Posted by: chartroose | April 3, 2008

This is Quite Disturbing

Please read this post and let me know what you think.  Should we have a rating system for books?  My answer is an emphatic and resounding NO!!!!  Good God!



  1. I can’t help but chuckle a bit at the idea — imagine trying to rate innuendo and subtlety! I, too, find this idea horrifying, but it sure would be funny to watch the moral arbiters try!

  2. I agree totally, Kristen! How would they be able to figure it all out anyway?

  3. I’ve been a lurker of your blog but now I’ve got to comment! I have to admit that I thought about this exact same thing. I’ve written a post as well that talked about how literature has gotten “risky” for those of us that like cleaner reads. It is hard to find anything anymore without questionable content.

    In addition to my post, I also got a discussion going on a literature forum on the same topic (it’s a great discussion, I’ve got the link in the comments on my post). To get the pot stirring so to speak, I asked the same question: should books have some type of rating? To tell you the truth I wasn’t even sure what the answer should be. After some thought, I don’t think so although it would be nice to be able to go to some type of website or the publisher (instead of published on the book) to be able to find out what type of language is in the book, its frequency, violence and sexual details (much like you can find on movies). I think it’s these type of details that would be nice rather than slapping a general rating onto it.

    And if you think of it even more, books kinda already have a rating: Juvenile, Young Adult, and Adult. And then we have genres within those as well. I know if I pick up a romance without two people in a compromising position on the cover, I think I’m smart enough to know it will have a lot of sex! I think those divisions is about as good as it’s going to get.

  4. Glad you could get a good chuckle at my post…but I think the “how would you do it?” point lacks strength in backing an argument against this. If you think about it, what you’re rating is words…and if Music has a virtual rating system (not every album with profanity has an “explicit lyrics” label” then, you can certainly provide a rating-type system for books. Reading a word and hearing a word is really no different. Furthermore, look at the movie rating system. What do they base ratings on? Images, mostly, but themes, words, etc. as well. One F-bomb and it’s a PG 13 movie, 2 or more, and it’s R. Funny enough, the movie system isn’t even very specific. You have things like “Mature Themes,” “Thematic Situations,” and my favorite “Situations of Peril”. Not too specific, yet they fly. So vagueness doesn’t prohibit a rating system. Now, should books be rated G, PG, PG13, etc.? I’m not sure, but signalling thematic content that may be for mature audiences would be a good start, and it is definitely “Do-able” to counter your original argument.

  5. Welcome Maw! I’m glad you reached the conclusion that books should not have ratings, and I think your idea about publishers taking some responsibility for warning the reading audience about mature content is a pretty good one. The problem is, I don’t think many of them will do it.

    You’re also right about knowing your genres. I don’t read bodice rippers because of the silly sex in them and I don’t usually read serial killer novels because they often make me sick.

    Reviews are another good way to find out about the whole sex/violence thing, but there are occassions when a novel will smack you right between the eyes with some unexpectedly graphic sex or violence. When this happens, it’s up to you to determine whether you want to continue reading (either that part or the rest of the book).

    I don’t normally have a problem with content, unless it’s something really disgusting. I’m much more likely to be appalled if there is animal cruelty involved. You just have to know your limits, I guess.

    Hi B. G., I think you have some valid arguments, and I agree that some novels, like some movies, contain too much gratuitous sex and /or violence. But, in spite of seeing your point of view, I’m going to stick to my guns.

    Rating novels smacks of “big brother” to me, and I think we have enough of that already. Also, since I’m a librarian, I am opposed to censorship, and this seems like a precursor to censorship.

    People are always wanting to suppress books because of their content. If I were an author, I would be severely offended if some semi-literate official on a review board were to slap a “mature” rating on the novel I worked so hard to complete and get published. There goes a portion of my audience who may have really enjoyed my work, and all because it has some sex in it.

    Don’t you think having a rating system would stifle creativity? Books are not movies and they are not music. They arise entirely from the author’s imagination. Think of all the great works that could be lost if our authors feel too constricted by the system to write the way they should be allowed to.

    I’m really glad we still have free speech!

  6. I think it’s always good in these situations to err on the side of less constraints. Because what is offensive to you is not to me, etc. I have no problems with books being categorized as Juvenile, Young Adult, etc. Beyond that, I think adults can decide for themselves whether or not to finish a book if something offends them. I think trying to rate books is not the same as trying to rate movies. Movies are a visual medium, and I understand that for some people, seeing certain things are offensive, or hearing them spoken out loud can be upsetting. I for one, really don’t care to see naked people in a movie most of the time, but if I think it will be really offensive, I just don’t go.

