Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Sunday Salon -- Read and Let Read

I am against banning books. And what I mean by that is that I'm against anyone telling someone else (except for in the case of parents using some discernment about what is age appropriate for their children) what they can and cannot read. I am against books being kept from library shelves, available in stores, etc. for those sorts of reasons. (as opposed to sales, etc.)

Having said that, I really think people have a right to determine what they personally choose to read. So for example, while I know many of you avoid reading Christian fiction, and I wish sometimes more people would give some of the books a try, I respect that it's your decision. On the flip side of that, I think if someone doesn't want to read a book with explicit sex or a lot of foul language, that is their personal decision to make. What does it have to do with you?

A lot of people who don't want to read books with explicit sex or foul language often refer to these books as clean. Meaning...they are clean of explicit sex or foul language. Those things aren't present in the book. However, by describing the books as such it seems that people who don't mind or even notice those things in books feel as if it's being implied that other books are dirty or they are dirty for reading them.

This is the burden of language. We each carry our own histories and experiences into its usage, which can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt. do you feel about this? If someone says they want to read a clean book, do you feel like you are being judged for reading books that would not be described that way in the conventionally understood sense? Do you think they are calling other books dirty? Is there a word that they could use that work better for you?

For the record, I do notice these things in books, as it is pointed out in every one of my reviews. I've seen discussion on other blogs where people feel this kind of thing is unnecessary for adults, but I feel like I'm providing a service to readers who choose not to read books with certain elements. I think you can observe that it does not affect my overall rating of the book. I love that this is something bloggers can do for their readers and quite honestly, I think it's healthier overall for reading experimentation because if you pick up one too many books with something that offends you, how likely are you to stray from what is trusted in the future?

I think what's most important to keep in mind is that we have the freedom to choose what we want to read. I think freedom feels so fragile to us sometimes, when we see someone choose a different path from ourselves, we fear we will lose our own freedom. I, for one, am going to keep trying to voice the right of everyone to read and not read what they want.



Dreamybee said...

I hadn't ever really thought too much about this. There is a video rental store up the road that rents "clean" movies, but that means they offer cleaned-up versions of PG-13 and R-rated movies, so I never really thought of it as clean movies vs. dirty movies. I could see how it could be offensive though, if you recommended a book to someone and she said she wouldn't read it because it isn't clean. Maybe instead of clean, they could be called G&P books-books that you wouldn't be ashamed to read in front of your Grandmother or your Pastor. ;)

People have a right to read or not read whatever they want to, but I do agree that that goes both ways. Just because I find something offensive doesn't mean that nobody else should read it.

Ana S. said...

Hmm...I guess that at first glance the word "clean" would give me that impression, but if someone told me they didn't mean to imply everything else was "dirty" I would of course believe them - which is what you've just done, so yeah :P

And yes, read and let read is very much my philosophy. People are entitled to their choices, and as long as we all respect one another it's all good.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I suppose I would be guilty of using the term "clean" with regards to books, but only ones intended for kids. (It is amazing how many children's books have inappropriate language!) Me? Nothing offends me. If someone walked right up to me, stuck their finger in my face and accused me of being a lover of raunchy or rude books, I'd say "yeah, so shoot me". In my reviews of adult books, I will mention if it has gratuitous violence, language or sex, because it does matter to some people. And that's OK! If I feel that a perfectly good story has been jammed full of needless trash, and it didn't add to the plot, then the rating will be lowered accordingly.

I do tend to be a little internally snobbish about hokey best-sellers. I try not to voice my views, though, because in the end, if someone is reading, that's a good thing!

Beth F said...

I'm in the read and let read camp too. I don't mention the sex and language in my reviews because I never think of it. And I don't want to judge for others -- because we all have our own levels.

Example: I'm having fun reading The Luxe series. I passed the first two books along to my niece (14 years old, just about to start 9th grade). She loved them too. Then I started reading on other blogs that they'd *never* let their daughters read the books because they thought there was just way too much sex in them.

Hummmm, I thought to myself. Sure sex played a part, but these are YA novels, not old-fashioned, detailed bodice-rippers. My niece is going to be high school for goodness sake, I don't see the problem at all.

So the deal is this: What one person sees as "dirty" another sees as "clean." That's why I don't mention sex or language in my reviews.

Only once did sex play a part in my reviews, and that's because it was a factor in a DNF.

