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That's So Dated
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Anne Marble



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 606

PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 10:49 am    Post subject: That's So Dated Reply with quote

Today, I read reviews of a compilation of 1950s comics that complained some of the stories were dated. At first, I thought "Well, duh!" Laughing But then, don't we often make the same complaint when older romance novels are reprinted? And they're far from 50 years old!

Have you ever read an older romance and found it dated? What makes it seem dated? Some people find the characters dated -- for example, domineering heroes and young, virginal heroines. Others find the attitudes dated -- for example, the way the career women are portrayed. Others find the plot background dated -- for example, stories where corporate raiders are portrayed as heroes. Still others find the little things get to them -- for example, characters who don't have cell phones or characters who smoke. Did I miss anything?

Can you read and enjoy a book even if you find it dated? Or does that depend on the book itself? (For example, you'll put up with it with a good book but not with a mediocre one.) Also, are there older romances that don't seem so dated? If so, which ones are they, and how do they avoid carrying an expiration stamp?

On the other hand, do you sometimes read an older book because you want something dated? And are there current authors you read because even their recent books have that same feeling and background?
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just to answer a couple of your questions...looking back, the things that date a book for me are...mustaches, music choices and also playing 8 tracks in the cars, clothing choices on women (jumpsuits come to mind, peasant skirts) and of course the lack of cell phones and computers. An author who comes to mind is Elizabeth Lowell...her older contemps are quite good, but pretty much dated. And I don't mind reading a dated book at all, but I like to be aware that it is an older book. Some of these reissues can be deceiving...like the Sandra Brown books.
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Niftybergin



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 2:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This question made me think of Sandra Brown. A few weeks ago I read Texas! Sage and as I was reading it I had the thought that Sandra Brown's books -- her older romances -- have a very distinctive tone. I think what it is, maybe, is that Brown's older romances always have this Cosmopolitan Magazine/Helen Gurley Brown quality to them. A lot of those books were written back in the 80s/early 90s, and they're contemporaries. By that time in history, we were far enough along in women's lib and equal rights and all that that women (from Brown's books) are out in the workplace, making a good living. They're financially independent and sexually aware...even adventurous. And yet there's still this undercurrent of sexism in the stories...this feeling of patting the little lady on the behind as you praise her for a job well done. The female characters are very female...very aware of their feminity and how showing just a tad bit of cleavage and a little bit of leg can help them get where they're going. Except it's not really so cold-blooded or intentional.

I don't know if I'm explaining it well. I haven't read anything by Brown in years so I don't know if her newer books have this same tone. But I've read several of her older ones, and I think they all seem to have it. Anyway, to me it's very dated. Not necessarily out-of-date, but just specific to a period in our history/culture.
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 3:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think there's this grey area between books that are obviously contemporary and those that are obviously not where datedness comes into play. Mary Stewart wrote in a particular time period, but as it was 60 years ago I don't think of her books as dated, simply about that period. Old Sandra Brown or Elizabeth Lowell or Jayne Ann Krentz are close enough to present day to almost feel contemporary but hair and clothing styles and technology keep tugging the reader back a couple of decades at unexpected moments.

Then there are attitudes prevalent during certain time periods. I have a harder time with this sort of dated than I do with lack of cell phones. I recently read a Victoria Holt I unearthed from my parents house only to find it has the historical heroine falling in love with her rapist in the best Luke & Laura late 70s tradition. ICK. (plus he kept telling her she'd enjoyed it, when she barely remembered it because he'd drugged her. It was vile.)
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Diana



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Niftybergin wrote:
This question made me think of Sandra Brown. A few weeks ago I read Texas! Sage and as I was reading it I had the thought that Sandra Brown's books -- her older romances -- have a very distinctive tone. I think what it is, maybe, is that Brown's older romances always have this Cosmopolitan Magazine/Helen Gurley Brown quality to them. A lot of those books were written back in the 80s/early 90s, and they're contemporaries. By that time in history, we were far enough along in women's lib and equal rights and all that that women (from Brown's books) are out in the workplace, making a good living. They're financially independent and sexually aware...even adventurous. And yet there's still this undercurrent of sexism in the stories...this feeling of patting the little lady on the behind as you praise her for a job well done. The female characters are very female...very aware of their feminity and how showing just a tad bit of cleavage and a little bit of leg can help them get where they're going. Except it's not really so cold-blooded or intentional.

I don't know if I'm explaining it well. I haven't read anything by Brown in years so I don't know if her newer books have this same tone. But I've read several of her older ones, and I think they all seem to have it. Anyway, to me it's very dated. Not necessarily out-of-date, but just specific to a period in our history/culture.


