Jo Talks Books: Should Books Have Ratings Like Movies Do?

Hi everyone! Today’s topic is kind of related to a discussion post that I did about a week and half ago, about whether parents should censor their children’s reading (though completely unintentionally, since I’ve had this post planned since January and that post was inspired by reading another discussion post on a different blog), as I’m talking about whether books should have age ratings in the same way that movies do. Now obviously, books are marketed towards different ages, you have children’s, middle grade, young adult, new adult (which is usually either in YA or Adult, I’ve never actually seen a New Adult section in a bookstore) and adult. Movies have ratings based on content and some would argue, why shouldn’t books, since some of the content in books (sex, violence, swearing etc) is the same as in movies. However, books and movies are completely different mediums and it’s my personal opinion that a rating system for books would be completely wrong and I’ll explain why in this post.

Books are organised in age categories at bookstores, but this is more for guidance than a direct instruction as to who can read them and I think that’s a good thing, because if strict rating systems were enforced, it would stop readers from exploring books that were seen as too old for them and I don’t think that’s a good thing at all, I think readers should be able to decide for themselves what they feel they are ready to read. Which brings me to one of my other problems about a rating system for books, who would decide what rating the book would get? The author? The publisher? The bookshop? An independent body? Someone would have to have the authority to say this book should be rated that and that book should be rated that and I’m sure there would be many people who would disagree with the rating and books are very subjective, what might be suitable content for a certain age for one person might not be suitable content for a certain age for another person, so there’s a danger of books being censored due to someone’s personal taste and that’s not right (for instance, Harry Potter could be censored for witchcraft content if the person doing the censoring was very religious). There’s a fine line between censorship and guidance and I feel like implementing a rating system for books is straddling the line dangerously close to censorship.

Movies are primarily just for entertainment purposes, that’s not to say they can’t be educational but entertainment is their primary purpose. Books on the other hand are all about ideas and exchanging ideas and educating and I think placing a rating system on them is like saying “your ideas can only be consumed by people of a certain age” and it restricts the transfer of ideas. You cannot shield children from everything and rating books based on certain subjects would be teaching them that these subjects are taboo and that’s wrong. We should be able to talk about everything and books are a great way of teaching kids about topics that might not be discussed much otherwise. It’s not a good idea to hide information from anyone and by rating books, we would essentially be hiding information from people just because they are not above a certain age. Kids are going to need to learn about things like violence, sex, LGBTQA+, race, rape, mental health issues etc at some point, they may as well learn about them through a safe medium like books and if books get kids talking about topics like this then that’s great!

Yes there are a wide range of YA books and some of them may not be entirely appropriate for all YA readers (since 12-18, which is the generally accepted targeted age range of YA though obviously there are readers who are older than that, me included!) but usually books that have mature content have a warning on them that they contain mature content and I reckon that’s enough, you don’t need to put in age restrictions. Different people have different tolerances to violence, sex etc, for instance, I read a lot of books with violence in and I actually enjoy it because the violence usually comes in the form of fight scenes and I love those, but personally, I don’t really like graphic sex scenes because it makes me feel awkward and so I think it’s up to the reader to decide what they feel comfortable with, not some arbitrary panel of people. Plus, telling any kid, whether it be child, tween or teen what they can’t read is a surefire way to ensure that they read it, because someone telling you that you can’t do something, makes you all the more determined to do it. Rating books might also lead to more books being banned in school libraries and then them not being available for kids to read and in my experience, the books that are banned are exactly the books that are important for kids to read (think books like To Kill A Mockingbird or Perks of Being A Wallflower, both of which have been banned in American school libraries) as they usually talk about important issues and are only banned because people find these issues uncomfortable, and just because you find something uncomfortable, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about.

