My dad is a doctor, and years ago we got hooked on the TV show ER. We used to watch it together as a father-daughter bonding experience. Worst. Idea. Ever. He was critical of every single tiny little detail and drove me so crazy I was having murderous thoughts (although I finally got my answer as to why my parents never watched TV together). I promised myself I’d never to become that person, you know, the annoying friend/boyfriend/aunt/father who keeps complaining about inaccuracies and sucks the fun out of everything.
Flash forward several years later, and now I have major in Archaeology and a thing for Romance Novels. Archaeology is quite a romantic profession; we all have that idea of jungles, sweaty guys frolicking in the dirt and falling into a pit full of snakes. Which can be quite an accurate description, though in real life frolicking in the dirt in the middle of the jungle is not nearly as fun as it sounds, and the pit full of snakes is one tiny snake behind a glass on a detour we took to visit a local zoo once.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because I haven’t read many books with Archeologist in them. I don’t avoid them, but I don’t actively seek them either. And my overall experience with them has been mixed. Nora Roberts’s Birthright has an archaeological dig as a background, an archaeologist as a heroine and an anthropologist as a hero. I’m familiar with all of those things and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Dani Harper’s Changeling Dawn has an archaeologist as heroine and I couldn’t finish the book. Was the book bad? No, but the details were distracting and I began to nitpick to the point of making my dad proud.
One would think that reading about subjects we’re familiar with should be easy and comfortable, but more often than not, the opposite is true. Can historians read historical romances without letting the historical inaccuracies—even if minor- get in the way of their enjoyment of the book? Can we leave our professions or personal experiences outside the room while we read? Can a doctor read a Harlequin Medical Romance without nitpicking every detail? I think the answer is that they should, and that readers can demand certain degree of research and accuracy in their books.
Suspension of disbelief makes room for creative license, but there’s a limit to how far it can be stretched, especially when there’s a certain degree of familiarity with the subject matter. This also applies to any type of personal experience, not just professions. Extreme familiarity can be distracting.
Many see romance novels as escapism, so I wouldn’t blame them for not wanting to read about their jobs. But familiarity can and should enrich the reading experience. And if a book is well researched there shouldn’t be that many room for complain, right? To me, it’s more about effort than getting it right. I don’t expect perfection, I’m not even sure it exists, but I want to feel like the writer did some research. I can tell when an author based the character in Indiana Jones instead of an actual archaeologist, and I bet lawyers, sport fans, journalists, nurses and teachers can spot the difference between the real deal and, well, fiction.
Of course, reading is a personal experience unique to each reader, so the most researched book will always have detractors, just as the wackiest story will have fans.
How about you? Do you like reading familiar subjects, or do you tend to avoid them?