Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sometimes, You Can't Win for Trying

Shannon Hale has a post up about her book, Austenland:

"And on the other hand, I've come under criticism from some for writing a "vulgar" and "trashy" book. This absolutely astounds me. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for every reader having that individual reading experience, for their experience to be much different than mine. I'm just so surprised by it! If it were a movie, I feel pretty confident it'd be rated PG. When I was writing austenland, I thought, "People like me who enjoy romance but don't like to read the smutty stuff will dig this book! It's so fun and clean and yet still sexy!" And then come the accusations of vulgarity. sigh You really, really can't anticipate how people will respond."

It's also well worth it to review the comments for the post, as people respond to this (and other things mentioned in the post.)

I'm intrigued because Hale set out to write a "clean" book. (A term I use reluctantly because I don't agree that sex in a book makes it "dirty", yet it is a term that is used so frequently that I don't have much of a choice.) I didn't get into this aspect in my review, and I have since lent my copy out, but my recollection of the book is that Hale did a great job of being vague about the s.e.x, to the point that it was entirely possible for the reader to think that the main character was still a virgin. Oh, there were boyfriends and kissage and making out; but no s.e.x. Yet, apparently, just the multiple boyfriends (um, not all at the same time!) and the kissing/ making out (all very PG, as Hale says) was enough for people to say "no go." (Actually, vulgar and trashy.)

The point? For some people, even dating and kissing and trying to figure out "do I like guy y or guy x" is going to render a book "not clean." It can be very difficult to match the book to a reader, either as an author or as someone doing reader's advisory (whether the person doing RA is a librarian, parent, teacher, or blogger.) It's yet another reason I try to stay away from the term "clean" and instead ask, what it is the reader wants and is comfortable with reading. Matching up books and readers is an art, not a science; and not everyone shares the same standards, the same criteria, or even the same definition of what a term means.


Laini Taylor said...

Whatever! I love me some good smooches in a book. I don't need details of s.e.x. (nor do I mind them, if they're well-written) but a little spice? Yeah! My next book (or next-next), Goblin Fruit, is about kissing. Who doesn't love kissing?

Haven't read Austenland yet, but I can't wait!

Oh, and I lied about Truly Madly Deeply -- I'd asked Jim to put it on the Netflix queue, but he later told me it is NOT OUT ON DVD!! What??? So we'll have to go to the [gasp!] video store for it! How very 2003!! (ha ha)

Jim Di Bartolo said...

Dear Ms. Burns,

I come to your blog for clean content and today I not only see the word "kiss" mentioned, but I see that you've decided to be completely unladylike and mention what I will only refer to as "the 's' word." Good Lord!

Forever offendedly yours,

Camille said...

Amazing. What some people get upset about...whoo boy.
I got a huge kick out of Austenland as a fun and entertaining read that I would be "comfortable" sharing with my mother. I really like the term "comfortable" instead of "clean" because it does very from person to person, thank goodness.

Anonymous said...

I've come to the conclusion that there are some folks who will be offended no matter what you write as long as it doesn't completely and utterly suit them---even if it's clear from the book cover/jacket that it won't suit them and that thus perhaps they shouldn't read it. (My favorite example of this recently was a book with "erotic" in the subtitle that was trashed on amazon by a couple of people for---gasp!---having SEX in it! What on earth did they think erotic MEANT?)