More Than I Bargained For – When Books Come With a Message

messages There are a few published authors who have a reputation for being passionate about a particular political or social topic. Most readers know this up front and share these authors’ views. But what about those individuals who unsuspectingly buy a book and find themselves getting a dissertation on our corrupt politicians, or how the lack of progress in going green is hurting the country. When does the author’s belief system interfere with your enjoyment of a book?

Frankly, I can tolerate social commentary over political. For the most part, I don’t run into it in most of the books I read and when I do, it’s usually not a problem, but politics can be more problematic. I recently read a book for review that had our politicians sabotaging a military mission in order to stir up sympathy support for the war. Talk about an unexpected and unwanted political surprise. Things like this stick in my mind and overshadow the romance portion of the book. When I asked my fellow reviewers what romance books they have read with political or social views within the pages, I received numerous examples within minutes. Maggie remembers Lady Liberty by Vicki Hinze being controversial for its inclusion of political talk about a former president whose sexual exploits brought disgrace to the office and a new one whose ritual of daily prayer was returning that respect. Kristan Higgins’ book All I Ever Wanted has Michelle Obama giving sage advice to the heroine. Continuing on the political front in the realm of historicals, Dabney mentions Sherry Thomas’ discussion about the lack of foresight used by the British in the 1800’s invasion of what is now Pakistan in her book, Not Quite a Husband.

On social issues, Lee and Jane both remember Catherine Anderson’s book, Here to Stay because of her very passionate thoughts on using mini horses as guide animals. Dabney mentioned Jill Shalvis’ discussion of abandoned animals in Animal Magnetism. Jane recalls that a review of Twist of Fate by Mary Jo Putney makes a point of mentioning the author’s views on the death penalty which were referenced in the book, and Emilie Richards tackles immigration in Endless Chain.

I doubt that any of us would want to read a book completely void of any social commentary.  Done right it adds nuances to the plot and characterization.  A heroine volunteering to help the homeless or feed the hungry shows me rather than tells me about her personality. What makes some books work with a social or political message?  What makes it fail?  It all depends on the author’s handling of the subject.  For me even with non-controversial topics, an author can cross the line when the book loses balance and the message overwhelms the plot, no matter how much how much I agree with the message. Some very controversial subjects are more problematic for authors to handle even with a light touch, not that it can’t be done.

I believe that an author should write about subjects that are close to her heart.  As a reader, I for the most part don’t mind the message, but I don’t want to be drawn into an information dump about how the present system is wrong and what is needed to fix it.  I am in the medical field, and believe that prevention is a better solution than treatment.  That doesn’t mean I want to be drawn into the pros and cons of our current insurance woes.

Are there subjects that draw me to books rather than discourage me? I find myself drawn to characters who care about animals. While I can’t say that I have actively searched the Internet for books with this theme, when I come across a book blurb that mentions animals, animal’s shelters, animal rescue I am more apt to read it.  My love of a recent book by Lucy Dillon Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts and books by David Rosenfelt are definitely enhanced by our common love and concern for animals.

As a romance reader, where do you believe that social and political message belong in this genre? Do you actively seek these out these types of books or avoid them? What are the books that you remember more for message than the plot? Are you drawn to a particular author’s works because of their handling of subject or have you quit reading an author because of this reason?

– Leigh Davis

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