Every time I turn around lately, someone is talking about swearing. Not gearing up to do it (although I’d find that highly entertaining), but rather, letting everyone know it shouldn’t be done. Or if it must be, only from the villain’s point of view, or the possibly the hero’s, but only under duress.
This post over at Smart Bitches–which sums up a letter that appeared in RWR–has already made the Internet rounds. Now, I have no issue with people who don’t like books with swearing. I don’t like books with serial killers. Uh, that doesn’t mean people should stop writing them. I choose to be an informed consumer. I’d rather not contemplate others making choices for me–for my own good, of course. /sarcasm mode off
Not surprisingly, many of the books on the most banned list are children/middle grade/young adult books. In fact, one of Andrew’s favorite books is on the list (more on that later–we’re trying to work up a mommy/son review).
I ran smack into the can’t swear in YA “rule” most recently in the children’s book writing class I took. Thankfully, the instructor put an end to that myth. The swearing “rule” comes up a lot on contest judging loops in the guise of how much is too much, or can you swear in YA, in a romance, and so on.
Generally when this happens, someone quotes their sainted great grandfather who maintained that swearing is the sign of small minds and if you, a writer, can’t come up with an alternative, you’re a hack. Or worse.
It’s hard to argue with someone’s sainted great grandfather, but I’ll give it a go.
Likewise, in YA contests, it’s someone’s fifteen-year-old who maintains (to his/her mother’s face–cuz you know, he/she would never lie) that teens think books with swearing are really just adults trying too hard and they never really read/take seriously books with swearing. (So, apparently, Chris Crutcher and Holly Black–so not selling these days.)
Then everyone jumps on the bandwagon of how wonderful it is kids these days don’t swear/don’t read books with swearing. No one bothers to check their bullshit detector. Or bother to read in the genre itself.
This doesn’t mean I think you should sprinkle in “swears” (as Andrew calls them) like jimmies on ice cream. The right word at the right time. And sometimes that word is a swear.
My favorite quote on swearing comes from Tim O’Brien:
If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty.
Today’s banned author
YA author Deb Caletti’s book The Queen of Everything has been banned in a Texas school. (And honestly, is it wrong for me to aspire to that? Charity, now banned in Texas!) She has a wonderful essay on censorship called Sex, Swearng, and Banned Books that I encourage you to read in full.
For now, I’ll leave you with the following quote from Deb’s essay, because I couldn’t, in a million years, say it better than she does:
Books are information, ideas, and they are open doors. They provide empathy at hours you would never call a friend or family member, and they broaden our own ability to be compassionate human beings through shared “experience.” Censorship limits information, tell you what to think, closes doors. It is judgmental, always, limits our ability to be compassionate by teaching righteousness.
Nothing I could write would be as shocking and offensive as censorship itself. Censorship is a hand against your mouth, your hands tied behind your back, a blindfold over your eyes. It’s oppression and control, and were it not done by people in suit jackets, it would be called an act of violence.