Saturday, August 25, 2007

Should books have content warnings?

The Internet is buzzing with the latest study showing that Americans aren’t reading books. Are we really that surprised? With the amount of written information thrown at us daily at via junk mail, E-mail, text messages, billboards and the Internet, who has the time to read books?

As writers, instead of asking why people aren’t reading our books, we should be asking ourselves this question: How we can encourage more people to read? As my writing instructor recently pointed out, our goal as writers shouldn’t be to simply put books on the shelves. We need to move those books into the hands of our readers. How do we do that? What is holding back our prospective readers?

I’ll go first. I got out of the habit of reading books in college. (So much for higher education!) Everything that I read was either assigned by my professors or touted as the latest and greatest self-help tome. I no longer read for pleasure; everything in my twenties was about self-improvement. If I wasn’t improving my mind, I was working on my soul. But I lost something along the way … the ability to escape into a novel, the ability to dream.

I’m not sure when I shook off my intense sense of drama and realized that it was okay to relax. Sometime in my thirties I set aside my self-help books and decided to read for fun. But it was hard. I discovered that the last time I actually read for fun, I had my school-assigned Scholastic book order form to help me out. I had no idea where to start. I didn’t even know in which section of the library to begin. And I suspect that I’m not the only one.

I propose that there should be a rating system for books, similar to the ones currently in use for movies, television, and music. This would save time for the harried prospective reader. If your new murder mystery was rated PG for violence, you wouldn’t have to worry about blood splatters and excessive gore keeping you up at night. You’d have the chance to brace yourself for a stream of expletives (and hide the book from your youngest child) when you bought the latest novel, R-rated for language, by that hilarious but highly irreverent humor columnist.

I realize that a book rating system could lead to an over-zealous societal backlash of book-banning or that certain books (and patrons) could be ostracized by placing them in a special “adult” section. But, handled properly, a book rating system might be worth it.

What do you think?

(Thanks for giving me a guest slot, Heather!)


Carolyn Erickson said...

Book ratings would be fine, but rather than G, PG and R, I want to see: H for "happy," W for "weird," and S for "Snot." (i.e. you'll be crying for weeks, so keep some tissue handy.)

I know some people love 'em, but I can't read "S" rated books. Too much of a softy. :) And usually, I can't get people who have read a book to tell me, because they don't want to give away the ending!

Terri Pray said...

Many ebooks in erotic romances and erotica do have warnings on them. And ratings to sensuality. It's common for companies like Loose id, Mojo Castle, Ellora's Cave and others to 'warn' through the rating system
I know first hand both Loose id, and Mojo also give warnings about pairings, and other content others might object to.