Friday, November 20, 2009

Profanity, dammit!

Okay, one last post on this topic, because Lisa and Laura are still talking about profanity in YA. I don't write YA, but I'm curious... would you keep a book out of your children's/teenagers' hands (if you could) based on profanity alone? What other content (sex and violence are the most obvious ones) would cause you to try to keep a book away from your own children, and at what age do you let go and trust them to read what they want? Are there any books you've read that you liked as an adult but hesitate to pass on to others (children or adults) because of subject matter or language?

Do you remember your first "adult" book or book with "adult" themes? What was it? (No, I'm not talking about porn. Don't share that.)

And, can you recommend a book you've read that deals with delicate/sensitive/hot content in a superior manner? As one of the agent blogs said: no one would have ever thought that you could write a heartwarming story from the perspective of a young girl who had been brutally raped, murdered, and dismembered... until Alice Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones.

ETA: I'm loving the Sesquipedalian's Curse-O-Meter...


  1. That curse-o-meter is genius! Love it. Thanks for the shout out. This is certainly a fascinating discussion. I had no idea people were so opposed to a couple of f-bombs. Who knew?

  2. I don't have kids, so I'm probably the wrong person to answer this, but I can recall when National Lampoon's European Vacation came out in the movie theaters when I was a kid. It was rated "R" and there was debate about whether we would be allowed to watch. The original was one of those movies we watched all the time, so I complained that it wasn't like we were going to hear anything worse than we would in the car with my father at the wheel. It was one of those remarks that went down in family history. It was also entirely true, but I realize not all families are like this. My sister did have a friend who was banned from coming over our house after she reported that my father had used some sort of profanity while she was there. By the way my parents did end up letting us see European Vacation.

    There was a kid's picture book I liked as a kid called Millions of Cats. I went back and read it as an adult and was shocked. Basically there are all these cats, but there's an older couple who can only take in one cat, then the cats get into a big fight and kill each other until there is only one little cat left and he gets adopted. It's insanely violent. I read this book to death as a kid, and yet somehow turned out a reasonably well-adjusted grown-up.

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed the curse-o-meter, ladies. I enjoyed constructing it. Thanks for posting the link, Carrie!

    As for the discussion, I don't recall ever keeping a book out of my children's hands based solely on the presence of some profanity. I was more apt to keep an eye out for sex and violence. Once my older two became teenagers, however, I largely kept a hands-off attitude towards their reading and trusted them to be able to select their own materials. I don't believe in trying to insulate them forever.

    I think one of the first books I remember reading with a very adult theme was a book about a girl who worked as a prostitute to support herself and her younger sister. I don't remember the name, but I remember hiding it from my mother so she wouldn't catch me reading it.

  4. I don't mind profanity. What I do mind is gratuitous f-bombs being dropped for no reason. It takes away from the sentence, and steals from the power the word could have had a later use.

    "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was my first "all grownsup's" book. And to this day, I remember it with with the fondness of my first kiss, or my first romp in the sack. However, unlike the later two, I was able to go back and re-read the book much better than the first time.

  5. When I was about 14 I read A Flag Full of Stars (1964) by Don Robertson. Don't really remember much about the book except it had some sex scenes and some profanity that I kept going back to because I was so fascinated by it. Probably very mild by today's standards.

    One of the best current authors in my opinion is Cormac McCarthy. He writes about some very dark subject matter in a very literary style and I don't recall ever seeing any profanity in his work. THE ROAD deals with an apocalyptic world with cannibalism and murder, but at times in a very touching and heart-breaking manner.
    Or try his earlier book OUTER DARK which deals with brother-sister incest, infanticide, and characters straight out of DELIVERANCE. No profanity that I can recall, but masterful writing and storytelling with realistic dialogue.

    A good writer should be able to create the effect of profanity thru creative use of language and if profanity must be used it should be sparingly for impact.

  6. My mom used to read Stephen King to us on road trips when I was ten years old. I'm not TOO damaged, lol.

    When I taught middle school, I didn't completely avoid books that had swear words in them, it just depended on the context. There are times when it's appropriate to use those words and times when it's just gratuitious. I sort of use PG movies as my guideline.

  7. The overall content is what I will base my decisions on. Sex, violence, profanity all play a role. I want to encourage my kids to fill their minds with the all things lovely and praiseworthy, not to dwell down in the dregs. Difficult subject matter can be full of a dark reality and there are many books of this nature that teach and inspire one to live a better life, but they do it in a way that doen't soil the spirit. These are the books I want my children to seek out. Of course I believe that all authors have a right to put what they like in their books - they just need to understand that they may receive ridicule because of it. They will also receive praise for their choices. You can't please everyone.

    Sorry didn't mean to write a novel.

  8. My parents were fairly laid back about what I read/watched, and while I don't have kids, I imagine I'll be the same way. Swearing was not allowed in our house, but my parents didn't go nuts about it either (they just explained it was offensive to some people and so it was considerate not to use swear words in general), so it just never seemed like a big deal to me.

    My first book with "adult" themes was "Go Ask Alice." My parents had no idea I was reading it. I was probably nine years old, and found it on the shelves at my grandparents' house. As long as I was quiet, my grandparents didn't pay much attention to what I was reading. I remember being wholly shocked by that book (about a teen drug addict). It wasn't like anything I had ever read. I didn't tell anyone about it for a long time.

    The other one that comes to mind is Judy Blume's "Forever." That book got passed around by all the girls in my fifth grade class. I remember my mother asking me what it was, and when I told her it was Judy Blume she was satisfied...until I started asking her about some of the passages that confused me. Then she was a little concerned, but I think figured she'd better just let me finish it. Though if I remember accurately, she then immediately read it herself.