Brown and Lowell are good examples. I had remembered Brown's Slow Heat in Heaven with fondness from reading it about 10 years ago, but when I recently reread it and another by Brown, I was appalled. The men are pigs! What the heck was I thinking 10 years ago giving these books a pass when I'd been out battling sexism in the workplace since the 70s? I dunno. Elizabeth Lowell wrote some real champion misogynists. Come to that, so did Linda Howard (An Independent Wife -- ugh!). Howard most definitely had an epiphany and I'm liking Brown's recent books quite a lot. Lowell's more recent books have wandered into boring territory and I no longer buy them. I've cured myself of the urge to read oldies with a patronizing tone.
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KarenS



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Judith McNaught is dating herself when she writes today's contemporaries and she has the heroine dressing in clothing that was in vogue about 20 years ago! I guess when you're sixty-something, it's hard to follow trends of thirty-something women. It's comical in a way, but, sad also that the wrong style of clothes messes up the image of a hip, trendy, contemporary heroine.
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Cora



Joined: 12 Mar 2008
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Location: Bremen, Germany

PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 8:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always check the copyright page anyway, so I see when a book was first published. And when reading a book first published fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago, I naturally expect that the technology, politics, clothing, hairstyles, popculture references and attitudes will be dated. This does not bother me per se. Quite the contrary, I like it far more when a book is rooted in its time, even if that means it will feel dated ten or twenty years from now, then when authors avoid mentioning any specifics about popculture, fashions, etc... to avoid dating themselves (or even worse, exorcise all dated references from reissues of older books, see the Janet Evanovich Loveswept reissues). Because the books will inevitably date anyway due to factors no one could have foreseen. For example, even the most generic 1980s romance with no time-specific references to anything will seem dated now, because no one uses a cellphone or has internet access and because PCs are glorified typewriters. But if the characters wear chunky plastic necklaces, listen to Depeche Mode or watch the A-Team, it will at least put a smile on my face, because I remember doing the same things. Plus, today's romance novels and other works of popular fiction will be invaluable resources about our day to day life for social historians of the future. Just consider how much one learns about life in the Regency period just by reading Jane Austen.

Dated attitudes with regards to sexism, racism, etc... can be more of a problem, because a lot of what was perfectly acceptable even twenty or thirty years ago now seems repulsive. For example, I cringe when I read the n-word or any other racist term in an older text. I can grudgingly accept it in fiction as part of the attitudes of the time, unless it gets too much. For example, I can read and enjoy Georgette Heyer, though I cringe whenever one of those Jewish moneylenders shows up because of the blatant antisemitism.

Besides, there are a lot of things I would have hated twenty years ago as much as I hate them today. For example, I stopped reading romances in my teens, because the blatant sexism (this would have been the late 1980s) put me off and only got back into the genre a couple of years ago, when I found that it had changed. And I hate it when rape is confused with romance, whether it happens in "Gone with the Wind", which is 70 years old, a James Bond novel which is 50 years old, a 30-year-old Rosemary Rogers, Catherine Coulter or Kathleen Woodiwiss novel or any current romance.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

KarenS wrote:
Judith McNaught is dating herself when she writes today's contemporaries and she has the heroine dressing in clothing that was in vogue about 20 years ago! I guess when you're sixty-something, it's hard to follow trends of thirty-something women. It's comical in a way, but, sad also that the wrong style of clothes messes up the image of a hip, trendy, contemporary heroine.



I haven't read a recent McNaught, but I notice several very popular authors do this (Nora Roberts for one). I try to ignore it and most often it works, but it is sad in a way that they can't bother to research current fashion but just pick out what's in their own closet. I overlook it most times because I know I'm picky in that area...picturing a contemporary heroine looking normal, especially when she's written as trendy and comes off looking anything but.
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Rosario



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 3:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cora wrote:
I always check the copyright page anyway, so I see when a book was first published. And when reading a book first published fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago, I naturally expect that the technology, politics, clothing, hairstyles, popculture references and attitudes will be dated. This does not bother me per se. Quite the contrary, I like it far more when a book is rooted in its time, even if that means it will feel dated ten or twenty years from now...[snip]

Dated attitudes with regards to sexism, racism, etc... can be more of a problem, because a lot of what was perfectly acceptable even twenty or thirty years ago now seems repulsive.

I agree completely. The everyday life details don't bother me and just help me put myself in the moment in recent history in which the book is set. But some of the dated attitudes, even though you could say they do the same thing, really affect my enjoyment of the story.

