Book Chat: Are Offensive Books Acceptable Based On Time Or Genre?

Hey there, book nerds! 

I’m coming to you today with several thoughts swirling around my head — and I need your help!As many of you know I’m participating in #ContemporaryAThon and selected my reads in advance. I started my third book today and was shocked to encounter a sentence on PAGE 1 that literally made me put the book down. Now, I’ll admit maybe I misinterpreted the writer’s intention. Maybe I missed the joke? Maybe it’s not only no where near the level of gross it felt to me but also not offensive at all? I’ve posted the blurb below so you can judge for yourselves: IMG_6544In case you can’t read the passage due to picture quality it’s a paragraph devoted to the beloved “Would You Rather” game. It starts out innocently enough: Nothing but fish sticks for meals or nothing but N*SYNC garb to wear? (Personally, I’d rock the N*SYNC paraphernalia, but that’s just me!) But then the game took a dark turn and gave us the sentence that inspired this book chat: (Would You Rather) “French kiss your dog, Dali, OR have sex with Chaka, the Special Ed. King?” Basically implying: you know what’s more disgusting the idea of tonguing your pet or having sex with a special needs individual? Absolutely tasteless, right?? Again, maybe I’m TOTALLY reading this wrong and it’ll be explained in latter pages, BUT this is the world you presented on PAGE 1 with no additional context clues to assume differently. I read this — repeatedly out of shock — and set the book down. And as I sat in my car I started to wonder: Should I be offended by this? Am I allowed to be? Which sparked a long chain of follow-up questions:

1) Does time play a factor?

This particular novel was published 17-years ago when the “P.C. Culture” wasn’t as prevalent. Should that be factored into my reading experience today?

2) If time ISN’T a factor than does genre add some weight? Had this not been a YA contemporary, but a “classic” instead would that have made it “better?” 

For example plenty of “classics” are riddled with racism, homophobia, slurs, and a slew of otherwise offensive themes by today’s standards. From Ma hating the Indians in Little House to the N-word-filled Huck Finn. Does their distance from today’s narrative and considered genre play a part in how we analyze their stories?

3) Are there certain offensive ideologies that are “allowed” or “necessary” for growth? 

Tons of scholars, librarians, etc come to the aid of “banned” books stating that their questionable content is essential to the development of the human experience. That we need to understand the world — and its prejudices — in their uncensored form in order to learn and evolve past it.

4) Piggybacking off #3, is it acceptable if the majority of people don’t find the material offensive? What about if it’s written by OWNVOICE authors? 

Several meetings were held in my home state when a certain school district banned Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give for it’s “obscene and offensive language and themes.” I remember rolling my eyes at the debates being thrown against THUG, but (playing devil’s advocate) why are my opinions more valid than theirs? Does the fact that it was written by an ownvoice author play a role in what content is okay to read?

5) Should these instances affect our overall ratings and reviews for these books? 

Whether you believe genre/time period matters or not — should their presence in the material affect or sway your overall rating for the book?


At the end of the day I know there’s no right or wrong answers, but this fueled a fire in my belly that’s yet to be put out. I’d love to hear your thoughts and see how the rest of my beloved community responds to this topic and the questions posed. Looking forward to your thoughts!

And, as always: Happy Reading!

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20 thoughts on “Book Chat: Are Offensive Books Acceptable Based On Time Or Genre?

  1. J.W. Martin says:

    I agree. It’s tasteless and disgusting, but it’s probably pretty accurate to teenage conversations. Unfortunately. That being said, in the author’s shoes I wouldn’t have included that. Maybe replace Chaka with an elderly teacher that everyone detests. I don’t know. But that would definitely throw me off of the book as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nerd Narration says:

      I’m glad I’m not alone for the quote that started it all! It was truly such a surreal experience because I was sure I had just misread it. But then it never changed and I was like: yes, this is 17 years old, but surely we weren’t throwing shit like that around back in 2001 were we??

      I totally didn’t consider the audience of who was speaking and I think you make a good point that that might be a realistic convo for teenagers…BUT…does that make it okay? Do editors, authors, marketers not take issue because “hey that’s how kids are?” idk…

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.W. Martin says:

        Now we’re getting into semantic questions about representation.

        Killing someone because their race is one of the worst things I can think of, but you couldn’t remove that aspect when writing about someone like Hitler.

        I realize that’s a much bigger extreme, but the question remains the same. Is it okay to print something when it’s an accurate representation of life. I was never that cruel as a teenager, but I knew plenty of kids that would say those kinds of things and worse.

        However, I wouldn’t have gone with something like that unless I put those words in the mouth of a character I wanted everyone to detest. Even then, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do it. There are plenty of ways for a human being to be detestable.

        Like

      • Nerd Narration says:

        Your last paragraph is the part that boggles my mind the most. This HORRIBLE sentence was on PAGE 1 of her book stated by the MC that we’re supposed to love and read on about for the rest of the series? Yes, maybe she’s a teenager and that’s in her vernacular, but I just don’t get why you’d want to paint your character that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious says:

    First of all, that sentence is so incredibly tasteless and offensive. 17 years ago literally was like a whole other world, I watch FRIENDS episodes and cringe at the jokes now… and then I go down the rabbit hole of “my GOD why did we think it was okay to make fun of XYZ?”

    It is interesting that you mention classic versus contemporaries when it comes to time, because we all are quick to say that these problematic things are a product of the times – but when I come across those same things in historical fiction it makes my skin crawl.

    I think 17 years ago doesn’t feel far enough removed; Huck Finn was written so long ago that we can easily separate it… but when this content comes from a period you were alive in and remember, it isn’t as easy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norrie says:

    I don’t know, i don’t get offended about these things, because it’s not like someone is telling me that personally.
    People like that existed then (and i’m pretty sure even today). Considering it was on the first page, anything can come out of it. Maybe someone will tell off this character for being an a-hole…? Maybe not.

    A lot of times i think intention counts as well. An author describing people behaving like that because at the time or writing they did behave like that doesn’t mean the author agrees with them or supports the idea. But not presenting things that actually happened just because someone might get offended over it? That’d be strange too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nerd Narration says:

      I totally agree with your point of “not presenting things that actually happened because people might get offended” being problematic. It creates the whole if we censor this where do we stop angle. And I think if it were something like historical or even a mentality that was clearly prevalent in widespread culture in the past (racism, homophobia, etc) than I get it’s use. This just didn’t feel that way. Like teenagers can be assholes, we all know that. Heck most of us were probably jerks when we were teens. But I just feel like 1,000 other things could have been used to get that point across. But I appreciate your thoughts on this because things obviously land differently with different readers and it’s important to consider that in the editing process.

      Liked by 1 person

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