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Would one word stop you from reading / buying a book?

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Cindy

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Newbery Honor recipients Jennifer Holm, Kirby Larson, and I made a joint statement about this.  You can read it here, if you'd like:

http://cynthialord.livejournal.com/300283.html

It's also going on the Random House website, the National Coalition against Censorship's website, and several other places.

#151 - February 24, 2007, 04:37 AM

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I have one question about the use of the word, and I haven't read the book.  How is the dog being bitten on the scrotum relevant to the story?  Does the dog have to be neutered after that?   Could the dog have been bitten on the tail and the story have been the same? 

I don't know, because I haven't read the book, as I said.  But, if the dog could have been bitten on the tail and the story wouldn't change, then it seems like the choice to use the word scrotum may have (and I say may have, because I don't know the author's thinking) been for sensationalism more than anything else, especially if this happened on the first page of the book.  (I have no idea where it occurs.)

To me if it was necessary for the dog to have been bitten on the scrotum for some reason it's no big deal to use the proper word.  However, if that word was used for the sensational aspect and the publicity it might bring (and it certainly has caused a fury),  I have a problem with that.  Too often objectionable language (objectionable depending on the person) is used for the shock value. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm okay with the occasional "objectionable" word (and objectionable means something different to everyone, I'm not saying scrotum is objectionable to me, although it may be to some) when it's necessary to the story.  I do have a problem with it when it's not necessary, just as I have a problem with having gratuitous sex in a book for no good reason, cursing, killing, etc.  If it's necessary to the story, moves it forward, etc, fine.  If it isn't necessary, then I have to wonder why the author put it in there. 

Frankly, I don't think I would have even thought twice if I'd seen the word scrotum in a book, but the author had to know that some people might object.

My question is, was the word necessary to the story?  And is on the first page, where it would attract more notice, or is it in the middle of the book somewhere? 

anita
#152 - February 24, 2007, 02:44 PM

Jaina

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I don't know this for sure, but I did read an interview with the author.  It sounded very much like the word is used precisely because it's unfamiliar to the girl MC and she is eavesdropping on the adult world, curious and trying to make sense of it all.  She hears this crazy tale about the snake, etc. and she wonders what the word "scrotum" means--it intrigues her because it's an "adult" word.

In that case, it would hardly do to use the dog's tail. 

I'm going to give most people who write children's books the benefit of the doubt in that they wouldn't put something in for sensationalism.  You'd think with all the gatekeepers in the biz, that sort of thing wouldn't go through.  Or if it did, it would not have won the Newbery.  I think the Newbery committee knows quality, even if I don't always love what they love.
#153 - February 24, 2007, 02:54 PM

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I have to disagree that most children's authors don't do things for the sensationalism.  I've read a number of YA books that seem to be all about the sensationalism, and there's plenty more I haven't read.  Of course, YA is a whole different animal from most children's books. 

Granted, none have won the Newbery, but several are commercial successes, even if there doesn't seem to be much to the book beyond the sensational aspects.  In YA, at least, and I'm not speaking to the rest because I don't follow the picture book, easy reader, etc market, sometimes it's all about the sensational/edgy aspects. 

I'm not saying that's the case here.  But I always wonder, because that's so popular in YA.

anita
#154 - February 24, 2007, 03:08 PM

Jaina

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I wasn't really thinking of YA when I said "children's" but then, I don't read much YA! :)
#155 - February 24, 2007, 04:12 PM

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There is a huge difference.  If you don't read it, you'd probably be quite surprised.   :o
anita
#156 - February 24, 2007, 04:16 PM

Jaina

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At any rate, Lucky is MG and I still believe what I said in my post above.
#157 - February 24, 2007, 05:19 PM

Pickles

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From my blog....

So why DID she have to use THAT word?

Because it was the right one. Because it brought depth and truth to Lucky's story.

Not everything is pretty, but in the ugly and the odd we often find what we are looking for.

Writing is art. And art is a reflection of life. And when you reflect life you have to show all the colors, even the mustards and the ochres and the umbers and the olives.

The same with music. My husband tells me he once was taught that music written in a minor key was ungodly. But I think my ears would ache for the lack of mellow, soulful notes. And later he was taught that notes and chords in and of themselves are merely notes and chords. It's what you do with them that counts, it's what's behind them.

There are those who think that children's literature is only to uplift and educate. It's all supposed to be written in primary colors and major chords.

But life doesn't come in bright only, and kids figure that out fairly early.  They deserve truth and honesty and depth and integrity in the things they read, not "soda pop" literature, canned and labeled.

#158 - February 25, 2007, 05:33 AM

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Amen, Pickles. I have read quite a bit of YA (although I pass on the "teenage clique" books, so maybe that's what Anita means), and I have yet to read a single book that I thought used either subject matter or language gratuitously for the scandal-factor.
#159 - February 25, 2007, 09:43 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

www.jonisensel.com

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Try Pretty Little Liars.

anita
#160 - February 25, 2007, 09:48 AM

Paulahy

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Well said, Pickles!!

I don't doubt there are books out there where the subject matter or language used was a calculated effort to make the book stand out.  Thus the whole "edgy" genre.

Still, I don't totally agree those books were created just for shock.  I think someone thought - let's go out on the edge and do a sneak peek at this type of character. 

The Gossip Girls series falls into that vein IMO. 

And while they aren't my cuppa, I don't begrudge their existence.  I don't think they are a sign of the fall of literature because they portray teens in a materialistic, shallow light.  Because there are teens out there like that. 

A phrase I've been beating like a dead horse lately is "there's room at the Inn for all types of books."  Each one has their audience, so it's safe to assume, each one has its opposition.

In the case of Lucky, it doesn't sound like a sensationalist gimmick.  And speaking for myself, when the words flow they flow without thought.  I save strategy for my promotion and marketing.  When it comes to writing the books, it's all an unconcious stream as I translate the pictures in my head. 

I'd hate to be accused of contrived sensationalism simply because I felt one particular word conveyed the images in my mind.  Sure there may be different words to use, but the word chosen was the one that ended on the page.

It's not something you can battle since it's highly subjective.  No matter how much I say it wasn't contrived, there will be those who believe otherwise.  I'm sure those accusations sting Susan Patron - because I'm getting heated just thinking about someone saying it about my work.

-P
#161 - February 26, 2007, 10:49 AM

Katiba

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I try to be careful about saying an author wrote this or that just for sensationalism, or just to sell a book.  I think it's perfectly okay to say a book has gratuitous violence or sex or cursing (or whatever) because it means that for me, as a reader, the author didn't make that aspect of the book work.  But it's really impossible to know whether the author has a story-driven reason for using certain elements, just because they didn't get that across to a particular reader - or even any reader at all.  That doesn't mean they didn't have a goal in mind.

Saying that a particular story was bought by a publisher for market reasons is a little different, in my opinion.  That's a judgment call too, but it's not trying to get into someone's head and guess why they put a particular word or story element on the page.
#162 - February 27, 2007, 10:11 AM

Pickles

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Thanks Paula.

I wonder why this is so "wrong" in ficiton, or pehaps it's because now the book will be expected to be read by children.

I just read a description of pipe fish sex in a non-fiction book geared toward the same age group that was waaaaaaaaaaaaay racier than "scrotum." And egads...it used the word "semen."
#163 - February 27, 2007, 10:15 AM

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