I was at a book club the other night.
Sometime during that event, somebody said they had an interest in reading Bridget Jones' Diary. I've read it, and since this was a church-affiliated book club, I warned the woman that this particular book does make prolific use of the swears. She immediately shrank back in her seat and said, "Oh. Never mind."
I don't mind that. I don't judge her. I don't think she's being puritanical. I actually think Bridget Jones is overboard on the swearing, and that's why I warned this woman.
The book we were discussing that night was Matched by Allie Condie.
(some of you might see where this is going, but bear with me)
If you are unfamiliar with the plot/theme of Matched, here it is: At some point in the future, Society decides our lives are too cluttered, so they destroy all but 100 poems, 100 stories, 100 songs, 100 pieces of art. All personal artifacts are destroyed, and the people live in super bland peace.
The people of this Society are not taught to write, and all communication (including the 100 poems, stories, and songs) is electronic. Electronic communication only.
One of the book club questions was around this electronic communication, and why the Society deemed that necessary. We had a lovely discussion about how electronic communication can be monitored and controlled. I also brought up the point that relying solely on controlled electronic transmission of written works, the government could easily have manipulated or censored the work.
(Side note: This book series actually made me vehemently anti-e-reader. I will always, always be a hardback kind of girl.)
This isn't crazy, it's been happening since the beginning of forever. Churches have re-translated the Bible to make it easier to understand or to mold the teachings to their particular view of the Gospel. Books have multiple versions when they are translated. Abridgements and "edited" versions of books are available for people to read when they don't want to read the whole, big, heavy, difficult book.
People often actually prefer these books. Or they rely on movie versions. "Oh, I know what Jane Austen is about. I've seen the Kiera Knightley movie."
This came back around to the swearing. One woman said she couldn't understand why swearing was ever in a book. "It demonstrates lazy language." was her argument, and she wished there were more edited versions of books available. Yet she was staunchly against what the Society in Matched had done.
I argued that sometimes authors are going for realism. Soldiers under fire in Iraq are not going to say, "Gee, that bomb came really close. I've got some dog gone shrapnel in my head and it hurts like the dickens." Stressful situations bring out the worst in us. Some people are uneducated and use foul language in place of more proper words. Some people think it's funny. And some people just don't care.
I fully agree with part of what this woman said: Prolific swearing is a symptom of lazy language. There's probably a better way to say what you're saying.
I also do not enjoy swearing just for swearing's sake. I prefer cleaner content in books, and I've put books down when the curse words seem to be literally inserted just to prove that the author knows how to use them (he usually does not in those cases). I also give detailed parental advisories in my reviews, including remarks about language.
There are very creative ways to get around this, of course, and I'm always profoundly pleased when I see authors go to these lengths. It maintains reality (the character curses) while not offending my delicate sensibilities (I don't actually have to read the swear words).
But my question is this: Is the desire for squeaky-clean literature any different from what the Society in Condie's novels is doing? Does putting our fingers in our ears and saying "Lalalalala, I can't hear you!" really eliminate the ugliness from our society? Is there no value in realism? Or should we be constantly seeking out the greater good? And does the category (middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult, non-fiction) matter?
What think ye?