Should Books Have Ratings?


Should books have guidance ratings?

After comments to a recent post I started thinking more seriously about this idea. This is a touchy subject as many have firm views on censorship and democracy in our freedom of choice in art. We continue to rate our films and electronic games, therefore shouldn’t we have guides on the content of a novel.

I know there have been times when I wish I were given a warning of content. I’m not a fan of graphic violence and particularly find rape scenes very disturbing. I have read many wonderful books that have scenes that make me put it back on the shelf; unfortunately once I have read it I can’t erase it from my mind.

I think this is why there is a growing trend in adults reading YA and the material becoming more explicit. A study last year found that 55% of YA (12-17 yr. old) fiction readers were over 18 and that 28% were aged 30 -44.

I read a YA novel where the 15 year old protagonist was a casual drug user and drank alcohol to excess with her friends, there were never any consequences to her actions and I would not be comfortable let my teen reading this. Was this content added because the publishers are aware of this growing shift in their YA audience?

Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, an offshoot of the American Library Association says”Books can be a safe way for young people to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics, and they provide parents the opportunity to help their teens grow and understand these kinds of sensitive issues,” and. “ALA’s interpretation on any rating system for books is that it’s censorship.”

There is some merit to the associations comment, yet I feel that there is a difference in the quality of the vast amount of material on offer in the YA market. The book I mentioned above is popular fiction and in no way does it have literary merit exploring in-depth teenage issues with skill and talent.

Beside the contentious issue of censorship the obvious dilemma for a book rating system is practicality. Who would be responsible for this task? In films it is an independent body, which adheres to strict guidelines. The shear volume of books produced would make this impossible, so does the responsibility fall on the publishers or the individual for self –published novels. In the U.S there is a voluntary rating system available to the author, but most fear damage to sales if they add this. Shouldn’t information over profit be more important?

As you may have guessed I’d welcome a guideline that informs me if a novel contains, Drug use, offensive language, sex scenes etc.

The choice is still the consumers; it just empowers them to make a choice more suitable to their needs.

10 thoughts on “Should Books Have Ratings?

  1. I don’t think that ratings are the way to go, especially seeing the way that movie ratings have warped through the years. I think ratings are absurdly subjective and fairly useless, because they don’t actually tell you anything about what’s in the book. However, I would love to see a website that is the book equivalent of “Box Office Mom,” that is not necessarily a rating but does tell you if there are explicit scenes, excessive violence, foul language, etc.

  2. I explicitly include warnings at the bottom of my blurb, even if they end on a funny note, because I am someone who hates being surprised by graphic rape or violence. Those aren’t topics I’m including in my own stories, but after being burned a few times myself, I want my readers to know exactly what they are getting content-wise before they pick up my book.

    I understand and empathize with the concerns about potential censorship and the wildly subjective nature of most rating systems. I just want to know if the book I am looking at is going to be something that will match the kind of content I am looking for. I wish there was more use of the fanfiction model where this is accepted as general good manners and an appropriate alerting of readers as to whether or not the story would be something that would interest them.

    • Agreed, when you are handing over hard earned money it helpful to have as much information at your fingertips as possible to reach a satisfying choice. I’m thinking I will at a content guide on my next review.

  3. I really don’t think ratings are the way to go. Although I do find that I’m drawn to banned books, because I want to know what was so interesting about them that they were banned (and am often disappointed and wonder why they were banned). Rating systems might have the same affect, but in a world of intense marketing, this could also be abused.

    • Haha the appeal of the forbidden. As a child I was never aware of any books that were banned, but I remember being a teenager and students were talking about “Lolita”.

  4. I’ve voted no even though I absolutely share your concerns about content, mainly because I’ve never felt the ratings of films work terrribly well. But I’d love to see publishers and authors make the blurbs clearer – sometimes they definitely feel deliberately misleading. In fact, one of the main reasons I started reviewing was to warn other readers about a book that was blurbed as some kind of thriller and that was actually full of graphic violence and sleazy sex. And I still use the reviewing systems on Amazon Goodreads and my blog to state clearly if I think a book is misrepresented by its blurb or if it crosses the line into sleaze, and those reviews pick up tons of ‘helpful’ votes. Some people may enjoy reading about sexual torture, animal cruelty etc and might find some merit in the use of constant foul language – I don’t, and I’d rather know in advance so that I can avoid reading. And that should surely be good for the authors too – they can’t want people like me leaving totally negative reviews…

    The race to the bottom, especially in crime fiction, is a worrying trend – I don’t think it genuinely reflects society (only a tiny little part of it that most of us don’t inhabit and don’t want to) and I’m sure puts more readers off than it attracts. Otherwise, as you say, why are so many people turning to YA, cosy crime, classics etc? I don’t believe in censorship, but a little bit of self-censorship – what we used to call good taste – wouldn’t go amiss.

    • Well said. I have read some authors say they do not do this because it imposes restrictions on their freedom of speech. I believe it does the opposite as it takes away my freedom of choice. I was watching “Father Ted” the other day and they were protesting about a film and the result was their protest made the papers and hence turned the film into a success. Maybe the content advice will make it more tempting to teens. Personally it would help me.

  5. Authors may not like to classify their books because they will have to wear the connotations. I agree to a point because they may not be writing to a genre, they may be writing their vision and nothing else. But sometimes I need to know what I’m in for. I loved this fantasy series from an author, so they offered me an ARC of their new adult Dystopian. I must be a bit naive because I didn’t necessarily expect it to be heavily erotic due to it being New Adult. I wish she’d have told me, because it really effected my enjoyment of the book. Not really a rating issue I know, but I think we need to know what we are in for.

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