Trigger Warning (As If)

So, since last year, there has been global talk lately of instituting trigger warnings on books, ostensibly to warn people of potentially upsetting themes or scenes in a work of literature. It seems to be originating from students in the USA who are afraid of themes such as suicide, war, rape and racism in books.

To some extent, I can understand why some might see this as necessary. Rape scenes in books have their place as an exploration of the terrible act and how it affects our lives, but for a rape survivor, a warning might help avoid an unwanted recollection. But that said, we find ourselves back in the murky of arbiters. Who decides the trigger warnings? Publisher? Author? Distributor? Independent body of psychologists? Or worse, parents and schools? Considering the harm the MPAA (the ratings body in America) does to any movie more interesting or challenging than Transformers, do we really want someone deciding what is safe to read, and what isn’t? For religious readers, do we need to start putting blasphemy warnings on books? Do we really need another bullshit fatwa over a book that doesn’t deserve it?

It’s an old example, but always a useful one; consider that 90’s capsule American americanpsycho-book-coverPsycho. It is a study in ultra-violence, hyper-masculinity, the pointless excesses of yuppie life (exhibit A: the mineral water scene) and was way ahead of Wolf of Wall Street when it comes to looking at how the ultra-rich live. American Psycho would have so many trigger warnings that it would be unmarketable to anyone under the age of thirty. It is a shocking book, and remains relevant now. Sure, it is an uncomfortable read, but it has a valid point to make on how hideous excess wealth can be. Patrick Bateman buys women like other people buy steaks, and rapes and maims and kills. His wealth and position in society makes it easy for him to be utterly reprehensible. That’s a comment worth making, but it isn’t an easy one to read.

The idea of warning people about the contents of books with a neat label on the back (I really hope not the front of the book) denigrates the idea of intellectual exchange and growth. Treating every reader as an ignorant and fragile snowflake incapable of dealing with ideas in books should be unacceptable to a society that saw books being banned for just their titles less than 50 years ago. Books are already constantly challenged by supposedly well-meaning adults: Captain Underpants, Catcher in The Rye, Harry Potter and more often ignite some feeble-minded rage about what kids shouldn’t read. Adding another layer of interference in publishing bodes ill.

Let the people write whatever they want, and let the readers make decisions based on their own experience, and posterity will sort out the rest. I’m not sure that any intellectually curious reader would appreciate being told what is and isn’t safe reading. Otherwise, anything more interesting than a grade 1 reader will be emblazoned: warning: this book might upset you.

Delicious Books, and the Reading Thereof

In the land of books the reader is king, or so it is said.

I know there are hundreds of blogs out there about books, whether it is writing or reading them. But I have begun this blog alongside my other because I feel that there are hundreds of books that deserve recognition, and many which deserve as much rotten tomatoes hurled at them as I can fit into my small, plucky car.

No book should be burnt because that is ugly and a terrible use of fire, but I am a firm believer in book money not being wasted on disappointing books. With the economic climate being what it is, no one should have to give up books. It is my firm belief that there should always be money for books, and that it should never be wasted on boring, cliched or offensive books.

To clarify, I don’t consider books containing scenes of violence or sex etc inherently offensive. But pornographic levels of either, or blatant misogyny, racism or homophobia will definitely put a book in the bigot bin.

Ultimately, I love reading, and I love discussing books. Books have been my friends for as long as I can remember, and are as much a part of my life as to be sorely missed when they’re not around. I currently work in the book trade as a content writer, having studied English literature up to Honours Level. I will also be doing my Masters next year, so there will be some academic titles appearing on this list over time.

I hope you will enjoy your stay here, and I look forward to receiving your feedback on your favourite titles. If you think I am wrong, I’m happy to listen to your comments and maybe reeavulate my view. I don’t often shift on a book, but often a second or third read makes it more rewarding. (I experienced this with Jane Eyre and Nervous Conditions.)

Welcome to the Ruthless Book List, and I look forward to sharing my reading experiences with you.