When a Book Makes Me Cringe (and Then Fall Down)

When a Book Makes Me Cringe (and Then Fall Down)

When a Book Makes Me Cringe (and Then Fall Down)

At my day job, we have a lot of fun with various creative and/or funny projects. The other day, I walked into my co-worker’s office to tell her something, when I saw some of the fun things she’d been working on.

This could totally be me...

This could totally be me…

I was looking at them and giggling until I took a closer look at one (and omg I wish I didn’t have to be so vague here, because I want to share the joke with you), and it was so surprisingly hilarious that I flat out dropped to the floor and barely kept from hitting my head on the corner of her desk on the way down.

Don’t worry — the atmosphere was still one of amusement. “Look, you made Kelley fall down,” said her office-mate, and we proceeded to have a great time giggling at these creations. After about a minute, I stood back up and went on my merry way, completely recovered.

So, what’s with the falling down?

Falling while laughing… that’s how the cataplexy generally manifests for me. Cataplexy* afflicts some (but not all) people who have narcolepsy, and it can best be described like this:

SUDDEN, STRONG EMOTION —> muscles give out —> person falls down

For me, it varies in strength from my legs going wobbly to my whole body collapsing into a puddle of giggling jelly on the floor. Often, I can hold myself up with a nearby doorframe or table edge, etc.

*There are all kinds of varying degrees of this, though, so please learn more if you’re interested.

When a Book Makes Me Cringe (and Fall Down)

It is rare that a book can trigger this reaction from me, but so far this year, I’ve experienced it on multiple occasions and MAN is it AWKWARD. Two different books have evoked such strong emotional reactions in me that they’ve given me cataplexy! In fact, these books may just have helped me uncover NEW triggers for cataplexy that I didn’t know about until now!

Book #1: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep was one of those books that I read as an e-galley; one of those books that I sneak in little bits of reading every time I take a bathroom break at work. This book was so fascinating that I often made excuses to read it on my phone whenever possible. But during this time, I noticed something peculiar happening.

I would get a strange form of cataplexy. A… mild, lingering cataplexy. Basically, my legs would feel wobbly all day long. I’d be uncomfortable just sitting at my desk, and wasn’t always sure that I could trust myself to walk without falling. I even asked my doctor about it, and he told me that it’s a thing, and that it’s called Status Cataplecticus.

One day, I was riding in the backseat of my in-laws’ SUV during a road trip, and I took a cue from my teen sister-in-law (who was reading a book), and pulled out my phone to read some more Challenger Deep. And then it struck again! I realized that the BOOK was triggering the cataplexy!

I knew that the book was causing emotional reactions in me, but I hadn’t realized quite how strong they were. So I took a moment to examine what was happening, and tried to pinpoint the emotion in question. I think I’d describe it as dark despair (deep, dark despair — to the point of nausea). Needless to say, such a visceral and lingering response has forged a very strong connection between me and Challenger Deep. It’s not exactly a comfortable connection, but it’s potent and important and real.

Book #2: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessThis is the one that really made me cringe. Yes, yes, I realize that it’s a vampire book and that I should expect some bloodletting and blood sucking and that sort of thing. But…

See, here’s the thing. First, I was listening to this one on audio, which means I just pressed play and enjoyed the story as I drove to and from work, etc. Secondly, Deborah Harkness is a very descriptive writer, and it’s definitely to her credit — the depth of atmosphere and sensory vividness within these books. But you see, that is also my problem.

I don’t think that I’m spoiling anything by telling you that there is a scene in which a vampire drinks blood from a person. The thing about this scene is that is was so wonderfully and descriptively written that I was helpless to keep myself from hearing all about it (the narrator is also phenomenal) as I was driving. This scene caused such a strong emotional reaction from me that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to drive!

YOU GUYS, I had to turn the volume down and pray to the goat gods that my leg would hold out and allow me to keep pressing on the brake (I was stopped in traffic), because the cataplexy was rearing up. I mean, you know how there are those scenes that are just so icky that they make you cringe? YES, THAT. All the way into leg-wobbliness. It was terrifying!

Enough about me — what about you?

You might not get cataplexy, but have there been scenes in books that caused extremely emotional reactions from you? Have books make you cringe? Tell me (or perhaps, warn me?) about them!


Read 33 comments

  1. That’s so . . . wow, Kelley. That sounds honestly really scary. I don’t usually have big reactions to books at all. In fact, I barely have any reaction, which is the opposite of you. I hope it doesn’t happen in another potentially dangerous situation like driving.

    • You know, the crazy part is that most of the time I don’t have much of a reaction to books either. I think that’s another reason that these two instances shocked me so much! I definitely had to be careful listening to that All Soul Trilogy on audio, and turned the volume down LOW during any cringe-inducing parts. Whew!

