Would Book Rating Systems Work?

So recently someone mentioned a topic that I’ve come across several times and so I decided to address it, which will enlighten the entire internet for now and all time, right? Hellooo? Anybody out there?

The idea is that having a book rating system similar to the one used for movies would help people looking for specific kinds of books while seeking to avoid other kinds of books.

The first thing to address is the potential hysterical attack on such an idea, because while everyone has to make choices in their reading, there sometimes arises certain parties who want the choice of discriminating in their reading (a necessary thing, I assure you) but who outright attack the attempts of others to make their own choices (which is also a necessary thing, I still assure you) in similar ways even if with different results.

It is stupid. There, got that out of the way.

So movie rating systems over the years in this country have had ratings like G, PG, PG-13, PG-17 (I think), R, X, and the unhelpful ‘unrated’, which can mean it is either two old to bother rating or it is calling itself unrated to lure in those who find R and X too tame for their addictions. Most people are pretty familiar with these ratings. They may not be aware of the changes that these ratings have undergone. For instance, G used to mean ‘general audiences’ or the entire family. Now it means ‘for toddlers’. PG-13 is a somewhat newer rating that confuses people, for this reason: some PG-13 are slightly more intense than a PG. Others might as well have an R rating. But, like too many people have assumed, since it states that PG-13 material is suitable for 13 yr olds and up, therefore all of the range of PG-13 is somehow suitable for all 13 yr olds. This is definitely the fault of the people who make such an assumption, but I can easily see how they could be deceived into making such an assumption. Personally, I do not trust ratings. Not only have the standards of the ratings sagged horribly off the side of the straighter road and into the pea green waters in the ditch alongside, but they have also become lame. Any G movie I watch is close to fifty years old. The newer ones from the last twenty years simply aim their short broad stick- like arrows at toddlers and preschoolers. Usually.

By the way, if someone does eventually require by law that preschoolers must attend preschool, will they still be pre-schoolers? Will it still be a pre-school? Or will someone come up with a magic sounding word like ‘kindergarten’ was in its heyday? Talk about advertising! Which I wasn’t, sort of.

Movie ratings are often a worm on a hook dangling out there to attract demographic groups. So they’ll make sure to add one harsh swear word so they can call themselves an R movie and get the edgy social status that those appear to have. Just try and remove that one word, however, for your own viewing pleasure, and howls of censorship rise greasily into the air. If our natural environment is so important, why is our emotional and social environment so dang polluted?

Anyway…

So, movie ratings aren’t terribly accurate, their standards shift, and they sometimes actively mislead. So how could this possibly work for books?

I’m pretty sure there are far more books published each year than there are movies released to the theaters. Far, far more books. Who’s going to read all those? Whose standards will apply in this day and age? How will those standards shift? And if nothing else, how will a comprehensive book rating system irritate the nasal passages of the ALA ? Because it would be nothing to sneeze at, I assure you.

There are simply too many variables in the world of book publishing. In fact, with more books crossing genres, that little classification system alone is having enough trouble as it is, let alone any classification that tried to assign ratings based on language, scenes, or intensity.

How would I even rate intensity? It depends on my hormones at any given time of month, for one thing. Am I in the monthly mood to cry? Then, yeah, it’s a cry worthy book of deep emotional intensity. One which wouldn’t stir me at all once I get past the last bit of the particular hormonal fluctuation I am in. What about other kinds of emotional intensity? Are the characters facing the end of the world and yelling at each other? Some days I will find this terribly stressful to read, and other days I will laugh at them in their predicament. So, intensity is out as a rating.

What about sexual scenes? How explicit is explicit, how detailed, what is its context, does it relate to the plot, is it between married people, is it some form of dominance, does it fade to black, is it something else? Who decides which get what rating?

Swear words might seem a clearer way to delineate books. But with the shifting standards already referenced, how many YA books now have F-bombs in them? Because, according to assumptions, ‘everybody swears, this is real life, etc etc’? And since YA no longer actually refers just to young adults who are out of high school, how many middle grade kids and elementary kids read YA? I mean, there is the de juro, and then there is the de facto situation. Publishers and writers are well aware of these issues.

So, swearing as a part of a rating system won’t work either. Again, too many variables, too much of a push to normalize swearing. Heck- publishers may impose upon their children’s lit section certain set vocabulary lists that rely on the latest educational curriculum, which can be bad enough, but the idea that they have to push the idea that everyone swears? How is that going to gum up any attempt to classify and rate literature? The difficulties involved simply multiply.

