Monday, March 28, 2011

Warning Labels for Books?

Well, I think I've seen it all now. It's a bit of a quandary, actually. I thought we'd come away from labeling people, quit using hateful names and tags, identifying them by their color, their religion, their sex or sexual preference. Now it's no longer pc. More importantly, it's not humane, and that's cool.

But when did we start labeling our books for content? I can see a label for sexual content. Not everyone wishes to read sexually explicit material. But now we have to come out and reveal other aspects of the plot because perhaps someone might be offended in the reading of it? Isn't that like exposing your plot before the reader even gets a chance to discover it?  Seriously?

I don't get it. Isn't the purpose of a book to explore different kinds of people, different kinds of themes, plots, etc, and to do it safely, from the confines of wherever we choose to read? Why are we attempting to sanitize this experience before it's even begun? Why are people so presumptuous as to know what everyone feels and thinks? And to feel obligated to warn them in advance?

Have you never read a book that upset you? I have. More than one. There are books and authors that make you feel. You invest yourself in their characters and maybe things happen to those characters and you hurt for them, and maybe the plot doesn't go the way you hoped, and you feel pain for them. Does that make the book wrong? No. And it never occurred to me that maybe I should have been warned about it beforehand, given the choice to avoid it. Movies are the same way. Some are very upsetting. There are some films that are so depressing, I'll never watch them again.  Terms of Endearment springs to mind. Sophie's Choice. Or maybe I will, after a long period of time elapses. Do I think the film needs to come with a warning?  No, I don't.

Adult books have adult themes. If you can't handle that, stick with mindless pap and erotica. There's lots of that out there. If that's what you want, that's fine. But don't force us to put labels on our writing just so you don't squirm, or just because you think or assume someone else will.

Did anyone try to label Shakespeare with content warning?  Titus Andronicus - warning, rape, cannibalism, and death. Romeo and Juliet - warning, violence, teenaged suicide. Hamlet - warning, incest, ghosts, violence. Midsummer's Night Dream - warning, possible bestiality.  Of course not, we'd never think of it. So what has happened to readers that they feel the need to be warned now?  Damned if I know.

Maybe this is the warning we should attach to our books:  Warning, contents just might make you think or feel.

It's life, folks. It doesn't come with warnings or roadmaps or infallible rules. It's meant to be lived. Books are meant to be read. Since when have we become allergic to ideas?  It's a scary thought, and makes me wonder about the future of literature. Are we dumbing down books the way we've dumbed down our television viewing? And where do we draw the line?

By the way, another name for this is censorship.

I'd love to know what you all think!  Please comment, or drop me a line at


  1. Sure label books. Why not? Oh wait, they are already labelled! Don't most books give at least a little guidance with a tag that says something like Romance or SciFi on the back? Don't the blurbs give additional clues? Don't bookstore employees either know or have access to knowledge about what's in the book? Geez, just what I want is a big shiny sticker screaming DIRTY BOOK HERE when I go to the store and pick up an erotic romance! This whole idea really irks me.

  2. I saw the list of things that were asked about and while I can see why some people don't want labels, there are some on the list that I would prefer warnings for.

    Bestiality for example. Not so much the sex in shifted form, but straight out bestiality is not something I would ever wish to read and I personally think it should be warned for.

    On page rape is another. Referred to or mentioned as past history I wouldn't have a problem with, but actually reading a descriptive rape would not only make me put the book down, it would prevent me from ever buying anything else from that author again in case it happened again. I have read countless descriptions of real life rapes and it is not something I would ever consider reading for enjoyment. If the author warned for it then I would still continue to check out their books to see if any of their others look interesting.

    The rest of them, at least that I can recall, I don't really have a problem with myself and don't care either way if they are warned for, though I can see how other people might.

    But if I ever picked up a book with no warnings whatsoever and it contained bestiality or on page rape, something that if it was at another publisher would be warned for, I would be adding that author to my list of ones to avoid.

    They might get an extra sale on that book because it doesn't have a warning to put me off, but they would lose sales down the line on other books.

    Maybe you think I am one of those people who should stick to other types of books and leave the adult ones alone. *shrugs*

    And as a side note, while I don't know how it is in the USA, over here movies and even TV shows do contain warnings for certain content, not only the ratings but also before they air on the television. True Blood for example has a verbal warning right before every episode starts for violence, sexual scenes and strong language. And yes it is shown well after the watershed.