Should books be given ratings like movies?

Oh my! That’s certainly one way to put it!

I’ve been knee-deep in the moving process again, this time to live closer to work and escape my hour-long commute. Sadly, I’ve realized that my books take up the majority of my packing boxes, so since I’ve run out of room on my bookcase anyway, I decided to purge part of my collection to make the moving process easier.

Which is how I found myself donating over 70 books to my local library. Most of them were Japanese manga series which I knew I wouldn’t read again, but I also sacrificed some young adult fiction as well. When I carried in all my bags, one distinct thing that I pointed out to the librarians was that the manga I brought in was “rated PG-13.”

I told them that because I knew the graphic novels had themes of sexuality. Two series by author Ken Akamatsu, Love Hina and A.I. Love You, are full of innuendos and gratuitous panty shots (for which is the author’s claim to fame). They’re hilarious stories about geeky guys trying to find love, but more often than not, falling into embarrassing situations.

Interestingly, manga do come with ratings: Everyone or All Ages (E or A), Youth, 10+ (Y), Teens, 13+ (T), Older Teens, 16+ (OT), and Mature, 18+ (M). The particularly mature manga, such as yaoi and yuri, which are genres of homosexual erotica, also frequently remain plastic-wrapped in bookstores to prevent minors from perusing their pages.

But what about every other book written? We have a vague idea of which audience is most suitable for a story, but no defined standards as seen in manga, film, and video games? I wonder…why is that?

You already know that I’m not a fan of artistic censorship, which I blogged about in my post about whether YA fiction was too “adult.” The Huffington Post also discussed this issue in May, comparing the differences between books and movies.

One point HuffPo made was that according to the Hays Code of 1930, movies are catered to the masses rather than niche audiences, so stricter guidelines need to be in place. Pretty patronizing to treat moviegoers like ignoramuses, but also disheartening that books are not considered popular enough for people to care about their psychological effects.

I have mixed feelings on giving books ratings. On one hand, it’s just another way for society to subjectively decide what is morally appropriate for children. Ratings often do not take educational value into consideration.

Using movies as examples, Schindler’s List and Saw are both rated “R,” but the former is one of the greatest adaptations of the Holocaust, a historical event which cannot be accurately depicted without graphic violence, and the latter is yet another ‘gore porn’ horror flick. Same rating, vastly different values of artistic merit. Ratings would tar every book with the same brush, and I would hate for Lord of the Flies or Invisible Man to be lumped in with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey just because of some mature themes.

On the other hand, perhaps book ratings would save many stories from being banned outright. Place them into a separate section in libraries so that helicopter parents can’t dictate what classifies as forbidden. However, the question remains of who has the right to make these distinctions–not to mention the time and money it would take to implement and enforce ratings.

Weighing the arguments, I feel that ratings for all media are arbitrary and although I can see their intent, parents ultimately decide what is appropriate for their children. If we relinquish too much creative control, then we also give up individual freedoms. I’m not saying that it would snowball into an Orwellian state, but it’s vital not to lose personal autonomy.

I could ramble on about this topic all night, but I’d much rather hear what you all think! Are book ratings a good idea? Why or why not?

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9 thoughts on “Should books be given ratings like movies?

  1. Hmm, I’m not sure how I feel about rating books. To me it becomes a type of censorship. I have all the books my teens read whether they told me or not. It has easy to discover their preference – not that they hide books, I’m always tripping over them. I have to say, many YA books have more sexual content than the adult fiction they read. Isn’t that interesting? But I realize that sexual content is important for maturing YA. I read it then and understand it now. But I still don’t think books should have content warnings or everyone would read them 😉

    • Haha! Good way to put it! I always think it’s better for parents to be involved in their kids’ reading. And sex in YA can be great for encouraging parents to discuss it with them in a less threatening manner. I wish more kids had that many books to trip over!

  2. Oooh interesting, and you’ve brought up some great points that my currently mushy brain is struggling to elaborate upon. Although I do think books shouldn’t have ratings, and frankly there are so many kids out there not reading, we don’t need another reason for them not to read.

  3. It’s funny that you bring this up, I was wondering how schools determine what books are appropriate for specific age groups in terms of content. I was subbing a high school math class and the students were allowed to read after they took the test. One female student, a Sophomore, was reading 50 Shades of Grey and I use the term reading loosely. She was obviously skimming looking for the “good parts.” Although I have no interest in reading the series I know the content. I was unsure if this material was allowed in this particularly conservative school district but opted not to say anything because hey at least they were reading.

    • Haha! Love this story! Obviously, we can’t control what kids read from their personal collections, but I don’t think school libraries carrying FSG would be appropriate–not just because of the sexual content, but the lack of educational value whatsoever. What people do in their free time…to each their own! Read away!

  4. I would say book ratings are not a great idea. Most chapter books, middle grade and YA come with age suggestions (10 and up or 13-17) Parents can and should monitor their children’s reading without relying on arbitrary ratings, as each child is different.

  5. Pingback: Happy Banned Books Week! | Book Club Babe

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