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Hurtful Literature: Which Books Cause Sadness

Obviously it’s better to give some books a wide berth if you are of impressionable disposition. It’s not about scary books – they hardly can do any lasting harm – but about the books that carry nothing but gloom, doom and depression. If you tend to take everything you read or see to heart they may not only spoil your mood, but leave an impression that will haunt you long afterwards. After all, once you’ve read a book there is no way to unread it – and the more harrowing impression it left, the longer it will take for you to stop thinking about it.

Here are just a few examples of books disturbing enough to be avoided by those faint of heart.


Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird

hurtful literatureIf you want to keep your belief in general goodness of human nature, don’t even touch this book. It follows the wanderings of a little boy, an orphan of uncertain parentage, through the Eastern European countryside during World War II. Wanton cruelty and senseless savagery are all around him: people look like subhuman beasts engaging in all kinds of depravity and pointless violence both towards each other and him. No wonder that the child is deeply traumatized by the experience and develops nearly psychopathic tendencies, returning the hatred inflicted by the world a hundredfold.


Franz Kafka, The Trial

Or, rather, anything by Kafka. The books by this German writer are a pure embodiment of bleakness, depression and hopelessness. The main characters finds himself on trial for some serious offense, but all his attempts to find out why it happens to him (and, indeed, what his offense is) end in complete failure. The world here is depicted as a cold, hostile or, rather, a completely indifferent place which works according to its own incomprehensible and absurd laws. It won’t stop at grinding down anybody who happens to be caught between its cogwheels. The word “Kafkaesque” with exactly this meaning – absurd, bleak, bureaucratically nightmarish – derives from here, which should serve as a clue for what to expect.


George Orwell, 1984

Some dystopian novels are simply an intellectual exercise in depicting how human society would look if some unpleasant tendencies took over. 1984, however, is different. In addition to being a dystopia it is also a study of human nature, and it finds human nature wanting. There is no future here – only constant fear, despair, betrayal and no hope for release.


Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Vonnegut’s writings in general can hardly be called cheerful, but Cat’s Cradle is by far the most sinister and pessimistic of his works. Although it brims to the top with typical Vonnegut’s black humor and sarcasm, it only makes the matters worse. Again, we see a study in human nature, in mankind’s desire for knowledge turning into the greatest peril it ever encounters. The world dies, and its doom is a result not of some titanic struggle but of one man’s hubris and a string of ridiculous coincidences.

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