I'm not sure I addressed your question, but thanks for letting me comment!

Violet said...

I really don't feel offended if someone says they want to read a clean book unless they tell me directly that I'm reading something cheap.

I don't feel the need to mention that the book has explicit scenes if its a romance book. But if it's not I try and remember to mention it for my readers. But most often I forget.

Unknown said...

I know exactly what you mean and feel that having the ability to chose is very important.

I don't like violence on TV, but that doesn't mean I hate everyone who is able to sit through the fight scenes.

Pam said...

I agree wholeheartedly that books should not be banned. I believe in our right to freedom of expression and although there are many books I choose not to read whether it be because of my different belief systems or I don't like the story or I am offended by the book's premise, I don't think I have the right to tell someone else they can't read it. I don't think of books as "clean" or "dirty" and don't feel judged because many of the books I read and enjoy would be considered "dirty" because there is often foul language, etc. in them.

RAnn said...

I'm a blogger who reads bodice-ripper romances and Christian fiction. While I read plenty of both, I know that often they have separate audiences; therefore I try to point out the level of possible offensiveness. Regarding Christian fiction I indicate the part religion plays in the book and whether, realistically, someone idifferent or hostile towards religion could enjoy the book. With any book that includes sexual activity, I try to indicate the level. Does the door close on the newlywed couple? Do we get vivid descriptions of what the bed hoppers do to each other and the responses thereto? I don't classify the sex as "dirty" I only describe it enough so that you can decide if it is beyond a level with which you are comfortable.

Serena said...

I don't give too much thought to the reverse connotation of people calling certain books "clean." Perhaps because I know what they mean.

I agree that being able to notice these elements and pointing them out to readers of my reviews is necessary because some people are more sensitive/aware of profanity and sexual content and prefer not to read books with those elements. While I may love a book with some of these elements, I feel obligated to warn those readers interested in "clean" books, though I will preface any of those comments about profanity and sexual content with an opinion about whether it is necessary to the plot or characterization, as opposed to just being in the novel for the sake of being put in.

I hope that makes sense. Great question Amy!

robsad79 said...

I'm against book banning and definitely agree with what you are saying. I have friends who are against certain books and they don't let their kids read them. But as long as they don't tell me I'm reading something against their religion or whatever. I respect their decision.

Molly said...

Great post (as usual), Amy!

Personally, I like to know ahead of time if the book is riddled with foul language and explicit sex. I don't necessarily discount reading the book because of it, but I like to be forewarned. I have a friend who just returned a "popular" book the other day because she felt it was too vulgar.

I completely agree that adults should be free to read what they want and no book should be banned. Parents should also have the right to supervise what they deem appropriate literature for their children (and I suppose that would even include the parent who forbade her son to read Of Mice and Men because of the language. She sent every parent in the class a 3 page document with every cuss word listed in the book. Ridiculous in my estimation and she totally missed the point of the book, but that was her perrogative as a parent. It was also my perrogative to throw her letter away and allow my daughter to read a classic American tale).

christina said...

Good question here, and up until this point I never really would consider the "opposite" of clean being dirty in the book world. I don't know if it's because I've grown accustomed to that phrase being used in the education circuit for young adult based books that has made me rather numb to the possible negative connotations or not.

I think most book bloggers are "read what you will" advocates. I respect others choices and don't get offended easily. Heck, if someone told me that the book I read was trash depending on my mood I'd either roll my eyes, laugh and agree or just ignore the comment. (And come to think of it, with this ramblings, I guess "trash" would be the better opposite of "clean" in the book world, maybe?)

I don't read Christian fiction because I'm not a religious person, but do not condemn those who do or think that they are "fuddy duddy's". In fact, I finished reading the Actor and the Housewife in July and absolutely loved it. While looking for reviews/links I was surprised to see that it was categorized as Christian lit. I admit with my own speculations about that genre if I had seen that first, I might not have picked up the book. Funny, huh?

I don't usually comment on the sex scenes in books unless there is something that stands out (Like the time I was listening to Mercy on audio at the gym and amongst everyone working out I hear poorly written foreplay. I had to stop. Really.)

Anonymous said...


Inherent in the idea of not banning books — all books are available to be read by whoever wants to — is the idea that individual readers can choose what they want to read and not read. If we start questioning the reading choices of another individual (even if that questioning takes the form of wondering why someone limits the books they read by x factor), we ourselves have taken a step down that slippery slope to book banning.

