What's the Name of That Book??? discussion

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Just to chat > Do outdated details ruin a story?

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message 1: by Lorna (new)

Lorna | 198 comments I hear it a lot, people saying "A character was using some technology, or made a pop-culture reference, that was cutting-edge when the book was published, but it's not now, and that spoiled my enjoyment." But does it have to be that way? I mean, if you take that far enough, no one should read Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This seems to be especially important in books aimed at children. I’ve heard people say they won’t give their kids a Beverly freaking Cleary book to read, because children don’t build clubhouses or play dress-up any more. Seriously? So we can’t have kids learn about an earlier era? When I was a kid in the 1970s, I read plenty of books set in the 1930s and 1940s (usually nostalgia pieces written more recently, but not always), and I didn’t get hung up on cultural differences. If anything, it helped me understand my parents and other older relatives better!

For me, the only elements that make a story unreadable are ones that I find offensive. Fat-shaming, for instance, or othering of races/religions/cultures, or oppressive gender roles. (And even then, I’d *discuss* those things with a kid, if the book was otherwise worthwhile. Could be more educational than whitewashing or censoring.) Beyond that, though, specific references can make a story into a time capsule. That's what the Little House books are, to give just one example!

Of course, that's a time capsule from what was already 60+ years earlier than publication, and now over a century ago. People get pickier the closer the story is to the current time. Still doesn't matter to me, though. If a character uses a Blackberry, I'm not going to say "Gawd, who uses Blackberries any more?" I'll say "Yeah, I remember Blackberries; takes me right back!" Or if it's a reference from before my time, even better. If I didn't experience it, I'm glad someone preserved these details.

So how does everyone else see it?


message 2: by MJ (new)

MJ | 1429 comments Lol, it's one of those sticky points.

Classics are classics BECAUSE they give us a look at how it WAS. Modern HR's that SAY they are HR... BUT then have the h running around like a hooligan... but in a long dress of course, sometimes drive me mad that they conveniently forget the cultural mores of the time they are writing because it's easier to have a 'modern' character with no thought to consequences of spending a night on the road with an unrelated male. But they tout all the 'mustn't do's' at every other available opportunity to remind you it's really a HR. Grrr!

As for modern, but outdated... I admit it throws me out of the story while I laugh at the 'supa advanced tech that is a Polaroid photo scanned into a CD-ROM for future generations on the u-bute submarine' (Traci Hardings, The Ancient Future ;), but that's just life. I think when I originally read that book YEARS ago, it was already out of date.

To stop kids from reading stories because they aren't 'tech enough' anymore is a bit over the top and quite limiting to them really. Fine, they may not play in cubby houses anymore, but what if one reads it and decides to get off the iPad and build one? OR, decides to get ON the iPad and design an awesome one!

So yeah, the newer outofdate details are jarring, but no reason to avoid IMO. If it's racism, sexism, any-ism or general bad taste or idea that isn't actually part of the story and the experience, then no, I'd avoid it for me and my kids. Reading about sexism is part of life and learning... reading a book PROMOTING sexism is not on.


message 3: by Bargle (last edited Oct 24, 2018 03:44AM) (new)

Bargle | 1386 comments This is something that really can be distracting in older SF stories. I remember one where characters were traveling on a spaceship (generation type I think) and they had paper reference books on board rather than some sort of electronic copies.


message 4: by Scott (new)

Scott I agree with you 100% on the first point. Do such people never read any historical fiction? I guess not. (And it's a crime to avoid Cleary; those are books every kid should read. There is so much value in them.)

Kids today have no sense of history or anything that came before they were born and this is part of the reason why.

It doesn't even bother me in SF stories, to be honest. Just focus on the story and don't worry about such details.


message 5: by Lorna (new)

Lorna | 198 comments MJ: I don't read historical fiction (well, except Outlander!), but I can see how that would be an issue. It's sometimes an issue in that series, come to that. But do you have any examples of books that "promote sexism"? Or racism, fat-shaming and so forth?

Bargle: Yes, I'd forgotten about SF. But hey, that's a chance an author takes when they set a story in the future!

Scott: Yes, that's why I'm so aggravated. People who make these comments obviously care about educating their children, or they wouldn't be trying to influence their reading habits. So why condition them *away* from a sense of history?


message 6: by MJ (new)

MJ | 1429 comments Outlander is a bit funny like that... Can't remember if it's obvious in the front of one of the books, or something I read elsewhere, but I'm sure DG said she started writing straight HR, but the h (Claire) kept 'acting up' whenever she was writing her... so she HAD to make it a time travel book to fit this h who wouldn't shut up!

