Friday, March 08, 2013

The Modern Novel

I was recently sent a copy of the book you see here on the left hand side of the screen for review. I read it, in full, and did not care for it at all. At this point, some reviewers decide simply not to mention it on their sites out of courtesy for the publisher. Many times I opt not to mention books I've sidelined, choosing instead to spend time writing about books that I have really loved and enjoyed.

However, lately I've been wondering if we shouldn't go ahead and publish our honest thoughts on such books. Opinions are said to sway industries. If that be true, then we conservative book bloggers are missing an amazing opportunity to turn the tide on books which promote obscenities and, in turn, a weaker society.

Frequently I am asked if I would read and review more modern novels and give reviews of them. I have supposed this to mean that people would like to know whether or not they should spend time with a book or not. That's a nice idea and there are plenty of book reviewers out there who do read modern novels and can share their own opinions. I tend to avoid modern novels because more often than not I find them to be filled with foul language and overly descriptive sexual scenes. I don't wish to fill my mind with such things anymore than you wish to fill yours with them. I consider my reading time to be quite valuable. As it is something that I highly prize, I want to spend time with books of great depth and meaning and not so much vulgarity. Thankfully, there are a plethora of such books to choose from!

Reading The Secret of the Nightingale Palace was a very distasteful experience. I accepted it for review because of the story's premise which I found to be intriguing. Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy it as I hoped to. The only reason I did read it all the way through is because I have accepted a good number of books of late that I opened up to discover them full of filth (in some form or fashion) and knew there was no point in reading it for the publisher's sake. I wouldn't be able to say anything truly kind about the books and anything I did say would probably encourage you not to read them. I've been feeling sort of bad about sidelining so many books and therefore, despite the fact that I figured out in the first couple of chapters that this book was not going to be a winner for me, I thought I should make a great effort to see it through to the end. I hoped that the end of it would redeem the beginning in my eyes and I would find a sliver of something to like about it. But it was not to be so.

As I told my husband, I would devide this book into fourths. The first fourth had some language, a lesbian relationship and a woman who was pregnant but still smoking. (The last one is not morally as objectionable. Maybe. I've read my fair share of baby bios on waiting child lists who are there because the mother smoked or drank during pregnancy, causing complications. Some self-control for the sake of another needs to be exerted during pregnancy.) As I said, I contemplated giving up this read but proceeded on, with hope. The second fourth of the book was much better with the exception of a one-night stand and too many descriptions related to that. Still, I had hopes we'd move on and of it settling down and ending well. The third fourth of the book contained a rape, a homosexual relationship (described in more detail than I've seen yet!) and then the last fourth revealed an extra-marital affair. By that time I was done with the book in so many ways. I can't even think to bother telling you what the story was about. There are Amazon descriptions for that if you really care to know.

This brings me to my main point: I am finding myself loathing and despising the modern novel. I hate that such filth is published in the first place. Why proliferate the problems our society is currently facing by publishing more of the same? Why do we need to write and read about sex scenes, let alone with colorful descriptions attached? Please do not misunderstand me: sex is a beautiful thing, designed and created by God to be enjoyed inside the confines of a safe and secure marriage relationship between one man and one woman. It is a private act between the married parties which can be acknowledged as happening but there is no cause or reason to divulge or describe the details! God gave it as a gift to be enjoyed between two people but not to be made into a scene for others. Enjoy it with your spouse. Keep the details to yourself.

An author writing out their personal fantasies about sexual relationships is not healthy for themselves, their individual readers, or society at large. There are a great many non-Christians in this world (not to mention the Christians) who are quite riled at sex-trafficking issues in this nation and all around the globe. We complain endlessly about how women are treated as cheap sex objects and are victims of rape but we fail to make the obvious connection between the rampant actions of degenerate males and their constant access to pornographic materials in print and on screens. We continue to support the production of pornography on screen and in writing with our dollars and our time. If you are upset in any way by the way women are looked at and devalued in today's society, you might consider avoiding certain movies and a whole genres of books which promote and encourage a.) men to disregard the sacredness of the marriage relationship and b.) women to be dissatisfied in it. Both men and women should be encouraged to pursue respectful, God-honoring relationships with one another and society makes that hard enough as it is. Publishing companies should be held responsible for their part in degrading women and representing complete fantasies of what fulfillment in a marriage relationship really looks like.

