The books on my nightstand vary with the seasons. I’ve been deep in Summer Reading Guide prep for months, which means for most of the winter and all of the spring I’ve been reading contemporary fiction non-stop, trying to uncover the just-released or soon-to-be-released novels that deserve a place on your summer reading lists.
As always, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve found some novels that I am unequivocally pumped to recommend this summer. I’ve read some mediocre books from authors whose previous work I adored. I’ve taken a chance on some little-known titles: some I loved, some were meh, a handful were truly dreadful.
And this year, more than any previous year, I’ve found titles I absolutely adored but am hesitant to recommend because I’m not sure I want to go there. Depending on the genre, I’m prepared for salty language (to put it gently) and difficult content (to put it politely). Those are topics I’m accustomed to and comfortable talking about, for the most part.
But I’m noticing something specific in this year’s crop of novels: they all have about 8 lines I’d like to delete because they’re way too sexually explicit for my taste. (And I loved Outlander, so that’s saying something.) These lines are too visual, too descriptive, something you could never show on the movie screen.
We’re just talking 8 lines: not a huge portion of the book by any means. A tiny, tiny percentage of total word count. Barely more than a paragraph.
But those lines make me so uncomfortable when I’m reading (an HSP thing?) that I’m leery of recommending these titles.
I’ve spent a lot of time–too much time, probably–pondering what exactly’s going on here. Is the writer going for shock value? Does the publisher think it will sell more books? Do those 8 lines serve the story? (My answers: maybe, maybe, sometimes.)
An example: the most jarring instance I’d like to subject to the 8-line edit is a novel that’s being billed as one of the best books of the summer. It’s a good story, maybe a great one. The writing is terrific. But one unexpected line was so jarring, so shocking (and I rarely use the word shocking), I almost quit reading right there, halfway through the book.
But I didn’t quit, and as I approached the end of the book, and saw the way that character grew and changed, I suddenly realized: the author didn’t include that line to be gratuitous. The author was showing you something important about the character, something dramatic, something disturbing. I was supposed to be shocked.
I still didn’t like it, but I could at least understood why the author made that choice.
What does this 8-line edit trend mean for summer reading? If a book requires so many disclaimers about why you maybe shouldn’t read it that I don’t have space left to tell you why you maybe should, that’s a deal breaker, even if I thought it was otherwise pretty great.
On a larger scale, I’m wondering if this is a trend in publishing. I think yes, but others say no. (I’ve read several of the titles in question as galleys or advanced reader copies—editions where the text is still subject to change. I mentioned my 8-line theory to an editor friend, and expressed hope that maybe those lines wouldn’t make it into the final edition. Not a chance, she said. The sexy stuff is in for keeps.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on racy content, your own personal dealbreakers, and any recent literary trends you’ve noticed in comments.