And where would you draw the line? What age do you decide is appropriate for kissing scenes for instant? What age is appropriate for violence? What age is appropriate for sex? What age is appropriate for kids getting drunk? Do you rate a book that has one sex scene the same as a book that has multiple sex scenes? Should there be a different rating for books with different kinds of sex (oral, anal)? What age is appropriate for swearing? What if books have multiple incidents of all of these things? What age is appropriate to read about drug use? You can see where I’m going here, there is never going to be one blanket age at which everyone can agree it’s appropriate to read about all of these things and you can never guarantee each and every person who reads a book’s sensitivity to each and every potentially problematic thing. So is it not better to leave it up to the reader to decide? After all we know ourselves and what we feel ready to read better than some arbitrary ratings body will. By all means, warn people about sensitive topics but don’t place some arbitrary rating saying only kids of a certain age can read such and such a book. That’s taking away people’s choices. What if a rating turned young readers off from a book that might have been a good read that they would have enjoyed? People could take rating systems for books too far and prevent people from reading anything that you don’t agree with. There’s nothing to stop parents from preventing their kids reading something they disagree with, but introducing a ratings system for books would mean giving a group of people the chance to prevent other people’s children from reading books that they disagree with, which is fundamentally wrong. There is a fundamental difference between movies and books, movies are visual, books are linguistic, a book will only go as far as the reader’s imagination whereas a movie will go beyond that, something considered inappropriate for young readers in a book will probably go right over their heads, whereas in a movie, the visual is right there in front of them.

Movies usually have to edit their content down in order to make them profitable, as R-rated movies tend to be less profitable than younger rated movies (you only have to look at the highest grossing movies of all time to see that this is true) and if a similar sort of rating system was implemented in books, the same thing would probably happen, they would have to be edited down in order to score a lower rating to make them profitable, and this might mean that more sensitive topics, which are important for kids/tweens/teens to learn about, might be edited out and so you’d be taking away a valuable learning experience from them. You could also have book stores refusing to sell books of a certain maturity level, and so the publishers wouldn’t publish them because they are less profitable. That’s unlikely to happen, but just because it’s unlikely, doesn’t mean it couldn’t.

In movies, one scene can box the entire movie into a higher age category based on a single value and if we imposed the same ratings on books, an entire scene could box a book into an age category and that could mean that any YA book that contains sex or violence or anything like that, even if it’s just one small scene, could mean that it would be rated as an adult book and if the ratings system was as strict as movies and you had to present an ID in order to buy a book (this is an imaginary scenario that would likely never happen, but go with me on this), and anything with sex or violence was rated adult, it would stop teenagers from reading a lot of books that may only have had one small scene featuring something like that, that would otherwise have been really good for them and they might have really enjoyed. Books encompass such a wide range of values and themes, they shouldn’t be boxed in by just one that might be considered inappropriate. Plus there are so many books out there (I mean I know there are lot of movies too, but I think books outnumber them), that even if you found a rating system that worked and wasn’t abused (highly unlikely), it would probably be near impossible to rate every single book published.

Ultimately, this all comes down to the same thing as I said in my post about parents’ censoring their children’s books. Books are subjective, different people have different sensitivities to different things, different people have different maturity levels, different people have different values and kids should be free to learn about difficult topics in a safe environment and not restricted to only being able to read and learn about things that are deemed “appropriate”. Knowledge is for all and I feel like imposing a rating’s system for books could lead down a very slippery slope to censorship. Books are all about imagination and you shouldn’t be able to put an age limit on people’s imagination. Period. There are far too many factors to consider when thinking about a rating system for books and books are very subjective, there would be no way to rate them objectively. I think the system we have at the moment works quite well, books are grouped into advisory age genres, but there is nothing strict in place to stop kids from exploring other age genres if they feel ready to. The system works, why mess with it?

So over to you? Do you think books should be rated like movies? What rating system would you use? Who do you think would be best to decide how books should be rated if we did have an official rating system for books and what values would they be rated on? If you do think books should be rated like movies, why? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another discussion post for you guys next week, talking about the age old question, why is the book always better than the movie? In the meantime though, my next post will probably be my newest Top Ten Tuesday post, so stay tuned for that!








16 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: Should Books Have Ratings Like Movies Do?

