25 Messed-Up Books That Made People Stop In The Middle Of Reading And Think, "Um, What The Heck?!"

Recently, in the r/books subbreddit, user u/padmesolos asked, "What book made you go like ‘What the fuck?’ during or after reading it?" and whew, did bookworms come through with some absolutely nightmare-inducing answers!

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So, with that in mind, here are just a few of the most popular responses shared:

Content Warning: Given the nature of this post and the question being answered, there is disturbing content ahead. Please proceed with caution, and take care of yourselves!

1.Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

  Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf

"I finished it and literally said out loud, 'What the actual fuck did I just read?'"


"Give the audiobook a listen, if they are your thing. In Roger Ebert’s four star review for the movie, he calls out the audiobook: 'Not only does Perfume seem impossible to film, it must have been almost impossible for Patrick Süskind to write. How do you describe the ineffable enigma of a scent in words? The audiobook, read by Sean Barrett, is the best audio performance I have ever heard; he snuffles and sniffles his way to greatness, and you almost believe he is inhaling bliss, or the essence of a stone. I once almost destroyed a dinner party by putting it on for five minutes, after which nobody wanted to stop listening.'"


2.American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis


"The scene where he killed the kid at the zoo and then acted like he was a doctor so he could be up close to the body while he dies while the kid was just looking at his murderer role-play as a doctor. That stuck with me 10 years later."


"Also, the book beginning with 'Abandon all hope, ye who enters' and ending with 'This is not an exit' are perfect bookmarks for a novel this dark."


3.The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Holt, Rinehart and Winston

"An amazing book with beautiful prose, but 12-year-old me had no business reading it. I was never squeamish, even as a preteen, but the graphic rape, incest, and pedophilia scenes were too much. In hindsight, Jazz, which I read a few years later, should have been my first book by Morrison."


"Toni Morrison goes hard. I have read one book by her and it changed me. It slapped me in the face and made me grateful to be so ignorant that I could be revulsed by a book like this because these things could never cross my mind otherwise."


4.The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

  Riverhead Books
Riverhead Books

"Not a super crazy book, but I read it when I was way too young. A lot of scenes horrified me."


"This book was absolutely disturbing to me. I've read books (mostly fantasy) that are incredibly dark, full of death and suffering and abuse, but The Kite Runner takes place in our world. These things really happen. I really had to check my white, male, born-and-raised-in-the-USA privilege after reading it. Whenever the book comes up in conversation and someone asks me if I'd recommend it, I say 'I learned a lot, but I honestly can't 'recommend' it,' because I don't want to point someone in the direction of that deep, deep sadness. They need to make that decision for themselves."


5.The Collector by John Fowles

  Little, Brown and Company
Little, Brown and Company

"God, I felt so sick after I finished that book."


"I read that when I was about 13. It really creeped me out, but I couldn't stop reading. It was like it pulled you into this alternate reality."


6.We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

  Counterpoint Press
Counterpoint Press

"I think Kevin is one of the most evil characters I’ve ever read in a book. Plus, the way she wrote the book was amazing and had me guessing the entire time."


"I'm 120 pages into it right now, and I'm contemplating DNF-ing it. My husband and I are currently thinking about having kids, and it's not exactly the most constructive thing to be reading when thinking about bringing a new baby into the world, especially when you're on the fence."


7.Apt Pupil (Part of the Collection Different Seasons) by Stephen King

  Viking Press
Viking Press

"It’s nothing like any of his other works and it rocked me to my core. Disgusting stuff. Couldn’t put it down."


"Apt Pupil was good, but so disturbing. I had to stop at the scene where the old man uses the oven. It bothered me not knowing how it ends though, so I had to pick it back up and power through to finish. Gripping story, but man, it's fucked up."


8.The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks


"Great book, but definitely high on the WTF scale."


"So traumatic. Hideous content that is so well written, you can't stop reading until you make it to the end. And then, when it's over, you feel dirty and disgusted at yourself for reading it. The kite scene!"


9.Night by Elie Wiesel

  Hill and Wang
Hill and Wang

"It wasn’t even for a class, either (although, later that year we had to read it anyway), my middle school English teacher just strongly recommended it and gave me a copy of it. Looking back, I’m 90% sure she had me read Night before everyone else because I’m Jewish."


"I remember reading Night in middle school around 2011 or so, and it bothered me for weeks after I finished it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I read. Not long after, a Holocaust survivor came to speak to a couple of the classes that read the book. I got to speak with him, and I got to touch his tattooed number. I went to the bathroom after the event was over and I let out some tears. From that day forward, I had a much more mature viewpoint of the Holocaust, and, as I now look back at 24 years old, I owe it to Elie Wiesel and that brave gentleman that I met (whose name I wish I remembered) for their help in my understanding of such an important event in such recent human history."


10.Lord of the Flies by William Golding

  Penguin Books; Reissue edition
Penguin Books; Reissue edition

"When Simon talks to the dead pig."


"I love teaching Lord of the Flies because half of my students are always hit with whiplash when they get to that section. You tune out for two seconds and BAM! Psychedelic horror out of left field!"


11.Hogg by Samuel R. Delany


"American Psycho is kindergarten compared to that."


"Some days, I wish I hadn’t even Wikipedia-ed this one."


12.Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk


"I’m very worried about that man’s imagination."


