So I was chatting a few days ago with my mom as she returned from a night out with my godmother. There was some sort of special night marking Barbados’ independence, and among some of the guests there, my mom (honourary Barbadian that she was) saw Canadian writer Austin Clarke.
I’d heard about Austin Clarke years before I’d ever read any of his material. My mom used to recall stories where she’d taken a night course in English with a couple of friends and had to read one of his books. She hated it, so much so, she never finished the book and never picked up another book by the man since.
My mom recalled pointing him out to my godmother and asking her if she read any books. “I tried reading his latest,” my godmother replied, “But I just couldn’t finish it. It was horrible.”
Why, I asked. Was it the story line? Because I heard there was a problem with the storyline.
The reason? Coarse language. It was the very reason my mom put down one of his earlier books so many years ago.
Now, I’m obviously from a different generation and society, where I’ve been surrounded by language like this fairly regularly. And, I must admit, I am guilty of having used this language myself, sometimes out of sheer frustration, but other times just for the sake of saying it.
But one point my mother brought up – and I can see where she’s coming from – is that, it’s one thing to say or hear such words. But to see them leap up from the page … the weight is a bit different. I remember being a bit taken aback the first time I read such language as a young teenager. Now I might linger on the words a half-second or two longer nowadays if I see them in print, but I don’t really flinch.
It does make me wonder, though: is seeing cusswords in books still a big deal. Some folks might say “no” and keep reading. Others might be more selective in the things they read and stop reading books that contain these words.
Sometimes in a newspaper, magazine, or on TV or radio, they sometimes use the words in a specific context to a story. Does the same apply for a piece of fiction? Poetry? When is it considered superfluous and unnecessary.
I eventually would like to write novels someday. Do I censor myself or leave the censoring to others?
My mother would rather I write children’s books instead. I guess in that way, she’d be able to read them.