put it: “The only book I’ve ever read where the pagans were crueler than the Christians”—in response to a scene where a character is tortured to death (I think, it’s been a while). I recognize that this book was important to a lot of people, but I’m glad that this is the only Bradley novel I ever read, as her entire oeuvre has been tainted by the fact that Marion Zimmer Bradley was a terrible human being who not only facilitated her husband’s sexual abuse of children, but who abused her own children as well.

I hate to sound so negative about a lot of the books I read and reread when I was younger, but I really didn’t have access to a wide variety of books. The local library was quite small at the time and my school libraries weren’t particularly well-stocked either. The one book store in town was very, very small and I rarely found anything there that interested me and trips to B. Dalton and Waldenbooks were few and far between and trips to Borders rarer still. I mean, I used to read Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Of my own free will. That’s how starved for reading material I was at times.

I started reading more widely once I went away to college. My best friend introduced me to Charles de Lint’s books and while those are books that I’ve outgrown, I don’t feel the same degree of skin-crawling revulsion that I do for most of the books on this list.

I don’t have a problem with having gotten to a point in my life where I can reflect on the books that were important to me in the past, acknowledge that, and then move on. To be quite honest, I feel a little bit of pity for people who are either unable or unwilling to engage in that sort of assessment of their childhood reading.

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9 Comments

  1. Steve

    Alan Dean Foster, ah I remember reading “Eater of Darkness” or some such. Huge problem arises! Grab the Bat-shark-repellant, problem is now nothing. He and Greg Bear both used great premises with such flat plots.

    Piers Anthony’s Xanth had such fun puns, and such an excessive and awkward fascination with panties and not-quite-of-age girls.

  2. --E

    All of Piers Anthony’s series have the same flaw: The first book is full of amazing ideas and worldbuilding and newness, and then they kind of fall off a cliff. That first book’s freshness completely distracts from the underlying ick factor that is also present in all his books; but then you get a couple of books in and the ratio completely flip-flops and the ickiness leaps up and the gosh-wow disappears.

  3. Cythraul

    There’s a thing I’ve wondered about the ethics of buying Bradley’s books, since I found out about the abuse: who are her heirs? Do new royalties go to her children?

    • Natalie Luhrs

      I’m not sure who her heirs are. I hope it’s her children.

  4. Happy

    I agree with a lot of the above, esp Pern and Heinlein. (Though Laz Long was never a favourite… total ick!)
    Also…
    Dune: Homophobia, Fat-shaming, Sexism.
    Anything by Asimov after I learned that he harassed women at conventions.
    Books in which, looking back, I realize that all of the people in the book making decisions were men (usually of the ‘white, straight’ variety) with women relegated to the role of sexual tokens.
    Books in which disabled people are not actually people.

    ….And this is why Happy now reads only books published in this century…

  5. I_Sell_Books

    Ah yes. My own Great Purge began a few years ago and has only intensified, since. Though I didn’t know about any authors and their predilections while I was actively reading them, I definitely found many of their books problematic.

    And I will join you inn reading the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books – they were my jam when my only other option were the James Bond books and law tomes, on the odd occasion I was bookless from my own library.

  6. Doug M.

    Dune gets a partial pass because it’s depicting a future society that Herbert himself views as a mix of admirable, interesting, and deeply screwed up. Yes, that society is sexist and horribly unequal, but one is not left with the impression that Herbert thought it would be awesome to have pleasure slaves and concubines. For a book written in 1961, it actually holds up pretty well.

    Asimov… well, his nonfiction stuff is still very readable. Asimov was a very shy and repressed young man who matured into an ass-grabbing lech; reading between the lines, the transformation seems to have taken place sometime in the back half of the 1950s. DK if that makes a difference, but FYI.

    Doug M.

  7. Happy

    No, that doesn’t make a difference to me. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to enjoy Asimov’s books (or the Dune books, which my husband is currently re-reading), I just won’t ever be able to engage with R Daneel Olivaw or Dr Susan Calvin again, knowing what I know now.

    We all have our problematic faves who get passes from us. Tolkein has basically four women in all of Middle Earth, and I haven’t tossed him over — for no better reason than that I really adore the books.

  8. Kim Nohr

    Ah The Great Purge.

    All of Anne McCaffery is tainted for me. I LOVED Pern so much I virtually lived in it for almost the entire 90s. Really. Email Fan Weyrs (I was in probably six of them at the same time), PernMUSH, Pernish fansites, and I even co-ran a Weyr. I grew up in the Yukon so I couldn’t get to any conventions.

    Sometime in the late 90s, there was this huge backlash against Pern fandom by Anne and her lawyers. It was also exacerbated by slavish fans who reported on “violations” — mostly women able to Impress more than gold or green deagons.

    For a teenager, a Cease and Desist from your favourite author is the scariest and heartbreaking shit ever. This was no, “Hey kids? Can you respect my world and fix some things in your playbox please?” letter. It was a “Shut this shit down or we will sue you for thousands of dollars you punks. Anne hates you now!” letter. I wish my computer didn’t crash in 2001 or I would post the copy somewhere online.

    I was heartbroken. All her books (and I owned EVERYTHING related to Anne even shitty short story books where she had maybe 5 pages of writing in it) were shoved into boxes and flung downstairs.

    Only after running into a great crossover fanfic on Archive that I felt nostalgic enough to pick up one of her books again.

    HOLY WTF? So problematic. Full of misogny (Menolly was the first female harper, but cause she is “ugly” and dudelike it’s okay. Otherwise she would have married a holder or something like a proper holder’s daughter.) Rape (But like totes mmmmkay because of the “mating rush” that comes with dragon breeding, right? Not problematic *at all*). Women are NEVER friends. They are always at one another’s throats. They are constantly threatened by other women. And yes villains are SO VILLANOUS. No redemption whatsoever. Double so if they are women dragonriders.

    Phew. So glad I didn’t buy anything after the c&d. I can’t imagine how much worse it could be.

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