Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Bad" elements in books?

As some of you may know, I work retail at a bookstore.

Just five minutes before closing tonight, I spotted a young woman at the audio book wall, who looked a bit perplexed. I walked over to her and asked if she needed help finding anything. She paused, bit her bottom lip as if contemplating what to say, and then said, "Maybe you can help me. Do you have any recommendations for audio books that--how should I say this--don't have anything bad in them?"

...

What am I supposed to say to something like that? What does "bad" even mean? Bad from a religious standpoint? Bad in a taboo sense? Bad according to you? Sex? Gay romance/sex? Foul language? Violence? Drugs? Anti-religious messages? Incest? Rape? All of the above? I'm baffled that anyone would think it totally okay to give me a criteria that subjective and expect me to come up with something.

Predictably, I couldn't think of anything so unoffensive off the top of my head, and apologized for not being more helpful. (WHY OH WHY DIDN'T I RECOMMEND NICHOLAS SPARKS? Oh yeah, because he's a terrible writer.)

And the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I don't think I can recommend a single "good" book title that's not a children's book (and even some children's books have violent scenes, or use magic that many religious zealots consider to be demonic--ahem, Harry Potter) or completely awful (looking at you, Sparks--and not all his books are rainbows and sunshine, might I add). But to be honest, who wants to read books that have nothing "bad" in them anyway? What's the goddamn point? I understand that a lot of people read to escape from the terrible realities of the world, but I fail to see the point in limiting your scope that far. To have nothing "bad" in an adult novel is unrealistic and delusional as far as I see it. Violence is, unfortunately, part of the human condition. Realistically, many many people swear. Drug use is everywhere. It's been this way for millennia. Now, do these topics have to be in every novel to make it realistic? Well, no. But my suspension of disbelief will be teetering if they're not at least acknowledged.

I guess what I mean to say is that I certainly wouldn't recommend Boot Hill to someone like that woman.

And I pride myself in that. My story deals with oftentimes serious subject matter. It's violent, crass, and brutal at times. But I wouldn't remove those descriptors from Boot Hill for anything in the world. They make the story mine, and the characters, however "bad" they may be, make it real. I'm sure there are some novels out there that aren't any of these things, are more or less "good", and happen to be well-done. I'm sure of it. But I'm not about to go out of my way to read them. I'll stick to my "bad" fiction and "bad" characters, thank you very much.

4 lived to tell about it:

Ninja said... Reply

Bah, vanilla fiction is for little kids! I'm a self-confessed swear addict; I find them amusing and I curse like a pirate all the damn time. Hell, half the time, I don't even realize I'm swearing and I'll look up and see my aunt staring at me in shock or something. I like books that don't sugarcoat over the real shit. How many times have I read a YA book that says something like "And then she said the F-word" instead of just writing it? Too many times.

King of the Eyesores said... Reply

That's ridiculous! I mean, if the character is saying fuck 'off-stage' as it were, replacing the narrative with the 'f-word' doesn't make it any better . Everyone knows what the f-word is, and they're saying it in their heads at the very least. So why not just avoid all that and for Chrissake use it? Baffling.

I read a lot of swearing under one's breath too, but I usually let that one slide.

I love clever swears.

Chococomilk said... Reply

What she really means by "bad" is anything that causes conflict between characters and between the reader and the characters - and since conflict is what drives plot and every book in existence, I guess she ought to stay away from books!

It would be horrifically boring if books were only about sweetness and light and characters having perfect lives. Is there such a thing? Even the Bible is full of rape and murder and doomsday events.

Moonafleet said... Reply

Though I agree that anything without the "bad" stuff nowadays would be beyond dull for my reading tastes, the only books I can think of that might have satisfied her fear of the "bad" would be the classic writers. Jane Austen, for instance, didn't exactly sprinkle Pride and Prejudice with F-bombs and sex. I love Austen, though definitely not for the lack of those things. It didn't need them. In fact, it would have been inappropriate (and not just because the time period would have literally exploded if she'd somehow published such material). There's still plenty of tension in those books (in my opinion), and I'm sure even the most strict of people could find something "bad" in them (a woman speaking her mind? How scandalous...). But I do agree that in modern writing, if someone isn't being realistic with their adult novels, they're not being the writer they should be. Oh, and they'd be boring. That's sort of a worse crime than just being afraid to write it in the first place.

So I guess the point of this comment was to give an idea of what might have been an "appropriate" response to what she wanted (though just saying there aren't any might have been better for her...). I still agree with you on the whole needing "bad" stuff in books, though. I prefer them that way. Which is why I look forward to Boot Hill with a ridiculous amount of excitement. <3

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