J.T. Oldfield said...

This is a terrific post, Amy! It's all about personal taste. Some people like to read fantasy, some people don't. Some people like to read Romance, some people don't. Some people like to infitum. I see no reason that people should be judged for that. Just because I don't read a lot of something doesn't mean that other people shouldn't have the opportunity to read it.

Having said that, I don't usually point out things like language or sex in books (though I do sometimes point out violence) because I tend not to notice it. That's just me.

Literate Housewife said...

This is a really good topic. I just posted about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week and mentioned the language, violence and sex because - as much as I loved the novel - the very heart of it deals with dark subject matter. I loved it. I know that I have readers, however, who might not. Should I do that? I don't know. If it occurs to me to say something about it while I'm writing the review, I will. In that way, I let my conscience be my guide. I don't mind if other reviewers do not.

I suppose there are times when people say things like, "I would never read a book like that," that I feel as though I'm being judged because I do. It's okay, though. I am my own reader. I don't have to answer to anyone for the types of books I like to read. On top of the clean/dirty judgement, there is also the high literature vs. anything that is not deemed to be high literature. I fall short there, too. LOL!

So, I'm with you. Let's read and let read - and be thankful that there are books out there for everyone's taste.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

Great discussion, Amy! I tend to not really notice language and sex in books unless their use seems unnecessary/out of line with the story/gratuitous/just for shock value. They don't offend me, and as long as it seems that the author has a purpose for including them, I'm fine with it.

But I know that some people aren't, and that's fine, too. I don't feel like people asking for "clean" books necessarily implies that other books are "dirty." In my experience, it's the way people make those statements, not the fact that they are making them, that sometimes implies judgment.

bookmagic said...

Timely post for me as I just put down a book because I felt that the sex scenes were just too detailed. I probably felt more uncomfortable than I normally would because they take place between two boys, aged 10 and 12. I don't think it was necessary for the story unless the point is to make to reader uncomfortable. If I finish and review the book, I will certainly give warning about those scenes.
I think one of the problems with labeling books as Christain fiction is that those of us who aren't religious, feel that we wil be preached to by the writer.

Literary Feline said...

I think banning books in general is a completely separate issue from an individual choosing what to read. We all have preferences and varying tastes in books. And there is nothing wrong with that. I get grumpy when I see people judging others because of their book choices.

I don't think I judge someone who prefers to read just clean books. Nor do I feel judged when someone makes a comment like that. I understand what the person means. :-) Like you said, it is that person's choice and I don't feel it is my place to tell someone what she or her can or cannot read (except when I'm making recommendations, of course--but whether the person reads the book is totally optional).

I really like that you offer "warnings" (for lack of a better word) about what readers might find offensive in a book. I've considered doing it myself. But as Beth mentioned I often don't think of it in the moment--or even notice as has happened to me numerous times in the case of foul language. Too, we all have different tolerance levels for violence, sex and language in books. Being that I have a high tolerance to some extent, I am not sure I would be the best person to know when to offer up a warning. I will mention it in my review if I notice it, but more often than not, it doesn't register on my warning scale. When it gets right down to it, I think a reviewer/blogger has to decide for him or herself what he or she wants to disclose, if anything. I won't dictate how another person blogs just as I won't tell that person what he or she should read.

I know not everyone is comfortable doing so, but it never hurts to ask the reviewer (either by private e-mail or comment) if a book has too much of this or that, or what the level is. I promise I won't judge you--if anything, I'll probably be glad you took the time to ask. When I know a person's individual tastes well enough, I have occasionally made a point of telling her or him they might want to steer clear for this or that reason without the person asking.

Lisa said...

I don't know that I think of books that have some "bad" language, violence or sex in them as "dirty." I know that there are a lot of people that don't like that sort of thing in their books and I certainly understand why. I'm not necessarily opposed to any of it, but it often seems to be gratuitous, just as it so often is in the movies. I haven't thought to note this kind of thing in reviews, but it is a good idea--just to offer a heads up to people that would be made uncomfortable.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Great article!
I agree that everyone should feel free to read what they want to. I don't take offense if someone suggests that what I read isn't "clean". I understand a different point of view and I think we can respect it! Also, not everyone is comfortable with a same "level" of language or violence or sex. Some like to read "completely clean" books while other don't mind a few words here and there. I consider myself to be "in the middle" on the issue, but I could understand why some people would go on an extreme or the other.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I hate books with scary stories and mean characters and cruel talk, but sometimes they are so true that I must read them. The Things They Carried is one book I hated and loved.

melissa @ 1lbr said...