Why, in a world which everyone complains is saturated in sex to the point of creating unhealthy habits, practices and businesses, would publishers cave to the pressure and agree to publish pornographic writing? So that we can think it in our heads even if we can't see it with our eyes? Books will have their effect on society as well and anyone who thinks otherwise is, frankly, ignorant. Words have meaning. Imagination has power. Thoughts and words translate into actions. You should be very careful what you put down in writing because it will cause people to think certain things about you, themselves, and the society in which they live. You should be very careful about what you read because it will also have influence over you.

Furthermore, when I open a book I want to swept away by beautiful and skilled writing. I want to be told an intricate and beautiful story. Sometimes I read to be informed, sometimes entertained, but at all times to be challenged. And there is nothing remotely challenging about foul language. It is vulgar, easy and cheap.

Why does speech matter? Why should we worry about avoiding the use of "bad words"? Well, it matters because God says it does.

Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Proverbs 16:24, "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."

Titus 2:7-8, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us."

A potty mouth brings no honor or respect. Instead, what it typically does is to cause people to respond with anger, frustration, silence or rejection. Laura Ingalls Wilder once wrote an article discussing how swearing is a foolish habit. It does not gain you any respect! I hereby confess to you that when I'm really royally angry, a foul word has been known to fly from my mouth. And always I regret it and always I feel foolish because I am foolish and should feel so. Throwing about foul language doesn't improve communications or clarify thoughts. They are wasted words which provide no sense of depth, no sense of safety, health or wellness in a conversation. They ought to be avoided. It's bad enough saying these words outloud. I don't see the point in writing them down. Why waste ink on them?

Books like the above seem to be becoming the norm, rather than the exception. I find it harder and harder to make my way into a modern novel, let alone finish it. I do not wish to pollute my own mind with bad language and pornographic scenes. It grieves me to know that this is what is readily available for people in society to read. Instead of bothering to write and publish artfully told, well-crafted stories, we're peddling the masses brain candy of the worst sort. When I pick up a book like this, I assume that the publisher didn't expect much from me as a reader. And when I don't feel like someone expects anything of me, I'm not very inclined to improve my character, behavior or life situation. Low expectations are all too easily met.

When I come across books like the above, I am also led to believe that the publisher doesn't care about its influence on society and has no issues promoting the problem areas we face on a daily basis. Instead of drawing us out of the miry depths of the sex trade, they plunge us further in. Instead of encouraging intelligent dialogue, the dance about us with foul words which cannot satisfy the soul on any level.

I don't want books like this.  I want something intelligent. Publishers, give me something to think about and wrestle through for right reasons; make me think about social justice issues, political statements, history, honor, nobility, revenge, death, beauty! But do not peddle off someone's romantic fantasy couched in profane expressions. Make me and other readers want to improve ourselves as individuals and society in general. Call forth noble hearts who care for things like truth. Write and publish a story filled with goodness, and I will gladly read and think about it.

Give me something like the story above? I'll walk away forever.


Beckie B. said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts on this novel specifically and the publishing business generally. I too shy away from books like this and movies as well that glorify bad behavior and bad language. My husband and I sat down recently to watch an acclaimed movie. There was so much foul language that I felt I was being assaulted. I left the room, my husband persevered. Curious as to a younger audience's reaction, my husband asked his 30 something employees what they thought of the movie. All "loved" it and barely noticed the language. Seems there is a dulling of the "senses" going on.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I definitely agree that many modern writers opt for the easy payoff of shock and titillation rather than spend the time necessary to write something deep. Yet another reason why I generally avoid genre fiction, and spend more time with older books...

Audrey said...

I completely agree with you, and I applaud you for writing this post and for articulating this sentiment so skillfully. I usually won't even read a secular adult novel unless I've researched it or it was recommended. Which is why I appreciate your blog! Really, there are too many good books out there to spend time with the bad ones.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

After reading the content of the book you mention in your post I would not have finished reading it. In the past, I have contacted publishers and explained why I would not finish certain books. Usually I research the book before I accept to review it but sometimes you just don't know until you actually open the book and delve into its pages. A book tour company once told me that the publisher welcomes negative reviews because readers will know that the book has "real reviews" as opposed to some that only have raving reviews, leaving the readers to wonder if they are made up.

I think you should be true to yourself and your beliefs. Why have a guilty conscience from reading things that offend our God? Good for you for sticking up for what you believe.:-)

Barbara H. said...

I'm with you all the way. I don't read many modern novels for the same reasons. I do think it is important to let publishers know this kind of thing is NOT appreciated by many readers.

