This is a guest post from Justina Ireland. Justina enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows, both currently available from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Her essay “Me, Some Random Guy, and the Army of Darkness” is in the forthcomingThe V-Word, an anthology of personal essays by women about having sex for the first time, published by Beyond Words (S&S). You can find Justina on twitter as@tehawesomersace or visit her website justinaireland.com.
I’m not a big fan of censorship. I thought the recent Clean Reader App reveal was ridiculous. Banned Books week stokes my righteous fury. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights is one of my favorite amendments. But in the past few months I’ve started to wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be nice to have warnings on books.
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, both in the Young Adult and Adult age categories, and I’ve noticed a particular trend that is really terrible: rarely does a female character go the entire story without either being raped or threatened with the possibility of rape. Or both. Repeatedly.
This is especially true for secondary female characters, who in some books only exist to receive the threat of sexual violence and give the male main character a reason for Revenge or to move the plot forward. Lady Redshirts, for all you Star Trek fans.
This is exhausting to read time and time again, especially when the consequences of the assault are usually given the emotional depth of a teaspoon. Serious Trigger Warnings should be on books so people can avoid the ones that are going to put them in an emotionally unhealthy place, but I’d also like to see warnings of just plain awful content.
Let’s call them Reader Warnings: not as serious a business as Trigger Warnings, but still a valuable reader tool.
A simple sticker on the front, WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE THAT ARE QUASI-EROTIC AND WILL MAKE YOU WONDER WHAT THE HELL THE AUTHOR WAS THINKING would go a long way toward helping readers make better informed choices in a crowded market.
And I know a lot of people probably think that’s the purpose of reviews, but who has time to read reviews? Also, a Reader’s Warning would give me a quick and easy way to figure out if a book is worth my time, without the spoilery aside that “of course character B died, she has to come back as a ghost for the plot in book three to work.”
Just think of the applications! If I’m not in the mood to read an epic fantasy that is going to contain exactly three female characters to a cast of approximately five thousand male characters, then the sticker WARNING: THIS IS A BOOK OF MANLY DUDES DOING MANLY THINGS AND SOMETIMES THE LADIES SHOW UP FOR SOME EMOTIONAL DEPTH BUT DON’T COUNT ON IT would be a real time saver.
Think of the time it could save when looking at award winners. WARNING: THIS BOOK IS TYPICAL NAVEL GAZING LITERARY TRIPE ABOUT A MAN AND HIS STRUGGLE WITH BEING A MAN WITH FEELINGS AND IT ONLY GOT AN AWARD BECAUSE THE JUDGES WERE ALL DUDES. JUST GO READ TONI MORRISON INSTEAD.
It could even be a tool for increasing diversity. WARNING: THIS BOOK IS FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT WHITE PEOPLE. NOT A SINGLE PERSON OF COLOR EXCEPT FOR A DRUG DEALER AND HE IS DESCRIBED WITH A FOOD METAPHOR BEFORE HE DIES VIOLENTLY IN CHAPTER THREE.
The uses are endless!
Reader’s Warnings could be a benefit to authors as well. The sticker WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME TO FINISH IT BECAUSE IT WILL SUCK YOU IN AND YOU WILL ALSO BE RUINED FOR ALL OTHER BOOKS FOR AT LEAST A WEEK SORRY NOT SORRY would make copies practically fly off of shelves.
Of course, there would have to be an independent board to vet Reader’s Warnings. We can’t just have anyone throwing nice things on the cover, can we?
So, if you could have Reader’s Warnings on books, which ones would you use?
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