    But reading, at least as far as I’m concerned, is an intellectual exercise, where the reader can emphasize things however they want to. I don’t want someone else deciding that a book with a certain number of offensive words is not for the general reading public.

    Besides, I think anyone who would spend time counting offensive words has bigger problems …

  7. Chartroose,

    Interesting comments, and we may have to agree to disagree…but I did find one quote that I wanted to emphasize in your comment. In responding to Maw, you said:

    “I think your idea about publishers taking some responsibility for warning the reading audience about mature content is a pretty good one”

    this is the main point I was making…I know the debate has clouded my main purpose for my post, but I was originally positioning the opinion in the context of public relations, or how book publishers can build relationships with their publics (i.e. consumers, readers, reviewers, etc.). I think a book publisher who “takes some responsibility for warning the reading audience” is being socially responsible, and thus doing good public relations. How many publishers will actually do this? Few, if any…(I’m a pessimist)

  8. I agree, Bridget. Reading is intellectual, and our brains are going to interpret written explanations of sexuality differently. Usually, I think sex scenes are written very poorly, and they make me laugh more often than not. Why we are still hung up on the sex thing is beyond me, anyway.

    B. G., Yes, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, although I concede to you about publishers being more forthcoming about explicit content. Like you, I also don’t think it will happen. Publishers think about the bottom line and the rest is all incidental.

  9. You know, I don’t even think movies and video games should have ratings. Parents who think that the dominant culture is going to poison their children tend to be pretty vigilant about monitoring cultural intake for the things they disapprove of. And kids, it must be said, are even more adept at taking in whatever they please in spite of parents following them around with their hands over their eyes. So why bother? A movie rated PG but full of sexism is more offensive to me than a movie rated R because it has a lot of swearing. So I wouldn’t dream of relying on the rating system, nor would I dream of telling my teenage child what movies he can watch, since he’ll watch what he wants anyway. All I can really do, and did do, is to teach him to think for himself. That way, he can watch a movie and think, “I am pretty sure that I am disgusted by this movie’s assumption that all men love football and all women love shopping.” And he can watch another movie and think, “Ok, this level of violence is completely unnecessary.” And so on. Because it’s inevitable, he’s going to be a grown up someday. I’d rather have raised a grown up who knows how to bring his values to situations than one who doesn’t know how to navigate a world I sheltered him from. Or more realistically, I’d rather not have a kid who lies to me and sneaks around doing the things I consider naughty, taking them in with no trusted adult to discuss them with.

  10. Right on, Dew! You and I are definitely on the same wavelength on this one. I also allow my girls to make their own decisions about popular culture. I trust them. I feel sorry for kids who are not allowed to experience life because of their helicoptor parents hovering over them all the time–covering their eyes and ears. It’s these kids who have trouble coping with intimate relationships, with the workplace, and with practically everything else when they reach adulthood (if mommy will even allow them to grow up).

  11. Great debate! I think I need to add to my earlier comment — which in retrospect seems unnecessarily flippant — sorry!

    I think one of my fears regarding this idea is deciding who’s values dictate the rating system. And would too many parents simply rely on others to decide what their children are ready for? I love how you, Dew and Chartroose, decide what is appropriate for your children based on your values. As a former English teacher, I definitely took into consideration the age of my students when designing my curriculum, but I also expected parents to be involved in their children’s education.

    Of course, as an adult, we have the freedom to simply stop reading something that makes us uncomfortable!

    Again — great debate!

  12. Hooray to Dewey and wanted to add a quick comment – I am not for rating books or movies or music. If parents want to filter their media for their children they should listen to it/read it/watch it first or if not first, then with them and if some material comes up they think the kid might not be old enough for – hey, they could talk about with them. I don’t think it should be the publishers or companies job to parent for parents.

    And anyway, many books already have age appropriate recommendations.

  13. Great debate. I agree with you and Dewey and verbivore. It makes me uncomfortable that movies and music and videogames have ratings. I wouldn’t be happy if that were extended to books.

  14. […] I was giving up on this novel, I found myself in a discussion on censorship on Chartroose’s Book Barrage blog.  She had linked to a post about whether or not books should have ratings, like movies do.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: