The recent post on the quality of LDS fiction over on LDSPublisher mentioned a problem that we see too often in LDS books. Jeff Savage wrote:
I recently read a self-published book that was quite highly acclaimed. I liked the story, but I constantly found myself pulled out by typos, grammatical error, abrupt POV changes, and other issues that most authors, and many readers, would consider bad writing.
He went on to explain that this tripped him up, although he managed to finish the book. [This is really peripheral to the point of his post, a very good one that echoes discussions we have had here, including my own post on Standards in LDS Literature.]
This reminded me of one of the problems I had with LDS romance fiction. I had volunteered to review books for the AML list and was assigned a novel by Rachel Nunes. Since I served my mission in Portugal, where Rachel Nunes also served, I felt a certain affinity for her and hoped that I would be pleased with the book.
But when I read the novel (or at least most of it), I discovered a passage that troubled me deeply. I never did write a review, and I haven’t read any of Rachel’s other works, in part due to that passage.
To be fair, LDS romance isn’t likely to attract me anyway (I’m male — and I suppose males have to be a small percentage of romance readers). But this passage also explains one thing that trips me up when I read LDS fiction — the kind of thing that makes me put down a book in the middle and not pick it up again.
To understand my difficulty with this passage in particular, I need to explain a little of my background. In the mid 1990s I went to work for a small children’s book publisher here in New York City as its operations manager. As such, I handled everything from order processing and accounting to personnel. One of our employees at the time was ill and never came to work. It was a while before I met him and learned that he was dying of AIDS. Several months after I started working there, he came into the office and basically asked to be fired.
It turns out that firing him was the best way to improve his condition — he got better medical care and better benefits that way than he would have from a small company like ours. His partner (he was gay, as you have probably guessed) also would be less burdened in this way. [Welcome to the sometimes bizarre world of benefits and personnel issues.]
He died less than a year later. In the process, I learned a bit more about AIDS and gained a little different perspective on the disease. I’ve also learned a lot about the technical biology of AIDS and its history from my wife, who is a molecular biolgist actively studying the public health issues of AIDS’ biggest ally in causing death, Tuberculosis. I’m no expert, but what I’ve learned has given me a lot of compassion for those struggling with this insidious disease.
So what does this have to do with Rachel Nunes’ book? The book I read featured a man dying of AIDS, and the passage in question contained statements that are known and were known at the time to be factually wrong about AIDS. As I remember the statements, they are the kind of statements that would offend many who have AIDS. They included statements that implied the AIDS epidemic was caused by homosexuals and that they were to blame for it.
Now, I don’t want to dump too heavily on Rachel. I think her publisher is to blame in part, as is the lack of knowledge in Utah culture of the facts about AIDS. The point is not that this passage is wrong. The point is that it tripped me up, that I couldn’t finish the book because of it.
So, I have a lack of tolerance for factual inaccuracies in a text, at least when it hits a subject with which I have personal experience. [I actually rejected a manuscript because of this — its portrayal of the publishing industry simply bothered me so much that I couldn’t do the book.] It doesn’t matter if the book is fiction or not. If it is central to the plot, and I’m not expected to suspend my disbelief (like in fantasy), incorrect facts can throw me off and keep me from reading further.
I suppose there are probably other things that would trip me up too. But I don’t want to make this about me. So, please tell me what trips you up when you read a book?
Perhaps a thread like this will help publishers avoid these problem areas (for example, realize that even fiction can need some fact checking!) and produce higher quality books.