Saturday, November 17, 2012

I is for Inappropriate reading material

Jay's post "A is for Anal" on what's appropriate (or, more to the point, not) in children's fiction set me thinking. Firstly about why, with the subject of the post, she felt the need to start off with that quotation. Do I detect a fixation here? Does she, do you think?

So, one cold shower later, back to the point. When I was at junior school there was a travelling library that came around once a week. I was a voracious reader, and the library struggled to supply me with new material. Three things stick in my memory. 

One was being ridiculed by the teacher in front of the class for not knowing the meaning of the word "anteroom" in a Doctor Who book that I'd borrowed. I was aged seven, I think. And no, she didn't take the trouble to explain afterwards. I'm just wondering now whether she actually knew...

Secondly was discovering the f-word used in a sci-fi novel. Wow, did that do the rounds of the class like wildfire. Look! There it is! In a book!!!!!!!!!

Thirdly, coming across wholly inappropriate sex. At the time there was an action/adventure/fantasy series on TV called The New Avengers. Perfectly safe for kids to watch, in fact by pure coincidence we've been watching it on DVD with our kids recently. Good fun. Back in the past, I found a New Avengers novel in the library van. The woman let me have it rather doubtfully, after consulting her colleague; and the only thing I can recall, from the entire book (and indeed from almost all the books I borrowed over those years), is a scene where a bad guy rapes a woman: after he's just murdered her. 

Now let me be clear, the TV series is entirely squeaky clean, with humorous flirting as far as anything gets. So what twit of an author thought that it was OK to write something so far removed from the format? Was he just a frustrated writer of gritty thrillers glad to get the crumbs of a TV-spin-off commission?

Using sex in a book has to be right, and not just in books for kids. It shouldn't jar or detract from the story. Coming back to Doctor Who books, another TV-spin-off range, they moved from straight novelisations of the TV shows, aimed very much at young readers, to more "adult" books when the TV show was taken off-air and its former audience began to grow up. I kept reading them. Some were good, some really quite poor. One that I love, as being a wonderful science fiction novel, is Transit, by Ben Aaronovitch: and guess what? It has sex in it! People go to bed and have sex!
Fu grinned when he saw Ming coming and ran down the external stairwell to meet her. The same bounding steps as he'd used on their wedding day forty years ago, he and his friends forcing the door to her parents' house in Bradford. ... That night she tangled with [his] body and crisp cotton sheets in the Hotel Metropole's bridal suite. They'd fallen out of the bed and the impact of her buttocks on the floor triggered her climax, the first in her life. 
In the context of the book, it works, it's not needlessly explicit, and when I re-read the book recently, I still loved it. 

At the time, many fans of the series were up in arms at the soiling of the image of the TV show. Well, things had moved on, is my view. Now Doctor Who is back on TV, the books are back for a younger audience, my kids love them, and there's no sex in sight. 

Which is how it should be. 


  1. I agree if you are going to use sex or foul language in a book it has to be because of the context. It has to help continue to move the story along or have some point for impact. I believe if you are using those devices for any other reasons then you are on the wrong track. Let me be clear...I am not prudish, I think book banning is insane and literature should be available to all. I just don't understand the reasoning of some authors (or shows) to add content that doesn't seem to fill any purpose except to take up space!


  2. Jay, great article! My parents were readers as I grew up and later my mom was a Librarian. They were very picky in what I read to avoid those situations. My comment is, even if it's not in books, kids these days are asking 'those' questions at a younger and younger age so it isn't as shocking now when it's in books. I agree though that sex shouldn't be there in the story just to have sex in the story. It should be placed appropriately unless it is that type of book.

    On another note, thanks for the follow and I followed you. For another great blog please go to and follow!

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