Books On A Shelf

Should Books Come With Trigger Warnings?

Imagine you’re at the movies, and before the movie begins, you watch through the never-ending trailers of all the movies coming up. However, what most people take for granted is the green bolded screen that carries different ratings, intended on distinguishing movies by various topics, such as violence and language. What began in just movie theaters has now shifted itself into other forms of media today, such as tv shows and even albums, with the “explicit” label on heavier albums. While these ratings are vital for visual and auditory content in the twenty-first century, it raised the question to my favorite pastime: reading.

 

Books are considerably the oldest form of media, and yet when it comes to a rating system, it seems to have been left out of the mix. So, the question I’ll be discussing my opinions on, is whether or not there should be a rating system (or something similar) for books, to ‘warn’ readers about any triggering scenes, such as sexual assault or graphic violence.

The Lalastack Of Old Books And Glasses

To start, if books had a rating system, it would allow those who experienced trauma or those who wanted a ‘heads-up’ to get a glimpse into the storyline without a full-blown spoiler. Over on the Word Wonders’ blog, Laura, one of the writers, shares, “ I was so fed up with having to look through Goodreads for half an hour in the hope that someone included trigger warnings in their review..” For some light context, Goodreads is a website where you can share reviews on books, however, they haven’t developed a section yet for trigger warnings, which could help survivors skim past troubling scenes. Additionally, trigger warnings could be listed at the top of the chapters, rather than spoiling the entire book on the back cover. 

 

On one hand, trigger warnings may be useful in skipping past brutal scenes, some professors are protesting the trigger warnings push, stating that their students shouldn’t feel the need to be coddled from classical literature. In an opinion article on the Guardian, Professor Horvitz explains “I understand the need, if possible, to emotionally detach… but isn’t discomfort where the real learning takes place?” In providing trigger warnings, it could potentially take away from the whole message of the story, especially if a character uses their troubled past as a way to show their growth. In spite of this, Professor Horvitz, as well as various other universities, have decided to include ‘trigger warnings’ on the syllabi, in efforts to help students with difficult topics. 

hard back books

In my opinion, I think that if other forms of media have ‘blanket warnings’ for graphic violence, sexual assault, and even sex scenes, that books should not be left out of the conversation. I think even providing a small ‘TW’ header before each chapter would be a nice acknowledgment for those who just want to have a good time reading an interesting story. Either way, reading books will continue to be a favorite pastime by many, and there are plenty of databases out there already that provide warnings for every type of trigger, so be sure to do some research on a book before you pick up its cover.