Can We Tolerate Clean Reads?

I’ve been an active member of Goodreads for several years now. I find it helpful for tracking books and finding more books and talking books and meeting book reading book lovers. Recently as I indulged my love of book reviews (both there and on Amazon), I have begun to sense a trend which I hope gets swallowed up in some other better trend. Not a worse trend, oh dear heavens, we don’t need anymore of those! It’s as if these days some sort of Bulk Discount Bin of Worse Trends had been upended over the continental United States!

The scenario is this: a new book comes out, or people rediscover an older book. The author may be heavily involved promoting it. Readers are enjoying discussing it. Then someone asks, quite innocently, “Is the book clean?” The author herself, and several other people who suddenly revert to their Mr. Edward Hyde personas, jump all over the very idea. They make fun of the questioner’s ‘purity’, calling such questions sheer vanity, useless, censorship, outdated, outrageous, not worthy of a response, that entire family deserves horrible Medieval ends, and much, much worse.

What is the word for the overreaction of a system to an otherwise perfectly normal and harmless irritant? An allergy attack? Antihistamine overdrive? Anaphylactic shock? Aren’t we trying to cure that sort of thing?

Because the question, while vague, has its purposes. There are growing numbers of people who acknowledge that much of our mainstream culture is slithering happily into the sewers of the world, and they don’t want to go with it. They may want to shield children. They may have sensitive history that makes them want to avoid sexual assault scenes in their reading. They may want to read about real problem solving and hopeful perspectives rather than gratuitous violence and nihilism. And why not? If a history museum fan wants to read about history, why not? I could even argue, with a bad taste in my mouth, that if a reader of gore and mayhem wants that, they need to be able to make their choice. But I ask this: if the history fan starts talking history, that’s not nearly the issue of a gore fan wanting to talk gore. And believe me, they often do. It works into every conversation. Ever have someone who wouldn’t shut up about the ‘Saw’ movies while at a picnic? Yeah. So why interfere with someone who is looking for ‘clean reads’? What’s this about choice? What did you just say about tolerance? Ok then.

The term ‘clean reads’ is vague, yes. It means various levels of clean to various people. It might mean absolutely no reference to sexual scenes, or it may mean a fade-to-black kind of approach to sex scenes. It may allow for a few of the milder swear words, or it may not. It may want to avoid the everything-is-the-same-so-nothing-really-matters philosophy that infuses so much literature with a kind of pre-soviet psychological grooming that leads to State control of culture and thought. But is it so hard to just ask: “What do you mean by ‘clean’?”

Can we suspend rash judgement anymore? Can we ask for clarification? Can we discuss?

The defensive maneuvers of those who cry- or shriek- censorship reminds me of Shakespeare: “Methinks he doth protest too much”. Censorship? Where were the cries of censorship when the publishers demanded changes? Where were the cries of outdated when the book refers to older literature forms? Why this pretense at moral superiority while trying to skewer the morality of another? Hypocrite much?

Thankfully, when I see these attacks, I am also seeing more and more responses of other bystanders who step forward and defend the simple question. Most simply see clean choices as that- choices. We all must discriminate or we would be required by circumstances to read all books in the world. Really! Just think about it: you have no choice. You can not pick one book over another. You must read them ALL.

Or: you must read the ones we demand you read. You are especially not allowed to read those ones over there.

Both are pretty ridiculous. One has been attempted at various times throughout the history of the world. (Hint: it’s the second one)

Why does this mean anything to me? because I have my own set of standards (LIKE EVERY OTHER READER) and mine happen to lean towards ‘clean’. How I define it can shift as I change as a person, because no one is still reading the books they read in first grade, or college, and only those. We all change. Nevertheless, my tendency towards ‘clean’ has stayed roughly about the same. Why do I choose that? Here’s why:

  1. I’m so tired of the sex scenes. They feel like this: the author is getting off on their own writing, and making me a voyeur; the spread of pornography with its attendant addiction, abuse, and cultural decline means we should be preventing it, not spreading it like verbal plague; and after avearge sex scenes become inadequate for an author, their readers, or their publishers, just how far are we going to go into the mire for that next fleeting jaded arousal? Or is that just a repeat of the addiction argument?
  2. I’m tired of the gore. So much of it feels, well, canned. Like extra juicy spam. You open it, it slops out, and you say, “Oh, cool! Gimme more!” Like movies that have jettisoned story for CGI gimmicks, many books have lost story for the sake of look-at-my-anatomy-research. It falls in a camp very close to just plain look-at-my-anatomy.
  3. The despair and intensity have become comical. Intense story telling that grabs you with the first paragraph and then demands your attention is an insecure kind of verbal assault. Not only does it get far too manipulative, but it’s like the guy who grabs your shirt as you try to end a conversation and he gets so in your face that you feel his spit on your cheek. He’s like “You see?? You know what I mean? Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot!!” And you just want to go have a life with not-this-man in it. Or at least, let-him-keep-some-distance.
  4. I think we’ve lost something when we lose the setting and descriptive abilities of past generations of writers. Plot heavy is more an aesthetic taste, but it often comes entangled in gore and explicit scenes of all types because so many of our generation have grown up with TV…or less than TV…I’m looking at you, video games. What if I find your ability to describe a woman’s anatomy a misplaced description when I have vague ideas of your setting?

Admittedly, that last point is not so much a moral point but it is affected by the others. So while I avoid certain kinds of books, I know everyone else avoid other kinds. I know there are books I think everyone should read, but I’m not going to get their cooperation with social pressure that involves humiliation, threats, and grotesqueries of verbal outrage. That’s not how I operate, anyway.