One author I've found doesn't feel dated at all is Barbara Michaels / Elizabeth Peters. She's been writing since the late 60s, and even her earliest heroines tend to feel more feminist than many of those being written these days.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 6:32 am    Post subject: Re: That's So Dated Reply with quote

Anne Marble wrote:

Have you ever read an older romance and found it dated? What makes it seem dated? [snipped] Also, are there older romances that don't seem so dated? If so, which ones are they, and how do they avoid carrying an expiration stamp?


There's a possible parallel here in history of costume. There, the general rule is that an item that's ten to twenty years out of date is regarded as hopelessly frumpy ("how could we/they ever have worn that?"); one fifty to seventy-five years out of date is becoming vintage (1930s and 1940s evening gowns, for example); one a century or more out of date is a charming historical dress.

A person eventually becomes cynical as the decades pass. In reading the women's magazines, the same make-up techniques and hair styles that were being urged upon us in the 1980s are denounced by the same columnists as horribly passe in the 1990s; in turn, the "new and better styles" of the 1990s are condemned as horrible once we have turned the century into the 2000s. I find myself having to stuff down an impulse to write the editors with a recommendation that they identify all the women who made purchases in accord with their earlier recommendations and refund their money with interest and apologies, or, at a minimum, reprint some of the magazine's earlier columns side-by-side with the new critiques.

I think the same is true in some ways for romances. I do not find Paul Gallico's The Lonely or Margaret Widdemer's Constancia Herself (then-contemporaries written in the 1940s) dated in the sense you mean. They are simply books from the era, with clothing, automobiles, and other accessories from the era. I think the sense of "dated" most usually comes when we pick up a book written in the past quarter-century, unconsciously assuming that it will be lprecisely like a book written today, and run into the subtle (sometimes less subtle) changes in the material environment that have taken place (the switch from dial phones to touch-tone phones even before the advent of cellphones, for example; the switch from pull chains to turnable pegs on floor lamp switches).

There again, though, material goods often stay around for a long time. My thrifty mother did not give up her dial phone until it wore out, which meant that her great-grandchildren were familiar with, and knew how to use, that item of technology well into the touch-tone era.

Attitudinal changes and assumptions bother me less, for the simple reason that there's never been a historical era in which everyone shared the same attitudes. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment (often known as the Age of Reason in popular textbooks) was contemporary with the rise of Methodism in England. Newton thought of his scientific reasearch as a form of religious endeavor. In the 19th century, we would scarcely have had all the various upheavals (revolution of 1830 and revolution of 1848 in Europe, Civil War in the US, rise of the women's suffrage movement) if all people living at the same time had been existing in some kind of happy intellectual harmony.

Then there's the simple factor that on any given day, there are people alive who are of different ages (from newborn to a centenarian), people who were reared by people of different ages (a child born to teenaged parents will probably pick up different unconscious assumptions than a child born the same day whose parents are close to forty -- effectively, they are two different generations until they get out into the wider world), and of different backgrounds (a child born in New York City and growing up there will probably have some different assumptions and attitudes from a child born on the same date to a farm family in rural South Dakota and growing up there).

Therefore, it really doesn't make sense to approach contemporary romances with the presumption that if the h/h and their associates don't precisely share the approach to life and assumption of oneself and one's associates, that the result is "dated."

I think it's fair enough to say that given the backgrounds assigned to most of the characters who populate "inspirationals" both today and in the past (Grace Livingston Hill), they are not going to share the more liberal sexual assumptions of their day, or wear the same clothing one might expect to find on Sex and the City. In fact, there are whole online websites devoted to the marketing of clothing that is simultaneously reasonably stylish by the standards of 2008 and reasonably modest by the standards of conservative religious denominations -- which is a neat trick if the designers can manage it. The disjunction between Hill's characters and the popular culture of the 1920s was just as great as the disjunction between the characters in "inspirationals" and "chick lit" today.

For that matter, if you back up to 1900, you can find "inspirational" stories in popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post in which a "progressive" young woman who wears "fast" clothing suddenly realizes how immodest her dress looks and tucks a lace petticoat under the slit in her skirt and a frothy fichu into her plunging neckline before appearing to meet a young man's stuffy parents Smile Then there's Meg's excursion into "Vanity Fair" in Little Women. I feel quite certain that one could track this theme much farther back into the past.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 7:43 am    Post subject: Re: That's So Dated Reply with quote

A person eventually becomes cynical as the decades pass. In reading the women's magazines, the same make-up techniques and hair styles that were being urged upon us in the 1980s are denounced by the same columnists as horribly passe in the 1990s; in turn, the "new and better styles" of the 1990s are condemned as horrible once we have turned the century into the 2000s. I find myself having to stuff down an impulse to write the editors with a recommendation that they identify all the women who made purchases in accord with their earlier recommendations and refund their money with interest and apologies, or, at a minimum, reprint some of the magazine's earlier columns side-by-side with the new critiques.