Can't think of anything out and out 'promoting' any of the ism's, though I have read a few books that have me completely ranting about whatever ism-ish had 'accidentally' been promoted. One was Alpha by Regan Ure(?)... The h is a 16yo alpha who is so insistent on controlling her own path that she legally get emancipated from her guardian, who she still loves and lives with... Then she mates and it's all about being overy-impaired and her equally young alpha mate patting her on the head and letting her pretend she still has rights to her own decisions... Until they go against his... Then he just takes over for her own good... And she's pretty much 'didn't like that, but love you *sigh*'. There was another I didn't finish about a rich guy who grew up poor with a struggling mum, who decided it would be awesome to turn a chef/tenant in his new building into a whore effectively, cause he was determined to sleep with her, and she had enough money issues and thankfully family medical money issues (thankfully cause it wasn't just her wanting money and doing anything so she wasn't broke) to be bent to his oh so condescending will. Most of the time I don't mind those types of book, I just eyeroll and enjoy the story, but that one got my blood boiling for some reason!

Lol, I can go on about some of those types of books for days!


message 7: by Paige (new)

Paige | 794 comments It certainly doesn't ruin my enjoyment.


message 8: by Ann aka Iftcan (new)

Ann aka Iftcan (iftcan) | 6967 comments Mod
That's one of the problems with golden and silver age SF. Especially with Robert A. Heinlein's work. The stories are wonderful, but, well, when one of his characters (who has total recall) and wants to become a navigator/Captain on a space ship, and they are still using paper books and slide rules. (Does anyone even know what a slide rule is now?) But, because his Uncle didn't name him as his heir, the Navigator's guild refuses to let him do it. And they demand that he return his Uncle's reference books. But, despite that little hiccup it's still a great story.


message 9: by Paige (new)

Paige | 794 comments "Does anyone even know what a slide rule is now?"

And now I feel ancient.


message 10: by L J (new)

L J Outdated details don't ruin a story for me. They give me information about society at the time the story was written.
I recently read a modernized? cleaned-up? version of SF from 1960's. I'd read it in the mid 60's then came across a new reprint, except it wasn't a reprint, it was edited. About the same time I came across an e version of another book from the same period that had remained unchanged. I preferred the unchanged one. References to printed books and cigarettes may be outdated but they are part of the story as the author wrote it. While it is now easy to change or remove words that are not in line with today's society where do we stop? When it comes to children why are you not letting them try the out-of-date books? They might like them. Do you fear they may want to play dress up or build a clubhouse?


message 11: by Scott (new)

Scott I kind of like the idea that in the future we will still be using books.


message 12: by L J (last edited Aug 02, 2018 04:01AM) (new)

L J Just hours after posting here I was told children should read recent books not books from the last century, as in the 20th century. The main reason for this seemed to be outdated terminology but outdated situations, customs, and activities were also seen as problems.


message 13: by El (new)

El | 502 comments L J wrote: "The main reason for this seemed to be outdated terminology but outdated situations, customs, and activities were also seen as problems."

Ugh, and those are the things that help teach critical thinking.


message 14: by Lorna (new)

Lorna | 198 comments LJ, reading your last post, all I can do is laugh. Through tears.

And FTR, I would know a slide rule if I saw it, but heck if I'd know how to use it.


message 15: by L J (new)

L J Lorna,
I was grateful I'd been in this conversation so was able to avoid laugh, tears and "What do you mean remove from school?"

I have 2 slide rules, but heck if I know where they are.


message 16: by Scott (new)

Scott L J wrote: "Just hours after posting here I was told children should read recent books not books from the last century, as in the 20th century. The main reason for this seemed to be outdated terminology but outdated situations, customs, and activities were also seen as problems."

Sadly there is an effort now to wipe out anything that doesn't fall in line with 21st century sensibilities. Laura Ingalls Wilder has been demoted; who's next?


message 17: by L J (last edited Aug 02, 2018 11:05AM) (new)

L J Scott wrote: "...Sadly there is an effort now to wipe out anything that doesn't fall in line with 21st century sensibilities. Laura Ingalls Wilder has been demoted; who's next?"

Next? From what I heard yesterday:
the term Negro - Good-Bye Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks
the term Indian - Good-Bye to Russell Means and Dennis Banks
Good-Bye history Good-Bye


message 18: by Paige (new)

Paige | 794 comments I can understand being selective of books you present to young kids. Some books have outdated science, outdated geography, outdated levels of sexism/racism/some other ism. That makes sense to me. If those things are in a book a child reads, there should be discussion of those things. A lot of discussion. Because you don't want a kid to absorb that kind of stuff passively. A prime example of literature requiring discussion would be Huckleberry Finn.

