Friday, June 11, 2010

Rating Books

So my wife showed me a comment on a blog post the other day that talked about how crappy books have gotten in terms of moral decay. I guess up to that point I would have to agree. I mean, half the books that are published today have some kind of graphic violence or smutty sex scene in them, and it doesn’t seem like that trend is going to turn away from that kind of stuff any time soon.

The part where the comment turned interesting, however, was when the poster started talking about creating a ratings system for books. She talked about how readers have a right to know what is in each book without having to read it, and that parents need some kind of easy way to tell what is in the books their kids read. She felt the publishers were not helping to clarify what was in their books through their summaries, and that it was frustrating to have to spend money on a product that would have these surprise nasty stuff in them.

While I sympathized with her on how bad books have gotten, I disagree with her on the ratings system. I feel, first off, there is no right to know what is in a book without reading it. We have no inborn right to have someone screen what we read, and we certainly don’t have some kind of God given right to a ratings system. Saying that we do only feeds into a trend where we dress up what we want as an inborn right, and thus dilute the power of the actual rights that we do have. The thing that we want may be a good thing, but that doesn’t make it a ‘right’ like say, the right to free speech, or the right to bear arms. I hate it when people do that. Any day now I expect someone to say they have a ‘right’ to eat Twinkies.

Moving on to the actual ratings system, I don’t think there is any way that it would ever be effective or useful. Only two real results come from ratings systems; either they form a huge, faceless bureaucracy that overshadows and leeches off the industry while accomplishing nothing useful, or they are totally ineffective and roundly ignored by everyone involved.

The best example I have of the former would be the movie ratings system. Everything I’ve heard about it points to the group as some bunch of meddlers that make random demands and then slap a pointless label on films. Meeting those demands does not necessarily make a movie any more moral, and probably wastes quite a bit of money on the part of the producers, something the publishing industry cannot really afford. The worst part is how useless it all has become. Think of how many PG13 movies, especially comedies or romantic flicks, that you would actually want to see, let alone send teenagers to watch. The list isn’t long.

The best example of the latter form of ratings would be the food labels that the poster actually mentioned. She said that the FDA requires that a list of what goes into food be put on the side of everything, so why not a book? The answer is, nobody cares what is on the food labels anymore. The system of describing what is and isn’t in the product has gotten so incomprehensibly complex and obtuse that most people barely bother to scan what chemicals or other stuff is in whatever they picked up at the store. I can’t imagine books being any less complex to quantify and label, and I don’t doubt that the labels would quickly be ignored by most.

The best way to avoid bad books is to flip through one before you buy it. Anyone with any experience in books is going to figure out how bad one will be with just a short glance through. If you’re really nervous, check with a few book reviewers first; it’s not like the world is short on book bloggers who are willing to talk about what they’ve read. Establish a relationship with book authors and reviewers, and start figuring out who writes the crappy stuff so you can avoid them. If you need to screen what your kids read, just read through some of their favorite books. The same process applies to TV shows. If you want to know what your kids watch, go sit through a show with them. You don’t have to preview everything, just take a random sample and see how it goes.

Yes, every once in a while you’ll have to take a risk on a new book or series. There will be the occasional book that turns bad partway through, or the crappy novel by a formerly trustworthy author. That’s life. There’s no way to avoid stuff like that completely, and you just have to deal with it and move on. By deal with it, I mean toss the book and share the fact that it bites with everyone else you know, so that at least they don’t get tricked the same way.

So that’s my rant on the subject. What do you guys think? I hope life is going well for you, and I’ll see you later!

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