And finally, the people who sometimes wish there were a rating system have rather variable tastes, concerns, and standards. One person may want to avoid all swearing while another feels that any lifestyle depicted in a book needs to reflect certain belief systems. Don’t tell me this is censorship, or I will ask, why do you expect certain other lifestyles reflected in your reading? See? It is a matter of choice, based on beliefs and standards, personal life experiences, and so on. Some readers wish to avoid Christian literature expressly. Traumatized victims of crime wish to avoid specific scenes. It’s about choice, which can shift according to changing priorities of the reader. Don’t make a system out of this; let the individual work it out.

So book rating systems would have to be incredibly complicated to begin with, and then their standards would shift as soon as they became available.

So What To Do?

Trust Yourself.

1- I use the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to do some research before I choose which books to read, at least I do most of the time. Once in awhile I just admit to curiosity and pick up a book everyone is talking about because I am willing to read something a little out of my line, if its turns out to be good enough.

2- I pre-read most of the books my children are going to read, to either prepare them for a particular book, to avoid certain ones, or to have a new book to discuss. I do this as a duty, just as I decide what foods will nourish their bodies, which fun junk foods to enjoy and in what amount, etc etc. And, in fact, I rarely guide the reading of my adult child nowadays. Those are her choices to make. When she offers me books that I would not ordinarily read, I read them, so we can do a fun nerdy lit analysis and coo over characters or grouse about plot. My younger daughter I still preview for. Not for much longer!

Mistakes can be made. I read the reviews of a particular book that was targeted at my daughter’s age at the time. It seemed to fit her tastes, everyone mentioned how incredibly well written it was, and no on mentioned the rape in the first chapter of the main female character who was depicted as the same age of my daughter. There were other scenes as well, later in the book. I only found out because after letting her read the book before I read it, because I trusted the reviews of strangers, she walked around looking a little sick and disturbed for a few days before I finally found out what I had allowed to happen. I went and read the book and was horrified. Well, we used that as a growing and learning opportunity. We had to work through a series of negative feelings. Time and great literature have both helped those memories fade. The lessons remain.

3- I also look at the way a book begins: is this one of those insecure books that ‘grabs my attention’? That is a sign that the writer does not trust the reader, or has plans that will become clearer as the book goes on. How are characters described, especially the women? What level of language is used? How does it foreshadow explicit scenes or how does it signal that things might get gruesome? Does it try and infuse nihilism into every page? Books usually hint at you, they foreshadow if you can recognize it. Some also groom you, exposing you to increasingly difficult scenes to work through because boy, do they have plans for you!

4- Here is the most important aspect of judgement I use: I try and stay close to the teachings of our Savior, stay close to light and truth, and feel spiritual warnings if a book might be a bad one for me to read. Yes, I have sometimes plowed on and discovered for myself that I should have listened to the spiritual warning. Other times, no, I stop, try and listen, and then respond to the spirit and its guidance. Because I want that more than I want any particular book in my life.

5- The recommendations of friends influence me as long as I can gauge well which friends have tastes worth taking an active interest in.

6- I do not rely on Goodreads for recommendations. While the actual book reviews can be helpful, GR sometimes likes to ‘adjust’ those to help authors get better ratings. Then there are the recommendations GR makes based on computer algorithms. Since I read this clean uplifting classic historical fiction, then I will obviously enjoy this trashy bit of work just because it’s set within a couple hundred years of the first book.

So choosing books is like shopping for food. What’s on sale? Can I digest that? Will it taste good? Will it be good for my family? Does it truly feed the soul the nourishment it needs? Is it just some fluffy fun for a few laughs? Is it so processed and laden down with unhealthy chemical combinations that no one should consume it? How do I make sense of nutrition labels? That, at least, is a more reliable rating system. More reliable than the front of the food package, I’m sure!

A book rating system would not work, and it would especially not work for the very people who think that such a thing might be helpful for them in making difficult reading choices. I would also add that a book rating system would just make life more complicated. Complications in life just sprout up all by themselves, so I don’t like adding more. I want less government, uncluttered grocery stores, and comfortable clothing. I read mostly older literature to more easily avoid explicit scenes and I read newer stuff very carefully, when I do read some of it. Am I missing something? Not really. What if I can’t find an acceptable book that day? Maybe I can do something that doesn’t involve reading. Really.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Norton’s revisited

https://i1.wp.com/www.clker.com/cliparts/1/a/e/6/11954222741488696247johnny_automatic_children_reading.svg.med.png

I’ve been getting deeper into the Norton’s I mentioned in my past post. My daughter had already found a book by E. Nesbit in there and was happily reading it. I wandered into the discussion on Little Red Riding Hood.