  2. That’s fascinating – I had no idea cataplexy was part of narcolepsy (or that it could be triggered by books!). I know I have strong reactions while reading – which is why I always find it so awkward to read in public, since my face basically gives away EVERYTHING – but the legs giving out must be a bit disorienting.

    If you haven’t read We Need to Talk About Kevin (which, for the record, I finished at 9 in the morning one Saturday and was incapacitated for the rest of the day because I had to spend that much time processing all the emotions) – maybe don’t do it while you’re driving. That is probably the book which has elicited the strongest emotions out of me. You talk about the dark despair with Challenger Deep – that’s kind of how it was, I think. Definitely not pleasant, but gut-wrenching and lingering.

    • Wow, I’m not sure if I want to read that book then! But at the same time, I’m very intrigued (doubly so because I recently saw an episode of Supernatural called “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). But it’s good to know that I should do that one on audio. It’s amazing how strongly books can affect us, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your experiences with me, too, Topaz!

  3. Wow, that’s probably the highest compliment (or insult) you could give an author: “Hey, your book triggered my cataplexy!” Having that happen in the car is scary, though. I’m glad you’re okay.

    I can’t think of any specific examples off the top of my head, but there have definitely been books, movies, and TV episodes with scenes so incredibly awkward and cringe-inducing that I end up twisting my body in on itself in physical discomfort. For me it’s usually when characters do really embarrassing things. *shudder*

  4. Make me cringe? Hmm… Maybe In a Handful of Dust, Between the Spark and the Burn and Rot and Ruin.

    Now, there’s a ton that made me cry! I remember driving when I was listening to The Book Thief. I though I was going to have to pull over and when I picked up my son from the boys club he thought something bad had happened because my eyes were swollen from crying ;(

  5. Wow wow wow. Totally learnt something new today. I haven’t experienced cataplexy before but I’ve definitely had a fair share of cringing in books. In fact, I cringed my way through A Discovery of Witches as well. I love that series BUT the first book wasn’t my favourite. I feel like I cringe more out of embarrassment and there was a lot of that for me in Discovery of Witches LOL

  6. This is really interesting! I’ve never had a strong physical reaction to a book, and I’m actually usually pretty good about keeping myself from being too emotionally reactionary too (at least in an outward way). I think what affects me the most, and thankfully I don’t deal with this much, is when I’m angry at a book. Of course I like when a book makes me happy, and I can usually handle sadness and heartbreak, but if a book makes me angry that’s when I’m most in danger of having some sort of public or physiological reaction.

  7. I really wish I could get some strong emotions from a novel. The most they make me do is cry, scream, or punch a wall, and those are rare cases. I am on a high dose of medication to help my anxiety, which dulls my emotions and reactions quite a bit.

    This is so interesting – now I have some books I need to add to my wish list!

  8. I don’t get cataplexy, but I know what you mean about an emotional feeling for a book. I don’t do audio, so I can just skip sections like the blood drinking in Discovery of Witches. I’ve read the whole series and it is very sensual on many levels. I find books that make me cringe are those where I am embarrassed for a character.

  9. I had no idea there was an actual name for this! I used to get cataplexy all the time during family dinners back in the day. I don’t think I can think of a novel that’s made me feel this way, but I love that you wrote a post about this!

  10. So, I think I definitely want to read both of these books now because of how they affected you. It just makes them both seem pretty powerful.

    I’ve never had a strong reaction to anything I’ve read. It’s kind of dis appointing! I read from other bloggers that they cried during this book or reacted a certain way during another book, and I’ve never experienced any of that. It makes me feel like I’m not reading the book as well as them. It’s not like I’m emotionless– stick me in front of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and I’ll ugly-cry through half the film!

  11. I’ve never heard of Cataplexy before, but it sounds like they are some powerfull books if they elicit such strogn emotions in you. I usually have a poker face while readign and the same goes for my emotions, I usually can keep myself blocked of from experiencing emotiosn while reading. There are only a few books that really elicited strogn emotiosn in me, only two books that made me cry because of horrible thigns that happened and the realizatuon that those thigns do happen to real people. I’ve read one book that I DNF’d as the scene was so disgusting and horrifying I didn’t want to read that book anymore. Most of the times such intense emotions don’t happen though. I have read Discover of Witches, but can’t remember much of it or the scene you mentioned.

  12. That sounds so dangerous for a reader! This is my second time hearing about Challenger Deep, and I definitely want to pick it up! Is it horrible to say that you almost hurting yourself makes me want to read a book?

  13. I actually got nauseated from that scene in A Discovery of Witches! I’m not normally sensitive to bookish things (my imagination, sadly, is just not that good), but her descriptions were so visceral, I had to set the book down, go outside to breathe, re-center….it was so bizarre!

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