Let’s Talk Bookish: Should books have content ratings?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic is Should books have content ratings?

Movies, television, video games and most other forms of media have content ratings…but not books. Why do you think it is that books have no rating system to determine what is and isn’t appropriate?

It’s very hard to rate books, because it’s subjective. Age does not equal maturity and reading levels wildly vary from person to person. What one person considers appropriate for a 13 year old may be acceptable for an 8 year old to someone else. Seeing something in a movie or on TV and reading it in a book are very different experiences. The message conveyed through words leaves the interpretation and visualization to the imagination of the reader. It’s far easier to stumble upon inappropriate content in media than it is with books.

Should there be books that are kept out of the hands of children? Is it the responsibility of parents or should there be a standard book rating system to deem what’s appropriate?

There are definitely books out there that are not fit for children, but it is the responsibility of parents to determine what they are or aren’t ready for and keep an eye on what they’re reading. I was never restricted much in my reading choices as a kid as I was always above my reading level and I needed more complex books since the quick middle grade reads didn’t hold my attention for too long. As a result, I was reading YA novels well before I turned 13. The only rule I had was that I wasn’t allowed to choose titles from the adult section of the library until after I turned 15.

There is already a perfectly adequate classification system in place: children’s, middle-grade, YA, NA, Adult etc. As long as books are correctly labelled and promoted by publishers and booksellers, there’s no reason for any other rating system. It only takes a few minutes to search for some book reviews online to verify if the content is acceptable.

Placing a further rating on a book offers no real benefit in my opinion, and can also be very detrimental to readers above their level if it is enforced in some way as it is for movies in theaters. It also raises the question of who exactly would come up with these ratings. It’s impossible that this could be done without introducing personal bias into the equation because each person interprets a book differently. Besides there may be topics that, while appropriate for a certain age, are not something parents want their kids to be exposed to yet – and there’s no way to take that into account. Books are already being banned from school libraries for ridiculous reasons and something like this would only encourage that further. The other thing that could happen is that books discussing sensitive topics that would be beneficial for kids or teens to read could become far fewer if such rating systems decided they were inappropriate for the age group. Like movies, it’s possible that books could be pushed into a higher age category just because of a couple of pages that have content that is not fitting.

What definitely needs to be standardized however, are content and trigger warnings. How exactly this can be done without listing out every single thing and spoiling any plot points, I have no idea, but having read two books back to back in the last week alone that really should have forewarned the reader about what kind of content to expect, this is currently very fresh on my mind.

Do you think books should have content ratings? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

15 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: Should books have content ratings?

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 10, 2021 / 9:51 am

      Agreed, it’s really the only foolproof way to make sure that kids aren’t exposed to any content they don’t want them to be.


  1. Kaya @ afictionalbookworm July 9, 2021 / 9:58 pm

    this is a great discussion! i agree with you that some books could be categorized as “not for kids or teens” even if it’s just a page or two of minor references.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 10, 2021 / 9:56 am

      Thanks! There are so many amazing books that could be affected by such a categorization when 95% of it is probably quite age appropriate.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hasini @ Bibliosini July 10, 2021 / 1:17 am

    I don’t believe in adding content ratings to books either. I don’t see any added benefit since we already have genres based on age group classification anyway. Also, yes, I definitely agree that we need a system for content warnings instead. I have been recently trying to implement content warnings in my book reviews, but issues come up such as whether the warnings could be subjective or spoilers, so that raises another discussion-worthy topic in itself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 10, 2021 / 10:01 am

      Exactly! As reviewers there’s only so much we can point out in terms of content warnings without completely spoiling the book, and there’s no guarantee we can actually cover every possible point. I feel the responsibility should lie with the author and publisher to identify any content that could be troubling. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jodie | That Happy Reader July 10, 2021 / 3:11 pm

    I agree that there needs to be some way of communicating trigger warnings without giving away the plot. i’ve had books I wouldn’t have started reading if i’d known in advance and I hear others remark on this too. Great question. Thanks for asking!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 11, 2021 / 8:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Trigger warnings definitely ought to be standardized across genres and age groups.


  4. readandreviewit1 July 15, 2021 / 1:30 pm

    This is such an interesting discussion – I definitely agree with all your points! I feel like the system we have in place is adequate as acceptable content is completely subjective so the only safe way for parents to control it would be to read the book themselves. I also agree that trigger warnings should be standardized – I’ve read a lot of books with triggers I hadn’t known when going in. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 18, 2021 / 7:43 pm

      Thanks for reading! Agreed, trigger warnings are definitely necessary – even if it’s not a trigger for me, I like to know in advance since there are some kinds of books I just prefer not to read at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ari Augustine July 15, 2021 / 3:19 pm

    I leave content warnings/ratings on most of my reviews instead of trigger warnings. I almost never use the term “trigger warning” unless it’s something that personally triggered me (I have PTSD & GAD). I feel like its overuse trivializes trauma to a degree and conflates feelings of discomfort with specific (subjective) triggers that set off someone’s trauma. It’s also impossible to actually identify true triggers in a book for ALL readers. So I feel content warnings are more appropriate, in terms of warning of general content that might not be age appropriate or might make *most* readers uncomfortable (graphic murder, rape, genocide, etc).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) July 18, 2021 / 7:48 pm

      That’s a very interesting point about using the term “trigger warning”, and I agree, it’s not possible to identify every last thing in a book that could be harmful to a reader. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Headphonesthoughts July 15, 2021 / 9:39 pm

    Content warnings would be good for books. I think that would help potential readers be ware of what they are about to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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