Book Dating

Unfortunately I don’t mean the love we all have for our books and collections. The single minded passion that rarely is matched elsewhere (don’t lie).

No, I’m talking about contemporary books that clearly place themselves in a certain time frame. By this I mean mentioning and incorporating trends of the time into the books. Now clearly any contemporary book written today will automatically be dated compared to future books. I mean today’s book won’t have the bells and whistles that the future books will have, just as reading books from the ‘80s and ‘90s don’t have the same advances in technology and cultural attitudes that current books exhibit.

So there is a sense that is an inevitable byproduct of writing contemporary books. Yet with how popular they are, I don’t see that changing. But I wonder about certain brands or trends being used that may date the book in a more obvious way. Perhaps contemporary books only have a short shelf life. Whereas a historical can be read any time and remains the same, contemporary books get dated quickly and often left aside. 

An example of the more obvious "dating" methods used, a few years ago books talked about myspace pages. A trend that is now seriously over and those books feel even more dated regardless that they’re relatively recent. I read a book the other day that mentioned twitter and facebook, which brought the same question back. If for some reason those social medias go by the way of myspace, would that "date" the book even more?

But on the flip side, does that resonate with fans who are reading the right now. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if a reader 3 years from now picks it up and laughs about the outdated references. I mean some books still feature the mullet so what can I say?

What about you, readers?
Are you bothered by obvious dating mechanisms such as trends or social media?
What if you pick up the book for the first time years after?

15 thoughts on “Book Dating

  1. I tried to read the Bourne books after seeing the first movie, but I found myself really frustrated by the out-dated communications. I kept wanting the guy to send a fax or an e-mail and decided the whole dilemma could have been solved with a two-minute Google search. 🙂

    • I know! Though I still love the bourne movies regardless. But that’s how I feel when I read a book and think “myspace?” or something similar so I guess it’s just something people accept and move on.

  2. I think it’s good. A contemporary book that is a good book doesn’t just cease to be relevant, it becomes a period piece from the recent past. I think the technology and the references help to frame it and to reflect the context of the story — inside and out.
    I think a contemporary piece has value in part because it comments on the present, but it should also have aspects that are universal. Even when being gay becomes completely common and normal and we’re all using gender neutral pronouns and such, books about coming out won’t lose their power. The whole struggle of coming out can be reflected again and again about so many other things. It will always be difficult, and even dangerous, to defy the expectations of your family and society.
    It’s easy to sneer at the recent past the same way a seven year old sneers at how dumb he was when he was five. You fell down because you couldn’t tie your shoe? There’s no crisis now that you can tie your shoe! How dumb can you be? But, the further we get from something, the less it becomes about us and what we didn’t know and the more it becomes about where we came from and what we learned and how we were shaped by what we didn’t know.
    So, no, it never bothers me when I run across things like that. And, it never bothers me when I’m writing. 🙂

    • Great comment, thank you! Plus I *love* your icon.
      That’s a really great comment about the relevance of certain customs and I agree. I honestly don’t mind the use of certain trends and so on that are hot and relevant at the time, sometimes I read them and can instantly identify with the character/s. Other times I think it feels like product placement and an easy way to move from point A to B.
      I think issues in literature are timeless, regardless of change. I also appreciate the snapshot of current climates. For example I enjoy reading a book about coming out today vs say 1960 and compare the changes in climate yet the message of the characters and their journey, individually, are still important regardless of passing time or attitude changes.

  3. For me, it depends. I think stories need to be relevant to the time period in which they are set. By the same token, I think there IS such a thing as over use of branding and other things that can date a book. That’s one of the criticisms used against J R Ward’s BDB series and, yes, it can make for frustrating reading at times because it feels a bit like name dropping. What I mean by this is that it can feel like there is an unnecessary amount of names and terms when the reader is more than capable of using their imagination to fill in any blanks. Does that make sense?

    • Of course. That’s been one of my pet peeves of some books is that they’re name dropping so I start to think of my own associations with the names vs what the character is doing.
      If an author says “I turned on my imac, opened safari, logged into gmail, saw an ad for borders” I start to think about the spam ads I get in email and hmm have I checked my email lately? Rather than the author just saying “billy checked his email”

  4. I actually love reading stories that are set in the 1980’s before cell phones and the personal computer. Man, the DVD player hadn’t even been invented yet. With technology changing as rapidly as it is, often it’s challenging to remember exactly when a life-altering technology was first introduced. How old was I when we got our first microwave? What about the cordless phone? When did they stop putting AM radios in automobiles?
    The same can be said about fashion and trends. You mentioned the mullet, for example. For my generation it was popular for girls to tease out their hair and wear these humongous hairstyles. The more volume they had, the better they thought they looked. And all the guys carried these huge combs in their back pockets with the plastic handle sticking up. And of course, the only jeans that were acceptable to wear were straight leg levis… and you had to wear either white socks or no socks (colored socks were definitely not cool).
    Maybe it’s just me, but I love when an author remembers these details and includes them accurately in their books. As for contemporary stories, I think you’re right. A few years from now we will laugh at the inclusion of certain elements which have fallen by the wayside. Still I think these details are valuable slices of life which help create a realistic setting within a specific period of time.

    • I read books from the 1920’s and always check because it’s a juxtaposition of feeling historical with still many advances in technology. It’s not -that- distant yet it feels that way so I’m always surprised at the details included.
      Same with those contemporary novels of 80’s and 90’s. I read a realllllyyyyy old m/f romance the other day and it has all of those hallmark cliches that were so beloved back in the day (and hell still today) but no cell phones and the like. What they wrote each other letters? Seriously? So looking back, it’s pretty fun to read those for sure.
      LOL Those trends are great and I think fun to read but what makes it interesting (for my random curious nature) is that it takes some time to pass for most to appreciate those trends. For example if you read a book with a myspace reference right now you’d think (likely the general “you” not you specifically) that it’s dated. Whereas wait a few more years and people will remember the fad more fondly with a groan.
      Thanks as always for your comments! I love to hear what people think and it’s cool to know most appreciate the detail to identify it and don’t mind that it slides into dating pretty quickly.

  5. Today’s contempos are tomorrow’s historicals. Just look at Dickens. Like movies, a contempo book risks becoming dated for about one or two decades. But eventually, people might enjoy going back and reading a book from say the 90s to get an authentic feel for the time.

    • With that being said I try to keep my contempos current but vague if that makes sense. I’m currently writing a May/December relationship. I wanted to include music references, so to be safe I just made them both U2 fans!

    • I do think if certain books are very specific (ie. mentioning twitter) that it becomes a pretty “accurate” historical at some point. But I also wonder at the time gap. With a more vague contemporary book, it’s not so clear that it’s say 2010 exactly but more so a general range where certain technology was prevalent. By adding even more detail you date the book to a specific time point even more, which may make reading it 3 yrs from now more of less fun than reading a vague contemp 3 yrs from now that could be as relevant.
      If that makes sense. I don’t think either one is wrong, just curious about reading taste.

  6. I am pleasantly thrilled when current events show up in my fiction. I’m just now reading Biting Me Softly by Mary Hughes and love the pop-culture that shows up and gets me to relate just that little bit more to the character.
    On the other hand, a favorite series of mine is Anita Blake Vampire Hunter and I HATE that she is sporting a fanny pack! Ugg… yuck, uncool.

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