  1. Rain @ Ivyclad Ideas 11/07/2016 / 8:32 am

    I’m with you – I don’t believe that books should have age ratings on them. I mean, can you imagine getting IDed for a book? I know you said that it was unlikely to happen but, as someone who still can’t pass for 15 (I turn 19 this week), I’d rather not take any chances. If they put age ratings on books then, sooner or later, you’d have people campaigning to make them enforcable. And, anyway, an age rating system would restrict writers. To stay in the age range they want their book to be in, they might have to sacrifice aspects of their story.

    • iloveheartlandx 11/07/2016 / 10:56 pm

      I really can’t! I totally get that, I’m almost 20 and I constantly get IDed for things, so I would hate it if I had to get IDed to buy a book. You’re right, there probably would be people who would do that. I totally agree, it would restrict writers, and I would hate to see them have to sacrifice aspects of their story in order to fulfill their desired age rating.

  2. Emily @ Loony Literate 12/07/2016 / 8:05 am

    I definitely think that books shouldn’t have ratings. With such rampant censorship of certain themes in books (homosexuality, for instance) ratings would only make this worse. Plus in my experience teenagers and kids are pretty good at self-censorship themselves, and knowing what they’re limits are. Movies (because of the visual content) can often be a lot more confronting, hence the ratings, but I think it’s a good thing that they’ve stayed out of fiction thus far 🙂

  3. Kate @ Fictional Thoughts 13/07/2016 / 5:55 am

    Jo – I really liked your thoughts on this. I don’t think books need to be censored. But then again I’m not really for censorship on films by authorities. I think it’s fine for parents/guardians to decide for their families if something is appropriate for them to watch because they know the maturity of those around them. I don’t let my nieces watch certain things when they are staying with me because I feel it’s inappropriate (they are all under 5 years old) and sometimes things which I thought were okay I turn off as soon as it gets a bit much for them. Violence upsets them. But the movies I stop them from watching are a lot less graphic than prime-time TV news with is full of pretty graphic violence more and more.
    Did I think it was probably inappropriate when I saw someone who was probably 12 (she was in a primary school uniform) buying a copy of 50 Shades of Grey? Yes. But to be honest if it is something she wanted to read then she was going to read it. And if not from a store then someplace else. And if she could get past all the boring whingyness of it to the more risque scenes… well she was clearly dedicated.
    I’m pretty much just happy people are reading – regardless of what it is.

    • iloveheartlandx 13/07/2016 / 1:05 pm

      Thanks! Yeah I’m not entirely sure what I think of film censorship either, but that’s another topic for another time I think! I agree, if that girl wanted to read 50 Shades she would have read it either way. Yes same here, any reading is good reading!

    • iloveheartlandx 14/07/2016 / 9:15 pm

      Your view is much the same as mine! I don’t want set ratings but I have no issue with content warnings.

  4. Lydia Tewkesbury 18/07/2016 / 4:22 pm

    I’m totally with you. It would be so sad if kids ended up with limited access to books because of some relatively arbitrary ratings system. I feel like the vast majority of YA would be deemed inappropriate under such a system. I get that we don’t want to be warping kids minds or whatever, but part of growing up is finding out about the world, and that means both the good parts and the darker ones.

    • iloveheartlandx 18/07/2016 / 8:52 pm

      Yes it would be very sad! I think you’re probably right, there would be a lot of YA that would be deemed inappropriate under a ratings system, even when it’s not really. I totally agree with you there, I think kids have to be exposed to stuff that adults may consider inappropriate, otherwise they’ll never learn!

  5. bookwormgirls123 25/07/2016 / 8:24 pm

    This is such an interesting discussion! I completely agree with you; books should not be rated like movies. I’m a teenager and I read mostly YA. I learn a lot about the world this way, and I read all different types of genres. If not for books, I may not understand a lot of history, etc. as well as I do, regardless of other content of the book.

    • iloveheartlandx 27/07/2016 / 4:22 pm

      Thanks! Exactly! You don’t want to stop teenagers from reading YA (which is marketed to them) just because of a little content that you deem “inappropriate”!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.