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A Reader of Fictions: Should Books Be Rated?

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Should Books Be Rated?

On May 18, Dr. Sarah Coyne, a professor at Brigham Young University, caused a stir with her study on the prevalence of swearing in YA novels. Her study found that of the 40 books (chosen from the bestseller list), thirty-five contained at least one swear word, and one particularly swear-happy novel contained almost 500. For more on this, check out this article. Shock and awe, both at what she found and at her spaz out about it, went through the blogosphere.

Personally, I mostly just want to know what the book with 500 swears is, because I'm super curious. At the time, I wondered if she wanted all profanity removed from books or what. There have been a lot of people asking whether we, the bookish folk, think profanity is appropriate in a novel for teens. My answer is hell yes. I do agree that the one with 500 instances may be a bit too much, but I won't even commit to that since I haven't read it. Here's a secret: most teens swear, and you'll find that language even in younger kids, although more rarely. Even if your MC doesn't swear, they're likely to hear those words in movies or from other kids in class. I'm pretty sure my teachers even accidentally dropped a few bombs during my high school career.

Purposely removing foul language from a book seems like a lie to me. Obviously, use of swear words solely to shock or to excess is its own problem. However, I certainly would not want to see the books bleached into something unrealistic. Apparently, a bunch of concerned parents are worried that their precious snowflakes will read these books and want to swear like the characters do, as the ones who swear tend to be popular and attractive. Another thought: the popular, attractive kids at my school did swear, because they were all edgy and cool and old for their years. So, unless your kid goes to a magic school without this hierarchy, they probably idolize people like that anyway. Novels should reflect the truth of life, even if that includes swearing.

As of yesterday, Sarah Coyne had a new idea: add a rating system to YA books, just like movies are rated. Again, the blogosphere has been full of discussion about this topic. I suppose I wouldn't be hugely angered if they (the powers that be) put this into effect, but I definitely think it's stupid.

Why do they want to do this anyway? Is it for the kids and teens? No, not really. It's for their parents, who are too damn lazy to read the book or research it before letting their lil' snowflake read it. If you're going to be so controlling of your child's reading material, then you should be willing to put some work in, I say.

I worry that should such a practice be put in place, reading might decline. Applying a rating like PG-13 to a MG/YA book would definitely lead certain types of parents to forbid their child from reading it. If that child has an adult reading level and understanding, he/she could be turned off to reading, because of the limitation to only PG reading material. Other parents would forbid their children to read ANY book with swearing or sex or drugs, which is a shame too, because kids are going to be confronted with these things, and a book can help them consider the implications. Besides, a label for swearing in a novel could indicate one or two instances of swearing or a hundred. The prohibition would be in place just the same.

My parents never restricted my reading, and while I may not have turned out like those parents desire (I can be rather filthy-mouthed at times), I think I turned out okay, and probably better (by their standards) than a number of those micromanaged children. I really don't remember stumbling across any books that contained material I was not ready to read, and I transitioned directly from children's books to the adult section, since teen material was paltry when I was growing up. If a kid's not ready for a book, the language will probably be too much. Or, if they picked up a Chuck Palahniuk book and were horrified no end by it, they can just put it down.

Think of all of the historical periods books have been through. In none of them did we ever begin rating the content of novels. I would like to know why we think it's necessary now. Teens have always been reading, and probably adult books like I did, and somehow they made it through. I read A Clockwork Orange in eighth grade and didn't turn into a serial killer, although I did call things horrorshow for a while. We like to think of ourselves as so evolved, smarter and edgier than previous generations, but are we really if we think such a lazy, puritanical measure is necessary now?

Parents, if you're worried about what your kids are reading, you don't need to force publishers to add this info to books. What you can do is go search for blogs that warn their readers about this kind of content. One that I know of is Reading Teen. Many bloggers set out with cataloging the cleanliness of books for those that are concerned. With a little bit of research, this information is out there.


Blogger Steena said...

Oy. This is a sad turn of events. It's sad too to think of this rating system infecting schools as well, which already suffer from book bans and abridged and edited classics. As you said, I have a sick feeling that rating books will only exacerbate a disinterest in reading. Kids are already being told that they can only read within a certain grade level and then are further discouraged from books with a certain rating code? Sigh.

May 23, 2012 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Steena said...

P.S. These gifs are probably three of the most delightful moving pictures I have ever encountered.

May 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Grazianohmygod said...

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes has a lot of swears. It also has a lot of pages to spread those swears out, and I could see it having 500 of them.

But yeah, ratings are stupid.

May 23, 2012 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Christina said...


And yes, I love them. I've decided to use some gifs from time to time. Hunting them down is FUN.

May 24, 2012 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Never heard of that. Would you recommend it??

May 24, 2012 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Grazianohmygod said...

Oh, totally. One of the best things I've read this year.

May 24, 2012 at 4:31 PM  

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