When people yell “JUST READ THE %^&$ BOOK!!” I wonder if they would also scream at me to “Just eat the cowpie we pried up out of this farmyard tire rut!” Because not all reading is the same, not all books have the same value, and actually, yes, what I read really needs to be as clean as the food that goes into my body. It needs to be good and clean, as wholesome as possible, and something my mind can use to build good thinking skills, healthy mind sets, and a hopefully long life of happiness and appreciation of beauty.

That doesn’t mean we never use our writing skills to address dark issues within our human experience, no, of course not. We can write about anything and still retain our humanity. Otherwise we risk descending to the level of predators or pushers who demand government support for their attempts to groom others into their hideous world. No thanks.

Not all books are the same. I repeat that. We’re not talking binary data streams here, we are talking the thoughts that influence actions which shape the character that builds or destroys civilizations. Yeah, many of those thoughts come from books. Read a book and just try not to think about it. I dare ya!

Advertisements

Back Again

I don’t know what keeps happening. Perhaps I am repeatedly suffering from alien abduction and will one day realize the missing threads of time in my blog are evidence of extraterrestrial mind tampering. Perhaps I am simply juggling children, life, school, and now work, and so my blog suffers. These lapses in my blogging are, in fact, more probably a sign of a woman neglecting those things that matter ‘only to herself’ in favor of the many demands of others around her. This has to be done, sometimes. And sometimes I can turn my attention to such things as matter only to me, but which matter rather a great deal.

And so I am returned, mind less tampered with than initially suspected, and with a deeper sense of what I want- for myself- in this life. Clothing that fits, a good cup of herbal tea, playing my music out loud, a big fat biography about a favorite author…a place to write some of my thoughts. I have most of those. That’s pretty good.

Merry Christmas

I had an entire post about purity of language and old literature. There were pictures, quotes, and calm, kind explanation. Now it is gone. I couldn’t undo whatever happened. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I don’t even know what button I bumped. I want to steam up and maybe break something, something cheap. Or burn something, something small. But Christmas is in a few days. This is a big deal. I want that joy. I want to relax. I want to feel the eternal, unconditional love that is continually pouring out over me. I want popcorn and old movies, even if we still have one more day of school. I want to move on.

So I’m going to go break a few eggs and make a luscious breakfast, and burn the wicks of some lovely candles. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. May you feel God’s love in your life, because it is always there, and we often are distracted by stupid computer glitches and unimportant stuff like that. We think we know so much. But then it can be gone in a moment. What I do with the next moment is all I have to work with, so I want to make it good. Besides, with all the stuff I’ve forgotten, losing one little post hardly registers on the scale of Lost Things in my Head.

So here we go:

And a snow covered scene:

And a cup of tea:

(I suppose at this point I have to acknowledge that none of these images are mine.)

There are limits, and then there are limits

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a single chance to post on here. I have barely had a chance to consider what I would like to post on here. I have written no letters, watched little TV, listened to few things, risen early, multi-tasked for hours, made lists, plowed through the things on the lists, forgotten a few details from the lists, making bread for a friend, done laundry, paid bills, and begun to feel vaguely irritable. My phone rang at least two dozen times yesterday, and I received several emails that were school oriented. So I had a multitude of phone calls to make regarding church and emails to reply to and papers to sign and forms to fill out. There’s a surprise school meeting Thursday. Did I mention the growing irritability that made me wonder how some men are able to sock a hole in a wall? I was feeling jealous, on top of the rest.

So today I rose early yet again, and crossed off several things on my list that needed done. Phone calls, emails, and mailing a package. I told myself I would take care of only so many more chores today and then I would power down and idle my mind in warm and gentle places. Let my body rest. Soothe myself. Scritch some ink and pen across paper.

Except while I was watching my daughter shoot arrows for archery practice, there was one moment where neither of us happened to see where the arrow went. I thought I saw its general trajectory. Well, after nearly an hour of searching this morning and with plans for more searches this afternoon, I doubt every thought I ever had about this arrow. Except maybe the thought that I might like finding it if it spontaneously combusted and so showed where it had landed.

My daughter only has two arrows. She now only has one.

So I am trying to look at this in a good light: getting lots of fresh air. The weather is mild. It’s only an arrow. We are tested with the unexpected, and can plumb our depths in dealing with such things. We get to pray over an arrow.

Nevermind that the yard is about half an acre with red and yellow leaves all over it, the same colors as the fletching of the arrow. Nevermind the ache in my arms from raking. Or that my daughter tried using a magnet on a string to find the metal tip of the arrow…and now the magnet is lost in the yard. It’s actually kind of cute, that part, really. I was just hoping to power down this afternoon. Shes been sick lately so I didn’t let her stay out too terribly long. And she still has some classes to do.

This stuff happens. I’m dealing with it pretty well. I’m too old to lose a lot of energy and make myself sick over it. It will turn up, or it won’t. I will go out for one more hour, rake and search, and then come in for tea and an episode of some old TV show. Supper will be left overs. Errands tonight will now be the absolute minimal. Because of an arrow? Because I’m tired? Because the week is getting to me? Because I am trying to learn to NOT get myself painted into a corner? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I’m going to adopt a little zen to help me get through, some Christian peace and hope.

I will end with a quote I read today, because I managed to get in twenty minutes of reading today, that’s all…but maybe it was just enough:

“It’s too early to despair. For despair,” he said vigorously, “it is always too early. Remember that, and keep up your heart.”

-from Ellis Peters’ 7th Chronicle of Brother Cafael, The Sanctuary Sparrow.