    Finally, I started reading Danielle Steele books borrowed from the library around age twelve. Again, my mom found one one day and asked me about it...and then she just rolled her eyes and told me that I should remember that the characters in the book were not like people in real life.

    Alissa, I totally remember Millions of Cats!!!! And now I need to find it again because I don't think I appreciated precisely what it was about when I was a kid either. Sheesh.

  9. Have you ever read the Clan of the Cave Bear books? My mom read the first and passed it on to me but refused the rest because of to much sex. So naturally when I found it in the high school library I had to finish it. I really didn't think they were that much worse then the first one and if I were her just kept the whole series out of my hands, because it peaked my curiosity but it also made me feel like I couldn't ask her anything after I had read them.

    Being me, not her, I would let my (hypothetical) kid read those books, and any other books they wanted, but I would make sure to talk to them about mature content.

  10. I can see both sides of this argument for sure. I think if in real life a character would curse, then they should--as long as it's not constant and just for the sake of cursing.

    My first "adult themed" book I read was VC Andrews' Flowers in the Attic series when I was 14. I distinctly remember that the first sex scene was in the second book Petals on the Wind--so it had impact on me for sure. But it didn't scar me or anything--I turned out to be a good girl in high school, lol. I also moved on to Stephen King which had a little bit of all the bad stuff, so I dunno.

    My kiddo is only two so I haven't had to worry about this yet. And the YA I wrote has some mild cursing and sexual situations, though no sex. I think the important thing is to know what your kids are reading and then discuss things with them openly so that you can frame it for them and talk about the bigger picture and your values about such things.

  11. Profanity to me doesn't matter. Partially because I'm one of those that swears like a sailor in the car.

    After watching "Grease" my ten year old shocked my mother-in-law by asking for clarification on the term knocked up. Which led to the "talk".

    As long as it's age appropriate they may read it or watch it. That means mommy has to read it and watch it with them. But everything is open for discussion.

  12. I think that if parents are doing their job raising kids with values and morals, then the children will know what to do when they end up reading that profanity.

    My first adult content book was probably a reference to a sexual encounter that occurred in a book titled "Magic the Gather: Arena" by William R. Forstchen

    The good thing was, the author eluded to the event rather than going into detail. I felt the surge of hormones rise up in just enough to let my imagination take charge, but then I went back to the story and it picked back up to the plot. It was very nicely done.

  13. I have two boys so I have thought a lot about what I am prepared to let them read as they grow up. I guess my answer is that I am prepared to let them read almost anything. F-bombs do not scare me. Sex and violence included for the purpose of telling the story also do not put me off. I think I will just want to be aware of what they are reading and try and make sure the channels of communication are opened for us to discuss difficult issues that may arise. I think once they are in their teen years I will be relying on the fact that they already know they can talk to their father or I about anything and maybe some of those more 'taboo' books will raise some great conversations. Until their teen years I will want to stay more closely connected with what they are reading. I read a wide variety of YA and chidren's books so I know most of what is out there. If I was really unsure about a book I might suggest we read it together (if they are still in their early years- preteens)

    The world does not frighten me. I want my boys to be prepared to deal with the realities of life. And some of those realities are dark and bleak. I can think of few better ways to encounter some of those then in the safety of a book. I am open to the discussion the book my raise.

    You can't protect children from life. You have to stand beside them, give them the tools to face it and then be open to their choices and the questions that are raised. I will be beside them to guide and discuss. Books are a wonderful way of encountering life. I look forward to the future books that will become apart of the fabric of our home.

  14. Yes, adore books that I wouldn't want my kids to read. Some Pat Conroy is sexual too much for my kids. Some of his books are fine.

  15. Substituting profanity can be clever, but I hate seeing/hearing bad substitutes: "I got kicked in the.. in the you-know-what." It sounded like he just noticed that there were kids in the room. Alternately; "When Slash played Guitar Hero with his hids, he got his hide handed to him on a platter!"
    I think when I read Night Shift by Steven King, I asked my dad,"are they allowed to print that?"

  16. I have a 14 yo boy, 16 yo girl, and 17 yo girl. I'm done with watching what they read have to read sex filled novels for English (1984 anyone?) So, no. Would not stop them from reading sex, drugs, rock and roll. BUT I read them, too, SO we have frank discussions about everything.

    So...*shrug* I don't mind. They have to make their way in the world on their own without me managing.

    But I do watch what my tweens read. I don't have any at the moment. I have an 8 year old. And if she were able to read at a higher level, I would police.

    Personally, I don't like graphic cussing in a novel. It detracts. I really like how Scott Westerfeld handles it. He just says they "cursed". Put in your own "expletive" and be done with it.

  17. Man this profanity thing is a hot topic. It doesn't bother me, I can handle it but the real fact is some people can't and they are offended. You know what? They have that right. So far most of my reads have been clean but I did read "The Scandal of the Season" (Literary fiction novel accounting the details around the Alexander Pope poem, "The Rape of the Lock", it was a tough read because of the period style of speaking. I felt the book very educational then, bam on the table the c-word and other c-word and brief quick mentions of sex. As an adult, ahem, it made me uncomfortable but it was 100 % appropriate for the period but, (bit but here) with that said I would not let me teenage child read it (my eldest is 9 so I am presuming). Sorry no sure if it fits your "delicate/sensitive/hot content in a superior manner" request.

  18. Many typos:
    so far most = so for most
    bit but here = big but here
    let me teenage child = let my teenage child

    I must confess that I have had 3 hours sleep. I went to the midnight showing of a popular fluff film, that I love, and need to go to bed.

  19. I didn't read all the comments, but my answer starts out with "what Roni said". ;) If the character would really say it, go for it. My first book with adult themes was also FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by VC Andrews.

    I think so much depends on the individual child that there is no black and white answer regarding age. My kids and I discuss books, and we communicate a ton.