Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rate the Books!

In this world of ours, we put warning labels on everything. Ladders warn you that you might fall off of them, coffee cups warn that the hot coffee contained therein, may just be hot. Toasters warn you that making toast while taking a shower may not be a good idea, movies are given ratings, explicit music is marked as such, and video games carry labels that warn parents that they may not want their 8-year-old hacking away at evil hoards of the decaying undead.
So in this Big Brotherish society that we’ve build around us, why is it that my 11-year-old can walk into any Barnes & Noble and walk out with a copy of Looking for Mr. Goodbar?
Books can be as graphic about Sex as any of those “Special” password protected channels on cable. In fact, I think that a talented author can be even more graphic than any pornographic video because they can tell you what’s going on in the character’s head even as they describe what’s happening to their body!
So I pose the question again… why is there no rating system for books?
Before you start yelling at me, calling me a book burning fascist, or some such, let me make one thing crystal clear. I believe that everyone has the right to write whatever they feel. Any stray idea that goes through their head can be committed to paper and then disseminated to the reading public. I believe thoroughly in the first amendment, but that being said, I have the right to read whatever I wish, and what I don’t want to read is a bunch of profane crap that happens to make it onto the shelves of my local bookstore.
Many a time have I heard that a book was so deep and powerfully written that I rushed out to the book store, picked it up only to be so disgusted by the content that I’ve had to toss it into the trash so that it didn’t soil my bookshelves with its bitter disappointment and reminder of the $24.00 I paid the lazy hack who wrote it.
And to me, that’s what it really comes down to, how lazy was the author when he wrote it? Any no talent hack to write and describe a sex act in lurid detail. It takes a truly talented author to describe the act without telling the reader what went where. Authors who go into detail don’t trust the reader enough to be able to fill in the blanks… so to speak.
The same goes for profanity. I believe in a certain amount of honesty when it comes to characters. I mean, I don’t expect a drug dealer to call a cop a “Flippin’ doodle-wop” before putting a bullet through him. That’s not real, it’s not honest. But why would a 3rd person narrator ever drop the F-Bomb? That’s not real, that’s not honest, and that’s a lazy author who doesn’t think much of his readers.
One of the most brilliant uses of profanity I ever read contained no actual profanity. Not a single word, but it was the filthiest thing any character ever said in any book I’ve ever read. It was in a book by Dashiell Hammett. I can’t quote it right now, because I don’t have access to the book (or even remember which book it was) but it went something like this. “In my life I’ve known of only three truly profane words, and at that moment I used all of them.” Hammett trusted his readers enough to let them fill in the blanks, and since my mind is usually in the gutter, the three words I used could have been used in a Sundance film with no problems.
So what am I getting at? Is there any way that book publishers could put a little sticker with a small warning about explicit language or sexual content on the back cover by the UPC? I know that this wouldn’t be a fix all. But when standing among the books, debating on which author is going to get my $20.00, I’d really like to know that one of them at least has the possibility of being read by me over one that may have some questionable content and just end up in the trash.


Angela Stephens said...

I am with you on this. Very often I stand in the book store and look at a book that I think sounds interesting. Before I buy it I have to jump on the internet and research that author to determine if they "tend" to write the type of book I am uninterested in. It would be much easier if there were just a little rating.

This is especially true for young adult books. We have such a hard time trying to find books for our teenage readers that are not completely smut.

Going back to the author trusting their audience thing. I agree. I think the same can be said of movies and TV shows though. Directors take the cheap, easy way out when they put in graphic and explicit skin shots. They don't trust their audience to fill in the blanks. Sadly, most audiences (books, movies, etc.) are too lazy to want to interact with their entertainment.

Aegthelion said...

I had a comment to leave here, but it looks like Angie beat me too it.

So... Ya, what she said!

Animesh Kulkarni said...

nice thought. never crossed mymind. i really liked ur idea.

Amy Wadsworth said...

I agree! I picked up a book--nominee for some award in the YA section--and expected to love it. It was a modernization of Peter Pan called "Never After." I couldn't get through the first three pages because of all the language. I was thinking "This is for YA readers?" The closest thing we have to a rating system is which part of the library or book store the book is kept in, but the range of content is so huge within that section! LDS and general Christian novels--in the library, at least-- are often categorized among the rest of the adult fiction. The key, it seems, is the publisher (and the author, as Angela stated). If you know other work the publisher has handled, you have a pretty good idea--generally--what the content will be. But, for the average reader, that isn't enough. New authors only have their publisher and agent to go by, and hope that the word will get out that their book is awesome and not full of junk.

LesleyFW said...

Well said!

Soozcat said...

The sad truth about ratings on books? Most readers would be in favor of them. But I'm willing to bet the conglomerates with book-publishing wings have decided they simply don't have the time or desire to rate books for content when so few people read anyway.

I rather hope I'm wrong.

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