And there is some stuff out there amongst the classics so completely saturated with ugliness that perhaps it should be re-examined and disregarded entirely (I'm looking at YOU Robinson Caruso). That book was so bad that at the age of 10 or so, I put it down and gave up on it having any value to me- and that was the summer I had decided I was going to read every book in the classic canon before I hit college. Until I hit that book.

BUT...
Reading about outdated technology and customs can help transport a young reader (Ex: the American Girls series). Other books like The Velveteen Rabbit or Charlotte's Web, or A Little Princess may indeed have many outdated references, but the story itself can be loved by a child today- that's what makes them Classic.


message 19: by L J (new)

L J I'm not able to make unemotional decisions when it comes to censorship and probably don't have the appropriate attitude when it comes to children and what they should or shouldn't read.
It's hard to get some children to read. I don't want to discourage any child from reading. The greater the variety available the more likely something will catch their fancy. Recognize that every child is different. It seems counter productive to prohibit all children reading a book because it might not be good for some. Tailor the reading material to the child. Don't try to tailor the child's interests to fit the reading material. That's not how you create readers.


message 20: by Stephen (new)

Stephen (swynn68) | 81 comments "...children should read ..."

Pffft. Children should read what they please. Really, that's what they're going to read anyway. Saying they "shouldn't" only makes the forbidden books more attractive.

I mean, am I the only one who wonders what someone thought you shouldn't recommend only because now I really want to read it?


[on hiatus] The rockabilly werewolf from Mars | 1527 comments For me it's quite the opposite. I find references to dated technology or use of archaic slang (hepcat and the like) rather amusing and interesting, while I find myself getting annoyed when authors talk about social media in their books (note that I am in my early twenties).


message 22: by Frank (new)

Frank | 89 comments I think it varies by book for me.

I think it bothers me most if the timeline isn't clearly set (so most "contemporary" books that were published 20+ years ago). It's jarring to read a re-release from the late 90's (not knowing it's a re-release), and then to come across a scene where a character is smoking in a work meeting. But if I know the book is set in the 60's-70's I have no problems with them talking about typewriters or film projectors or even the fashion bits and pieces.


message 23: by Lorna (new)

Lorna | 198 comments Goya, I just remembered something that supports your post. In Fault Lines, by Anne Rivers Siddons, someone mentions getting Rain Forest Crunch ice cream (Ben & Jerry's flavor). Except that was a very limited run, only available in 1988. Fault Lines was published in 1995. D'oh!

(Mentioning any Ben & Jerry's flavor is risky, since they cycle them in and out so frequently. I would only do it if I was trying to pin a story to a specific year.)


message 24: by Reggie (new)

Reggie Shanala | 13 comments The rockabilly werewolf from Mars wrote: "For me it's quite the opposite. I find references to dated technology or use of archaic slang (hepcat and the like) rather amusing and interesting, while I find myself getting annoyed when authors ..."

@ the part about social media, why do you get annoyed?


message 25: by [on hiatus] The rockabilly werewolf from Mars (last edited Oct 01, 2019 02:34PM) (new)

[on hiatus] The rockabilly werewolf from Mars | 1527 comments Reggie wrote: "The rockabilly werewolf from Mars wrote: "For me it's quite the opposite. I find references to dated technology or use of archaic slang (hepcat and the like) rather amusing and interesting, while I..."

Because I don't use social media, nor do I have any particular interest in it (this one account makes up the entirety of my online presence).


message 26: by Scott (new)

Scott Imagine a book being ruined because an old flavor of ice cream was mentioned.


message 27: by Aerulan (new)

Aerulan | 1247 comments It really depends on the context and what's being discussed. Books with a non-specific setting when it comes to time (as in they avoid referencing details that would place it at a specific year) that are suddenly dated by a detail that hasn't aged well can be pretty jarring. And it can definitely change the experience of the read, at least for me.

A romance novel that mentions the hero is 'just like Tom Cruise' is, for some at least, going to evoke a very different impression now than it would have 20+ years ago when it was written.

Going on about their 'cutting edge' flip phone or mooning over their pager as the pinnacle of modern tech can look a bit goofy in hindsight. And if the book doesn't include other details that set it firmly in that era it can yank you out of the headspace you thought you were in. Suddenly the seemingly contemporary characters/story are set a decade or two in the past.
It's not always a "ruin"er but it can change the feel of a book if you weren't expecting it.