It was fascinating, reading hundreds of years’ worth of interpretations on this story. But then it got bad. In the middle of an anthology on children’s lit I found a story, or excerpt, about a young woman dealing with a Jerry Springer kind of dysfunctional family. The story passage was loaded with nasty landmines: f-bombs, references to sexual assault of the child protagonist, and a clinging attitude of random and directed rage. Sure, rage goes with rape. But neither goes with kid’s lit. What is wrong with people?

I often make the comparison between nutrition and reading. I’m not the inflexible strident advocate of broccoli and nutritional yeast and nothing else. That really is a stereotype that serves only the wicked, anyway. I think good food and yummy food are great. I also know that sometimes medicinal teas taste lousy but work miniature miracles. I like potato chips and the occasional ho-ho treat. In books, I expect a certain standard, which means I usually end up reading the classics. I also like some graphic novels, and I like funny short stories like “You’re on Next Sunday” by John B. Keane, wherein two drunks play rugby with the ghosts of a graveyard and get away with cheating. This is a worthwhile comparison. Food for the belly, food for the soul.

https://i1.wp.com/www.clker.com/cliparts/j/S/h/r/t/G/healthy-hi.png

https://aziomedia.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/classic-beautiful-literature-leather-bindings.jpg?w=211&h=160

In our school curriculum, the kids like to keep a running tab of sorts comparing how many ways recycling gets worked into each and every course. It’s in Science class, it’s in Health class, it’s in Math and Language Arts and Social Studies and Educational Technology (computer) class. It was seriously discussed during speech therapy.

How often does honesty get discussed? The honor code is vaguely referred to once or twice a year in official statements. Other than that, honesty is not a theme or general characteristic of reading assignments. It is not mentioned as an attribute of health, in scientific readings, or studies of history. It just isn’t considered a pressing issue like recycling. And while cheating has become more of a problem, I can’t help but wonder if this is a very probable situation: that more cheaters recycle than recyclers cheat.

The nasty violence of our world is an adult issue. It is perpetrated against children- but only by criminally minded sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s our job to protect kids from this, and when some poor children have been subjected to such evils in real life, we help them recover from it and during whatever long term process that is, their goal should be to become the best person they can be. And I will even go so far as to say that reading about such evils may help a suffering child work through their own trauma. But it may just as well add to their trauma. For the child that has not experienced such things, it serves no one to hurt their spirits and minds with ideas of rape and hatred of children. Unless we are grooming them. Whether a victim of sex trafficking or a child of wholesome safe families, both deserve to work through their troubles and build upwards, build better, imagine better, grow healthier, and not linger over the evil in their lives. Every one of us can ask for better than that, we can reach for it, plan for it, and accomplish some form of better in our lives. The after effects of evil may still be with us, but that is not the focus of our lives. We are meant to be good, to choose good, and to do good.

The irony in the Norton’s? In an earlier section (“New Canadian Readers, pg. 139) the editors refer to previous editors of readers who chose readings that would interest children, which will “lead to a love of literature”. But then the Norton’s editor states this: “Today’s first reading books never mention “love of literature” in their prefaces.” Perhaps this is not academic after all. Perhaps Norton’s is a witness and testament of the abuse we heap upon our children, stripping them of childhood, innocence, love, wonder, and joy. May God have mercy on us.

https://singaporeslung.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/img_row_of_books1.jpg?w=397&h=109

One last note: we have lost heroes in favor of protagonists, and many times in favor of antagonists and bad guys. We have lost interest in Good insofar as it is depicted as Boring. We have cultured a taste in Evil the way a criminal predator will groom his victims, proceeding from justifying talk about illicit unhealthy acts to showing it in words and pictures with the end goal being acts of evil, the consumption of the victim, the continuation of addiction and crime and damage for and to the perpetrator. This is not civilization, this is barely a society. It is wallowing in the muck and mocking those who will point it out as the filth it is. Let us be greater than this- greater than the sum of our parts, greater as in nobler, with dignity, true happiness, and a deep seated joy of life. That takes great effort of a very different sort. But is in entirely possible, it is never too late, and it reaps us rewards we cannot begin to imagine.

https://i2.wp.com/www.hajabar.com/jabarweb/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/child-reading.jpg