I am one who likes to stick with "clean"er books. I don't usually think of books that I wouldn't consider "clean" as "filthy," but I can see how some might. Personally, I don't call stuff "clean" unless someone asks specifically about content. But, I do have content ratings for each of my reviews. That is something I know some people are concerned about. And because I read a lot of YA and Middle Grade stuff, it may also be useful for parents who want to know what their kids are reading.

As a librarian, I also agree in allowing everyone to read what they want to - the freedom to read. Great and thoughtful post!

Memory said...

I think the issue of "clean" books affected me more when I was younger than it does now. The idea that some books were "clean" or "wholesome" often seemed designed to imply that other books - mainly the ones I myself was reading - were "dirty" or "unwholesome." Now that I'm older and have complete control over what I read, it doesn't irk me nearly as much. I understand, too, that some people simply aren't comfortable reading books that deal with particular themes or contain certain elements. When I review a book, I don't go out of my way to highlight things like foul language or sexual content, but I will sometimes mention them if I think they have the potential to disturb some readers.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I agree: I don't think books should be banned. I do think that parents have the right to make decisions regarding appropriate books for their children. Not every book is appropriate for every person/child at every age.

We had an incident in our city library last year with a big hubbub about the Joy of Gay Sex, and someone who wanted it out of the library. I think the final determination was that the book would be put behind the counter and whomever requested it, would have to ask for it. Then there were people who didn't like that solution either. I certainly wouldn't want my 8 or 11 year old finding that book sitting on a table, and it wouldn't bother me if the book was removed completely. But I also respect that some people want to read it, and it is a public library. I don't think it was a book that should be available to all ages though, so I was personally fine with the library's decision.

My personal preference is that I don't like reading books that are full of gratuitous sex or profanity, or graphic descriptions of death and crime. Others don't mind it and it would never occur to me to judge them on that fact. I try and indicate if those things are present in my reviews and I certainly appreciate it when others do.

When I receive a request to review a book, I will often ask what the level of sex and profanity it has, and I've turned down books because of the response. I've never had an author or publicist criticize me for doing that. In fact, I had one publicist who specifically emailed me about a different book because he knew the subject matter would appeal to me more than the previous one he'd offered me. I appreciate that.

I had turned down the opportunity to review a particular book and then after seeing all these reviews about it, began second-guessing my decision. When I said as much on a comment to Dar at Peeking Between the Pages, she emailed me with a sweet response detailing a bit more about the book and that, knowing my preferences as she did, it was probably a good thing I hadn't reviewed it. I appreciated her thoughtfulness so much.

Great thoughts from everyone.

Jen said...

I'm definitely anti-book banning. As far as warnings go, I like that you put them on there, but for the opposite reasons. I enjoy a good sex scene every once in awhile so I tend to add the books that you warn others about to my to be read pile. ;)

Amee said...

I think it's interesting how you say people who read books that aren't labeled as "clean" may feel bad or like they're reading "dirty" books. In my experience the opposite is true. People often make fun of me for reading Christian fiction because it is considered "clean" and devoid of sex so I must be weird and nun-like or something. I've truly never thought of it from your perspective. I still find it hard to think that one person labeling a book clean would make another feel like they are reading a dirty book. Very interesting to think about though!

Marie Cloutier said...

You say dirty like it's a bad thing. :-)

Seriously, I don't care what anyone thinks about what I read, and I don't feel ashamed of it just because someone else says they read "clean" books. We all have our own tastes and thankfully we have the freedom to read what we want.

J.C. Montgomery said...

As you note, there are obvious ways to ban and/or censor books, and more subtle ones.

I am always torn in revealing in my reviews, either through an advisory or passing mention, whether or not the content of the book may offend some readers. I find it so subjective that I've recently decided to stop doing it unless it is excessive or gratuitous.

Even then, what I may deem as excessive may not be to someone else. To others, to have anything of that sort is not what they want to read.

