A few months ago when I started adjusting my personal definition of clean reading, I looked to Deseret Book to help me out. I knew if a book was listed on Deseret Book website, then it would steer pretty far to the clean side of the street instead of taking a nose dive into the gutter. That's where I found Edenbrooke, Second Chances, and other great books. Unfortunately, I exhausted the website of new reading material fairly quickly. So I found new ways to find clean reads: adjusting the books I listed as "to-read" on my goodreads account and finding more friends with similar desires to read clean books on that site as well. This is when I discovered we all have a differing idea of what makes a book clean or not.
Let's Discuss the "Big Three":
This is an interesting one. It seems like you either really care about it or really don't. There are probably a few readers in between these two extremes who are okay with a few "minor" instances of swearing in a book, but for the most part, it seems like readers are either in one camp or the other. For me
I've noticed that there are a few LDS authors out there (some of whom I really like) who tend to write their non-LDS works under a different pen. One author in particular (who shall remain nameless, because I like her and would never ever slam an author on this site ever) tends to have A LOT of swearing (both major and minor) throughout the entire book in both her new adult and young adult non-LDS works. I'm not sure what I think about this. So this brings up another interesting question, Do you hold LDS authors to a different standard in terms of using language in their writing? I do. For a few reasons. First, I believe that it's possible to write an amazing book without ever having to use a a swear word. And second, if you're LDS I kind of count on you to write something that I can feel okay reading. There is a whole lotta smut out there that I already have to choose from without a fellow sister adding to it. Yikes, that sounds harsh doesn't it?
Well let me step off my pedestal and say that I'm actually a pretty lenient reader in terms of language. Minor language doesn't bother me as much as it does some, even widespread. I am pretty forgiving. I can even forgive the occasional "major" swear word. That being said, widespread swearing of either minor or major words tends to get in the way of my reading experience. In other words, when there are so many instances of profanity in a book I am so distracted by it that it detracts from the story.
I haven't been shy about saying I love the New Adult genre. But my oh my is it difficult to find a good clean book in this genre, especially in terms of sexual content. This genre unfortunately, has become synonymous with the aforementioned "smut". Which, sucks. Really, it sucks, because I love me a good college romance. I'm pretty sure this love-affair with the NA genre, started way back when I was in junior high and started reading the Sweet Valley University series. Okay, I really don't remember what they were about, but I remember loving them (that probably ages me doesn't it?). So back to sexual content... This is a pretty controversial one, isn't it? For example, is it clean if it's a "closed-door" bedroom scene? Most would probably say sure, ya, I think that's fine. Okay well, let's back up for a second, What if the couple isn't married? Or what if the couple is made up of two minors? Or maybe it's depends more on how it's portrayed? Now here's a more personal question... Why are you reading it? Are you reading it because your addicted to the way it makes you feel? Can you enjoy a book if it doesn't have "that" scene?
Here's what I think... I try to stick to the MPAA movie rating guidelines of a PG-13 level book. Every once and a while a book will surprise me with a scene (usually at about 80% through the book) and I'll just skip over the pages with that content. Since Fifty Shades came out a few years ago the industry seems to be flooded with books that I would consider pornographic or erotica. I've even seen some of these themes and scenes showing up in YA fiction. Honestly, I've scene them on the shelves of my neighborhood library. That I am not okay with. I'm not saying I think we should censure books, I'm just saying we should be able to have some rating system so we know what to expect in a book.
This is what I have been mulling over for the better part of three months. In LDS fiction, especially romance, I've come to expect a "sweet read". A book that doesn't deal with heavy topics, use language, or have sexual content (well maybe a chaste kiss). But here's what I'm wondering about today: Can an LDS fiction (a book with LDS characters and/or intended for an LDS audience) book address topics of a less-traditional more taboo topics? In earlier posts I've reviewed a few books that deal with more difficult subject matter: Becoming Bayley (bullying/alopecia), Mile 21 (death of a spouse/crises of faith), Taken by Storm (dating outside faith, the lines of sexual promiscuity), The Weight of Love (Forbidden Romance with a missionary/death of a spouse). I've also read a few others: My Not So Fairy Tale Life (Unplanned pregnancy), Hidden in the Heart (Rape- done cleanly without sexual content) etc... All of these books I consider clean. They were written without swear words, crossing the sexual line and most importantly these books didn't preach bad choices having good-consequences. And I think maybe that's the key.
I'll explain what I mean with a story... My husband is a theater actor/singer. On the stage he has given many opportunities to play many different parts. We use a quote from Brigham Young to measure the roles he considers against:
'Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnamity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to sun it." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.243; Bookcraft, 1998)
What this quote essentially means is this: Portray good choices as having good consequences and bad choices as having bad consequences. With each role he plays carefully analyze the role and see if it's something that meets this standard. Now back to books, far too often I see the reverse of this quote happening. Bad choices having good consequences... Drinking leads to meeting a cute boy and happily ever after- Not loss of the spirit and most likely making further bad decisions: promiscuity, getting behind the wheel leading to a car accident etc. That's not good. Of course there are many many other examples of what I mean by this quote, but I think you get the idea.
For me, I enjoy reading LDS fiction that deals with these sorts of topics. I want to see how LDS characters deal with mental illness, divorce, disease, unplanned pregnancy, addiction etc. Of course it has to stay within the boundaries I mentioned above, but I think LDS readers are looking to read about issues with more weight. What do you think? I'd love to hear! Do you have any suggested books?