The Trouble with Older Books

February 13, 2013

I’m reading an older book by Rachel Gibson. She is a must-read for me, and how I missed this one, I’ll never know. I’m especially excited, because this older book jumps i the basis for her more recent books. I like the familiarity involve in reading series. (But that’s another post.)

As I’m reading this older book, I’m neither loving it nor hating it. I’m reading it, absorbing it, enjoying parts of it, skimming other parts. That’s the way I read EVERYTHING except a chapter I’m editing, revising or critiquing, or a book that manages to knock me out and earn a five-star rating. But last night, as I was really thinking about the pages I’d just read I realized this book might not “fly” today, at least not with reviewers and other writers. The heroine keeps a big secret from the hero, and it drags into critical parts of the book. I can just hear the outrage on Goodreads. Worse, there’s a word used by a teenage boy to convey to his mother something’s not cool. Today, in a cultural increasingly aware of the hurt caused by homophobic word choices, that word sounds like acrylic nails on a chalkboard, especially when the mother doesn’t even flinch.

I should say I’m not the most politically correct person. I certainly didn’t put the book down when I read the word, but I did wonder why the editors didn’t change it. It wouldn’t have hurt the story in the least. The word wasn’t making a statement or being used as a definitive descriptor of a character’s personality. I suspect it was tossed in there much like it was being tossed around by society at the time the book was written.

Maybe I’m wrong. (It happens quite a bit.) Maybe I’m describing a type of censorship, and I’m not onboard with that either. Maybe I’m just worrying about what I’m writing now and how it might be construed (or misconstrued) in the future. These words live on…especially in the age of the Internet.

It’s something to think about.

Elley

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2 Responses to “The Trouble with Older Books”


  1. I remember not long ago when publishers tried to go in and change “not PC” terms in releases of old books, and everybody screamed, especially for classics like “Tom Sawyer”. I have to say I agree. I flinch when I read certain terms used in, say, a book from the 1920s, but I believe that it’s a part of cultural history and should not be swept under the rug or corrected a la the Ministry in “1984”. I believe changing books like that is not much different from burning them. To read how we spoke only a hundred years ago, the casual cruelty of it, is to realize how far we’ve come. I just finished writing a novel based in 1965, and I think it’s good for my granddaughter to see what life was like for us and why we fought to change it.

    • Elley Says:

      I completely agree. I guess the line blurred for me because it’s a contemporary romance still be sold as a contemporary romance. There was one instance of the questionable word by a secondary character. It wasn’t a major part of the character’s personality or the storyline otherwise. It was a flippant expression. And therefore, I wondered. 🙂 Honestly, if I were the author, I’d request the word be changed in copies being sold/marketed today. But I’m not, and I don’t have a problem with this author not doing so either. It’s just a topic of discussion, and a touchy one, because where do you draw the line? I would never advocate changing mass quantities of books for polical correctness. Ugh! That would be a nightmare.

      Thanks for another insightful comment, Eugenia! 🙂

      Elley

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