But there's a huge difference between stealth/unintentional datedness and books that are explicitly set in other times.


message 28: by Scott (new)

Scott I dunno, Tom Cruise kinda looks the same.


message 29: by Rosa (last edited Jun 11, 2020 01:26PM) (new)

Rosa (rosaiglarsh) | 5231 comments Something that really annoys me is when a book a few decades old is updated for "the kids." For example, Daughters of Eve, originally published in 1977, was edited to be "set in 2011" by clumsily substituting iPods and cell phones for records and landlines. It was terrible, and completely unconvincing. They also did this to The Girl Who Invented Romance, although it wasn't as heinous (probably because Daughters of Eve was a product of its time, while TGWIR had a more timeless theme), and I think Superfudge had the same fate. Although I haven't read the original yet, I know that laptops weren't around in 1980. I think Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was spared, thankfully.

Who are these parents who don't allow their kids to read Beverly Cleary books because kids don't play dress-up and build clubhouses anymore? A), what is wrong with them, and B), is it even true that kids don't play anymore? If so, maybe they would if they read some Beverly Cleary books. Or do these parents not want their kids to play?


message 30: by Scott (new)

Scott Are people incapable of understanding that stories take place in earlier times? I don't get it at all.


message 31: by Rosa (new)

Rosa (rosaiglarsh) | 5231 comments Scott wrote: "Imagine a book being ruined because an old flavor of ice cream was mentioned."

I...don’t understand.


message 32: by Zev (new)

Zev | 224 comments It varies. I think...If it's really clearly set during a decade that's past ( eg the 90s) and the author kept the details firmly in the time period, I'll allow it and maybe giggle. If the suthor's making cultural references that didn't exist then to make the characters hip, I get really annoyed. Mostly my feelings are somewhere in the middle.


message 33: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Simply put in gross vernacular: How’s about “Stranger Things?” Passé is a fad.


message 34: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Also I say... obviously, everyone here thinks they’re intelligent... if you’re reading a book from a certain era then be smart enough to put your mind there instead of expecting everything to be where our minds our today. Let go.


message 35: by Rosa (new)

Rosa (rosaiglarsh) | 5231 comments Yep! As Thomas C. Foster says, “Don’t read with your eyes.”


message 36: by Scott (new)

Scott Rosa wrote: "Scott wrote: "Imagine a book being ruined because an old flavor of ice cream was mentioned."

I...don’t understand."


Someone up-thread said they would be bothered by an anachronistic flavor of ice cream. Unless I misunderstood.


message 37: by Rosa (new)

Rosa (rosaiglarsh) | 5231 comments Oh, I see. I should have read the whole thread.
That’s funny.


message 38: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Isn’t it? People take things wayyyyyyy to seriously.


message 39: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments I think you and I are on the same page, Rosa.


message 40: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Otherwise why are vinyls trending today?


message 41: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Why are ppl wanting to go back to mix tapes?


message 42: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Because they’re part of HISTORY!


message 43: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Same with our literature and novels. They preserve time.


message 44: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Rant done.


message 45: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Also wtf is an anochronistic flavour of icecream lol


message 46: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Like I get that it comes from a specific time but have never heard that word applied to ice cream. Can you give an example?


[on hiatus] The rockabilly werewolf from Mars | 1527 comments Of course, I'm the sort of person who watches VHS tapes, didn't own a phone until earlier this year, and rarely listens to music released after 1962, so I'm probably not the person to ask about what is outdated or not.


message 48: by Scott (new)

Scott Shandi Pattison wrote: "Like I get that it comes from a specific time but have never heard that word applied to ice cream. Can you give an example?"

Ben & Jerry have limited edition flavors that go away after a time. Apparently Rainforest Crunch is long gone, but I wouldn't have known it. I do, however, miss Festivus.


message 49: by Shandi Pattison (new)

Shandi Pattison (shandipandi) | 20 comments Interesting...


message 50: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 103 comments Rosa wrote: "Something that really annoys me is when a book a few decades old is updated for the kids. For example, Daughters of Eve, originally published in 1977, was edited to be "set in 2011"..."

I completely agree with you. My nephew was having a halloween party one year (5th grade) and I was asked to help come up with stories. I dug out an old book I loved as a kid (Ghosts and Goblins which was full of great little stories and poems. In fact I now have two hard copies of it and read some every Halloween. :)

I wasn't allowed to read from it though because "The kids won't understand it". That really confused me. I didn't know what a hob was when I was in fifth grade, but I could grasp the idea from the context. Its like there is a pressure to make sure children are never exposed to old things and expected to work something out on their own.


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