Well, sure...I agree, but the whether or not you agree with fashion trends isn't really the point. I think it's fair to say that at one time or another fashion trends bother most women. As for authors and writing fictional characters I believe that if an author can't pull of the dress of a trendy women, she/he shouldn't mention clothing at all, because to some readers it doesn't all add up. Less mention of the character's clothing choice is probably best if an author is just going by her personal choices, because most of the time, it's just not going to sound right....in my opinion. Then again, any mention of clothing is going to date a book eventually, and it seems hard to avoid.
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 8:09 am    Post subject: Re: That's So Dated Reply with quote

xina wrote:
As for authors and writing fictional characters I believe that if an author can't pull of the dress of a trendy women, she/he shouldn't mention clothing at all, because to some readers it doesn't all add up. Less mention of the character's clothing choice is probably best if an author is just going by her personal choices, because most of the time, it's just not going to sound right....in my opinion. Then again, any mention of clothing is going to date a book eventually, and it seems hard to avoid.

I would agree with you on this, xina, only because clothing matters not one iota with me in stories, especially the contemporaries. In fact, at the point in a story when an author goes into detail of what everyone is wearing, that's my cue to skim until the description is over. I already have a fair idea in my mind of what the characters look like; and clothing is there, I guess, but only because it's necessary. An exception may be when the characters are attending a large extravaganza and the garments are more elaborate. Other than that, it's totally unnecessary, IMO, in a story.
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Rosario



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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 9:16 am    Post subject: Re: That's So Dated Reply with quote

Tee wrote:
xina wrote:
As for authors and writing fictional characters I believe that if an author can't pull of the dress of a trendy women, she/he shouldn't mention clothing at all, because to some readers it doesn't all add up. Less mention of the character's clothing choice is probably best if an author is just going by her personal choices, because most of the time, it's just not going to sound right....in my opinion. Then again, any mention of clothing is going to date a book eventually, and it seems hard to avoid.

I would agree with you on this, xina, only because clothing matters not one iota with me in stories, especially the contemporaries. In fact, at the point in a story when an author goes into detail of what everyone is wearing, that's my cue to skim until the description is over. I already have a fair idea in my mind of what the characters look like; and clothing is there, I guess, but only because it's necessary. An exception may be when the characters are attending a large extravaganza and the garments are more elaborate. Other than that, it's totally unnecessary, IMO, in a story.

Hmmm, I don't think I agree with that. The clothes people choose to wear can tell you things about them. It can be excessive and degenerate into excruciating brand-name dropping ( la JR Ward), and in that case, I do like you and skip it, but it can also be a part of characterisation.

But yeah, like xina says, if you have no idea about it and will probably convey the wrong message, better skip it!
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the other hand, I do like the mention of clothing in historical settings. I think it adds to the character and how I picture them in my mind. However, the contemporary characters don't work with me as well, even in elaborate evening clothing, I'm still thinking that...some authors, not all, haven't bothered to research what her character might wear or even look like. I feel that if you can research professions...doctor, lawyer, fire fighter, FBI agent..whatever, you can research clothing choices...or don't bother with it at all. I do hate the name dropping in JR Ward because it starts resembling a commercial and I really don't need any more of those in my life. On another note, one more thing that dates a book is smoking. I remember one very popular author had her hero smoke a cigarette, then go out for his daily 5 mile run. Yeah, I guess you could do that, but it doesn't really seem reasonable that he'd be so into running and still be a smoker. I suppose the author was a smoker at the time...I sort of pictured her smoking while writing that scene.
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rosario wrote:
Hmmm, I don't think I agree with that. The clothes people choose to wear can tell you things about them. It can be excessive and degenerate into excruciating brand-name dropping ( la JR Ward), and in that case, I do like you and skip it, but it can also be a part of characterisation.

That's why I said IMO on that, Rosario; because I realize that not everyone feels the same way as I do with clothing descriptions in books. There are probably a lot more out there who feel as you do on that score, though. I'm sure I'm definitely in the minority on that particular issue.

xina wrote:
I remember one very popular author had her hero smoke a cigarette, then go out for his daily 5 mile run. Yeah, I guess you could do that, but it doesn't really seem reasonable that he'd be so into running and still be a smoker. I suppose the author was a smoker at the time...I sort of pictured her smoking while writing that scene.

Are we thinking Diana Palmer here, by any chance, xina? Very Happy Her male characters were notorious for constantly chain smoking, at least in her earlier books. I also agree with your statement about clothing descriptions in historical novels. They fit very well there, just because of the times and the complicated styles popular then.
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