Shonya said...

Preach it sister! I think it's good for people to be aware of the garbage being published. Too many people call evil good, and without voices pointing out that "the emperor has no clothes", the masses get desensitized.

Shonya said...

I do want to mention, however, that I occasionally stumble on a gem in modern novels, like "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" whose review I just posted. :) Published in 2005!

Mozette said...

I have always believed that life is far too short to waste on reading bad books.

However, there are so many badly-written books out there being published I honesty wonder how the hell they get out into bookstores! Really! Do they honestly think the writer they're publicising is all that great; and that to put their drivel out to the public is going to make them better?

I think not.

As a writer, I have seen too many people - who could have kept their work for a little long for editing and proofreading - have far better reviews if they weren't so impatient with getting it published so soon.

And even the best writers can get caught up in the impatience of being published as well. Great review and great post.

Cassandra said...

"Publishers, give me something to think about and wrestle through for right reasons; make me think about social justice issues, political statements, history, honor, nobility, revenge, death, beauty!"

Agreed, agreed, agreed!

I think the whole debacle of the publishing industry is a cyclical issue... publishers print what readers buy. --> Readers buy what publishers print. --> Publishers print when readers buy. --> Readers buy what publishers print. Someone has to break the cycle, and, like it or not, it will have to be the readers. Publishers aren't going to intentionally cut off their cash cow. Readers will have to stop purchasing trashy books. Only then will publishers find something worthwhile.

Right now I'm reading a book published by Harlequinn (ew) called "The Girl's Guide to Homelessness." It's a memoir about a girl who finds herself homeless after thinking that she was building security for herself with a good apartment, a good job, etc. But the economy had issues and she was laid off. A few months later, she couldn't afford her apartment and ends up living out of a trailer in a Walmart parking lot. I picked it because I wanted to get an idea of what it's like to be homeless (awareness of a current social issue). Unfortunately, the book is descriptive about her childhood sexual abuse and uses several different swearwords in the first three pages. It feels like it's done for shock value, that the book could have been polished and written much better. Another unfortunate issue - my library doesn't have any other books like this, at least not that I could find. So here's the dilemna - do I push through the issues I have with the book to get a glimpse at a life I know very little about? Or do I remain ignorant awhile longer while avoiding the language and other objectionable things I'm exposing myself to? My husband suggested I skim, trying to get past that and see if the book gets better. I'm now 130 pages in and it has gotten better, but...

I don't know. Just a few thoughts on a Sunday morning. :) As a reader, I try to be discerning while keeping my book budget low. I rarely buy books, use my library extensively, and am not sure a publisher really cares what I think since I don't directly line their pockets.

Stephanie Kay said...

This is why I generally avoid fiction, Christian or otherwise. It just stirs up thoughts and emotions that have no business being stirred up.

I always appreciate your "negative" reviews because then I know what to avoid. But I understand your desire not to put such thoughts in your own mind. Maybe you could have a monthly feature "Books I Pitched Out" (or something like that) where you tell us the title and what caused you not to finish reading the book. Then we would benefit from knowing which books aren't worth our time/money and you wouldn't have to read the whole thing.

Annette Whipple said...

Stephanie had a great idea there.

Oh, I love this discussion. You articulate so well what others of us are thinking. May I suggest that as you let publishers know you don't like a book, you link to this post, emphasizing that we need books that give us pause to think!?

Emmy D said...

Oh, Carrie, I want to scream amen to this post. After nearly 6 years working at the library, I know exactly what you're talking about and it drives me up the wall - and I can't do anything about it.
You begin and end wit similar thoughts - first, that your opinion as a reader can and should have some impact on publishers and other potential readers, and also that publishers have a low opinion of readers. Like you said, "when I don't feel like someone expects anything of me, I'm not very inclined to improve my character, behavior or life situation." I absolutely agree. Thanks for putting this into words!

Carrie said...

Well, I'm glad to know I'm not alone. :)

@Stephanie - That's a great idea! I think I might just start doing that.

Meredith said...

This may be the most honest review of a book that I have ever seen. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Meredith said...

Thank you for such an honest review! Well done Carrie!

BerlinerinPoet said...

Amen! What a glorious rant. And yes, vulgar, easy, and cheap are the correct words!
There are many many many conservatives who like to read. How about writing some books we actually WANT to read? I too, am tired of thinking, "Wow! This plot sounds GREAT!" and then having to set the book aside because it's so full of vulgarity.

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