I was trying to figure out, earlier today, what year it would have been that I started reading to my little sister. I have read her scads of books over the years, but I’m pretty sure the first one was Half Magic, and I’m pretty sure that after finishing it, we went straight on to Magic by the Lake, which means I must have had them both at the time. I have definite proof that I got Magic by the Lake for Christmas of 1995.
Let’s say I started reading to Social Sister early in 1996. That was fourteen years ago now. We read a lot of books together. I mean we shared a room in our childhood! It’s not like either of us had to make any big effort to get together and do some reading. Plus, my family had a big car trip every summer to Maine, which meant three solid days of driving to get there, and three solid days of driving to get back. That is a lot of time to read. There are times when we got strapped for books to read next.
I mention this because I wouldn’t have bought Deep Secret if I had had some easy alternative of what to read Social Sister instead. I had decided to read it to her in the time between finally deciding I liked it, and actually buying a copy. I liked it easily well enough to buy it, but the one they had in the YA section at Bongs & Noodles had a stupid-looking cover:
The back cover blurb is stupid too! I didn’t want to buy that stupid book. I was just going to read to Social Sister from our oldest sister Anna’s copy, but there were pages missing out of the front of that copy. So I sighed heavily to make sure Anna knew how severely she was inconveniencing me by having a damaged book; and also to impress upon Social Sister the painful and difficult nature of the sacrifices I had to make on her behalf; and I bought the stupid copy of Deep Secret and resigned myself.
(I always wanted Social Sister to be pretty clear on how kind I was being to read to her at all. When I finished a chapter, and was willing to go on and read another chapter, I would start to close the book very slowly while keeping my place with my finger, and I’d say, “And maybe next time—” which was Social Sister’s cue to start howling and begging for me to continue. She’d screech and plead and grovel, and after several minutes of this I’d sigh and say grudgingly, “Well – okay”. It was sort of control-freaky. I AM NOT PROUD.)
It turned out that in addition to having a stupid cover and a back-cover blurb made out of fail, this copy of Deep Secret had been censored to make it more kid-friendly. All the swear words had been changed into less sweary words (except the ones that hadn’t – it was very inconsistent), and anything that would have implied that anyone, anywhere, was thinking about having sex (mind you, this book is set at a fantasy fiction convention) had also been removed. They left in all the violence though – some pretty violent violence! It was an idiotic way of doing it.
I didn’t appreciate it. I so much didn’t appreciate it that I read out of the stupid copy to Social Sister with a pen and Anna’s old copy in my other hand, and I checked the versions against each other and made corrections in the margins of the stupid copy. I did it straight through. Here is a sample (I chose these pages as an extreme example – in most of the book it’s just a few swear words here and there) (and sorry about the fuzzy edges – I was trying to scan these without cracking the book’s spine):
So reading it was sort of like this:
“I apologized – (Brace yourself, Social Sister, there’s a bother coming up, and I suspect not naturally). One of the six said, Bother – oh, for heaven’s sake! Bother! I mean they didn’t mind us seeing that kid get executed at the beginning, or all the business with the sticky drippy blood a little while ago, but they can’t bear the idea that we might read the word Damn in a book marked as appropriate for ages 12 and up. Social Sister, don’t you feel that a majority of kids ages 12 and up know the word Damn already? There, I’ve fixed it. One of the six said Damn, and Social Sister, let’s be clear, one of the six said damn, damn, damn, and before that they said damn the convention and damn the centaur-”
“I like the centaur,” said Social Sister.
“Nobody cares what you like!” I howled. “I am on a mission to restore the smut to desmutted books! And this part says, One of the six said Damn, and everyone is having an orgy in the stairwell, and if they didn’t like the way she wrote the damn book in the first place then they shouldn’t have published it! This asinine bowdlerization is an insult to the intelligence of every person ages twelve and up!”
Luckily there was a heat wave in London when I was there in 2005, which forced me to spend all my time in the air-conditioned bookshops on Charing Cross Road, and while I was there, I found an undesmutted copy of Deep Secret with, moreover, a rather cool and understated cover that does not embarrass me when I am out in public with it.
So I need never worry about that ridiculous copy again. I have given it to Social Sister, who professes to be madly fond of it.
I have posted this pocket drama of sisterhood and smuttiness rather than reviewing Deep Secret because – well, mostly because I think it is funny. Also because if you do not believe me by now that Diana Wynne Jones is an amazing writer, indeed that she is just everything that is great about being great, then you never will. If you do believe me, and just haven’t read Deep Secret, I highly recommend it. It starts out a bit boring, and you don’t think you’re going to love the characters, but if you push past that, the characters all end up at a fantasy convention and are totally lovable. WORTH IT.
(The Guardian and Orson Scott Card both rhapsodize rhapsodically about Diana Wynne Jones and her varied ways of being amazing.)
Do you choose your reading material for public places (trains, waiting rooms, classes at university) based on how unembarrassing the covers are? I’d like to say that I don’t but honesty compels me to admit that it is a consideration.
Reviews of Deep Secret:
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Books and Other Thoughts