I like when you say everyone has the right to read, or *not* to read a book. So true, and well said.

The question now is, should I, and how do I, tell that person who may be interested in a book I've reviewed if there is questionable content?

Now you've got me thinking. Hmm. What to do, what to do.

Dani In NC said...

Since I read a sampling of the books that my kids check out, I end up reviewing middle school and YA books as well as books for adults. With the kids' books, I do mention if there is something in them that a parent might not want her kids to read. I'm not a prude in my own reading but I am when it comes to what I hand my kids, and I've been shocked by some of the stuff I've seen in YA books. I want to let my readers have some information so they know whether they want to buy a certain book for their 12-year-old or save it for the 16-year-old.

As for adult books, I can't imagine why anyone would be offended if you gave hints to how explicit the book is. Yes, I am an adult who can read anything she wants, but I am in the mood for certain styles at different times. Sometimes I want a nice clean happily-ever-after book, so I reach for a Christian romance. Other times I want something grittier. I like to know a little of what I'm getting before I start reading.

Linda said...

I believe parents have the exclusive right to decide what books their children read and that includes books in school libraries. Some of them should be bannned as inappropriate.
I like to be forewarned if a book is full of vulgar language and illicet sex. I don't like my ears burnt off with the language, and I think sex belongs in the loving relationship of a marriage between one man and one woman.
I prefer Christian books, as they leave you with hope, redemption and reconcilation.

Pam said...

Amy, this is great! I tend to buy, check-out, borrow books that I find interesting based on a recommendation or a review but those things tend to have very little to do with whether sex, violence or language are used or not used.
If they are used, they are the author's vehicle, if not, then that is also the case. I certainly understand why people would stray from or seek out more "colorful" writing but I don't think it's as impactful for me as the over all idea of the book.
I LOVE this: "This is the burden of language. We each carry our own histories and experiences into its usage, which can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt."
I am a total existentialist through and through. We really can only live through the lens of our own experiences and own passions, not those of others. thanks again for great questions!

Chrisbookarama said...

Well, the word 'clean' does set my teeth on edge, kind of like moist. I have images of someone following me around shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" while brandishing a toilet brush at me since I read scandalous stuff *ahem* Wideacre.

This is more of an issue for your blog since you read a mix and have a unique readership. For me not so much. I don't really pay attention to the warning on your posts but if it makes other people happy then by all means do it.

Debbie said...

Thanks for pointing out your post to me. I agree and think you said it better than I did. :)

Heidenkind said...

I personally would not be offended if someone described a book as clean. However, I would be offended if they described a book I was reading as "dirty." I don't think of obverse is necessarily implied in all cases--i.e., that if books without language or sex or violence in them are clean, then all other books are dirty. If that were the case, then the Bible is dirty! I do think that's where the idea of YA and middle-grade books started, though--as a non-offensive (to both parties) way to say these books don't have language or sex in them. Except now they kind of do....

susan said...

Hi Amy,

After reading your comment at Colleen's I came over to see if there was a reference. For what it is worth, until now, I hadn't seen this topic. Is this discussion related to what you said?

I think there is some misunderstanding. My point was about stereotypes about what readers read and not the genre. I hope I have cleared that up.

I never heard the term "clean" before I began reading blogs.

Kim L said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I personally don't care strongly one way or another about sex and language in a book, but I can understand how some would.

As far as judging other people who want to read "clean" books, I really think people can make their own choices in life. There are plenty of readers and bloggers who I don't share a similar reading taste with, and I probably won't be discussing books as much with them as I will with people that I do share tastes with.

Although thinking about the bloggers I know who tend to be more interested in reading clean books, I actually tend to really like their reviews because they are well thought out, and they have interesting things to say about books. So I guess really, it doesn't turn me off to a blog if the blogger is interested in "clean" reads and I don't care so much about my books being "clean". I'm interested in whether they have insightful things to say about what they read, one way or the other!

Unknown said...

To be honest, I don't care what people think of the books I'm reading. As long as I like them. And I don't worry about what others are reading. Life is about diversity. I actually find it interesting to talk to other book lovers, even if their book choices are not the same as mine. It doesn't matter what we label books, 'dirty' or 'clean' as long as we enjoy them. If people have nothing better to do than criticise other peoples choice of book, then I'd say they are pretty shallow and have too much time on their hands.

Another great though provoking post Amy!

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