Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Here's an interesting question: Why don't books have content ratings?

Everyone is aware of content ratings for movies. We know what PG means, PG-13, R and so forth. We accept this when it comes to movies. Can you imagine what it would be like without this rating system?
Video games have a similar rating system. They range from E for Everyone to M for Mature, and even to AO for Adult Only. Like movies, the games are not only rated, but the content is made note of: Language, Blood, Violence, etc. Many a parent has relied on this system to pick out appropriate games for their kids, and many a sixteen-year-old has moaned over not being able to purchase the latest mature rated Halo game.
Even music has a Content Advisory rating for the really naughty stuff--though, sadly, this has become something of a mark of status for some artists.

So we come to books. Why isn't there a content rating system for books? Should there be?

Here's my thoughts on both of those questions.

It would be very sticky business to give a book a specific rating, such as PG-13, because of the simple fact that so much of a novel's content depends on the reader's imagination. Also, there is a substantial group of people who seem to think that kids should be encouraged to read anything they like in order to broaden their horizons. These people and others would certainly cry foul if the latest popular young adult novel earned a PG-13 rating claiming it questionable for children under the age of thirteen.

Should there be a rating system? I don't think we could or even should implement a strict system to books. There is simply too many gray areas in literature to say that certain descriptions of violence or sensuality are of a level too extreme for a certain age. A writer could mention a women's a low cut blouse and for Reader #1 that doesn't show a thing, but for Reader #2, the book just became a Zack Snyder movie.

Instead, I think it would be appropriate for books to have a brief content description. Perhaps this could be on the inside of the cover somewhere--just a few lines that mention the potentially offensive material in the book. Maybe the book has "Some Language" or perhaps it contains "Strong Language" or maybe it is written by a certain Mr. King and contains "Lots And Lots And Lots Of Not Very Nice Words".

I, for one, would be in favor a simple system like this. I also think parents would appreciate being able to flip open a cover and see that the book their eight-year-old wants to read contains Violence, Language, Sexual Content, And Pervasive Boogers Throughout.

What do you think?