"Years ago, a friend of mine challenged a bunch of us to sit through a reading of this without getting up and leaving the room. I sat there as he read the whole thing, and I think I still regret it over 10 years later."


13.House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


"Wonderful book, but…WTF? I’m still trying to put my brain back together after that one."


"I swear this book is cursed. I have owned a copy for years, and have attempted to read it at least three times. Every time I barely get started, the damn thing disappears, and at some point it just randomly shows up and the cycle repeats. I just want to know what’s in this book! I’ve been told to go in blind and I’m trying, damn it!"


14.Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

  Gallery Books
Gallery Books

"My review for this is merely 'WTF.'"


"My mom gifted me her copy of Flowers in the Attic when I was quite young. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she liked it, and why she wanted me to read it."


15.Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky


"I read it a long time ago, but I had never before (and have never quite since) been so completely in the grips of a book. I remember reading it, pacing back and forth in my bedroom, near panicking, at the brink of yelling at the character not to do certain things or say certain things. I so identified with the lead by that point that I was like, 'No! Are you fucking kidding me!? Don't go back there!'"


"Read it in high school and was utterly transfixed. I felt like the protagonist and I were one and the same by the end."


16.Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

  Back Bay Books
Back Bay Books

"It's my friend/coworker's favorite book, so I read it and I kind of wish I hadn't. There are parts that are pretty disturbing or sad, and I was trying so hard to understand where the book was even going. There were definitely parts that I liked, but when I got to the end and it was just OVER, book DONE, NO RESOLUTION, I was pissed off for spending months reading that behemoth."


"The problem with Infinite Jest is you have to read it again to begin to understand the events. It’s pretty clear what happens, so the ending isn’t as abrupt as it seems after the first read-through. But yeah, poor Tony’s withdrawal is about the bleakest thing ever put to paper."


17.Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

"Just so much senseless murder that never stops."


"Reading that one, I found myself several times saying: 'Cormac McCarthy is VERY gifted in his descriptive abilities...and, right now, that is rather unfortunate.'"


18.Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

  Pushkin Press
Pushkin Press

"Every other page is a WTF."


"I just finished reading it a few weeks ago. The entire book was WTF horror after horror, but the worst part was that I tried to hold out hope that the narrator would at least be a semi-decent person. The ending was really crushing."


19.Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

  Grove Press
Grove Press

"My husband got to a certain scene and gave up in disgust. I called him a 'wuss' and took it from him thinking, 'How bad can it be? It’s a classic!' I made it about three pages further than he did. Just sickening."


"No matter how bad a book is, I've never regretted the experience of reading it, until I read Naked Lunch. If I could just scrub that book from my memory, I would."


20.The 120 days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade

  Wilder Publications
Wilder Publications

"Just the introduction and the history of the man that wrote it is chilling. I think that with some HEAVY editing, it would be a great theater production and relevant to our time, but I don't have the stomach for it. In broad strokes, it's about very wealthy and powerful men engaging in, theorizing, and swapping stories about perversity."


"Many years ago I went through a really tough patch with the breakdown of a relationship and my entire life falling apart. I began a quest to find something that externally was worse than how I was feeling inside. I got a quarter through this book, put it down, and realized I had finally hit my rock bottom. This book is severely repugnant on so many levels. I don’t like that it exists."


21.Watchmen by Alan Moore

  DC Comics
DC Comics

"When I read the final chapters, I looked around at my family sitting in the living room and thought, 'You have no idea what is going on in my head right now.'"


"'I did it 35 minutes ago' is probably my favorite twist moment in any piece of media."


22.Bunny by Mona Awad

  Penguin Books
Penguin Books

"I went into that book blind and was like, 'WTF is happening?!'"


"OMG, I just found a Goodreads review of Bunny that reads, in its entirety: 'hahahaha what the fuck?' They gave it 5 stars. I am convinced, just bought it."


23.Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

  Grove Press
Grove Press

"It's just…you’re blindfolded for the coaster, and then you’re given drunk goggles for the second half, and then the brakes come off and the attendant leaves. It’s a RIDE."


"I went into this blind right on the back of Convenience Store Woman. Bookshop seller told me it was similar, and while the themes are, I was expecting the presentation of those themes to also be similar. I wasn’t expecting it to be so, so much darker. Still a good book if you can stomach it."


24.Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo


"I’m surprised I had to scroll down so far for this book to be mentioned. It’s still my worst nightmare."


"Anxiety inducing book. Made me want to learn Morse code, just in case"


25.And finally: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  Random House Publishing Group
Random House Publishing Group

"WTF, but in a good way. Growing up in societies that glorify war and learning about histories filled with wars starting at a very young age, we quickly become desensitized to the horror and the utter senselessness of war itself. Vonnegut’s strange and quasi-allegorical masterpiece will make you want to weep upon completion. I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for weeks. The book is particularly impactful given that Vonnegut personally witnessed and survived through one of the worst war-time atrocities of recent history: the fire bombing of Dresden."


"His description of that bombing is fairly brief (as I recall), but so descriptive that you can picture it in your head while you’re reading his words. I read it many years ago, and I still think about that part on a regular basis."


All right, you've read their picks, but now it's YOUR turn? What book had you thinking, "What in the actual heck did I just read?!" Share yours in the comments below!

Some responses were edited for length and/or clarity. H/T Reddit.