Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are Your Kids’ Books Rated R?


In 1984, parents raised angry fists over Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in which the villain pushed his hand into the chest of a man and yanked out the poor guy’s beating heart. They said this sort of violence didn’t belong in a PG-rated movie. The result? PG-13.

In 2009, a suburban dad -- that would be me -- read an advance copy of a new novel called Will Grayson, Will Grayson and came upon this instant-messaging reparté:
boundbydad: thrust your fierce quivering manpole at me, stud
grayscale: your dastardly appendage engorges me with hellfire
boundbydad: my search party is creeping into your no man’s land
grayscale: baste me like a thanksgiving turkey!!!
This, in a book due in April 2010 from Dutton Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and intended, says an informational note, for readers aged 14 and up.

14 and up, I thought. 14 and up? 14 and up?! To me, “14 and up” is just another way of saying PG-13. And the excerpt above is no PG-13.

Then, 30 pages beyond the quivering manpole, I came across this:
cock + pussy = a happy rooster-kitten couple
Um, would you want your pubescent child reading this?

Officially Worried
As the father of boys aged 13 and 9, who both love to read, I am now officially worried. Is this the stuff of books for Young Readers? For 14 and up? When I was a kid, I was free to read pretty much whatever I wanted, and my kids have the same freedom. While I’ve steered my older son away from, say, Disclosure, which is about sexual harassment, in favor of other, less sexually graphic Michael Crichton options, here’s the thing: When I allow my son to read novels for grown-ups, I know what we’re -- and more to the point, he’s -- getting into. And until now, I thought the same thing about books for Young Readers.

My fear: He picks up Will Grayson, Will Grayson on his own, intrigued by its very intriguing premise. (Two high school students named Will Grayson meet each other, and each changes the direction of the other’s life.) Eventually, he gets to page 70, then page 101. Before writing this article, I wondered if this was language he knew. But when I showed him the pages, he was so mortified that he didn’t know what to say. Neither did I.

Ratings are made based on vocabulary and situations. In terms of the former, if memory serves, one of the Motion Picture Association of America’s lines in the sand for what separates a PG-13 rating from an R is the word “fuck.” Sometimes it’s a question of how many times the word (or a form of it) is used, sometimes it’s about context. For example, if the word is used sexually, the film gets an R. ArtAndPopularCulture.com says the word “cock” alone can move a film from PG to PG-13. Using these guidelines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson would be an R-rated movie.

But it’s a book -- and for books, what’s the standard? “There is no standard at all,” says Luann Toth, managing editor of the book review section of the School Library Journal. “It’s pretty arbitrary. Publishers do their own thing. Unlike multimedia, which tries to have a standard, there is no equivalent in the book world.”

So-called book ratings, like “14 and up,” indicate reading level, not content. And even when such indicators are used, they’re buried on the back, in tiny type, near the barcode. Hardly responsible publishing.

Driven by Ratings
Now, before you cry “Censorship!” understand that I am not advocating any form of artistic restriction. In 1988, Doubleday published my first novel, Total Eclipse. It featured teens, but in no way was it meant for teens; it was marketed to adults. My point: as an author, I consider censorship abhorrent. I would never suggest the book’s authors edit the lines out, but I would urge their publisher to add a rating that reflects its content.

Much of our culture, after all, is driven by ratings. We accept and trust them; we would think carefully and search for more information before taking a young child to an R-rated film, for example.

Ratings, of course, are based on content, not interpretation. For as long as I can remember, television has aired “viewer discretion is advised” messages when programming content warrants it, and now there are actual ratings, too. Videogames sport E (Everyone), T (Teens), M (Mature), and other ratings. And music wears on-pack parental advisory notices due to explicit lyrics. Such warnings have not discouraged sales, though some recording artists have produced “clean” versions of certain songs. In the end, all of these notices have simply created better-informed consumers. More, they have helped consumers maintain their own moral baseline, their own ethical center -- and no matter where your own ethical center happens to be, having the information you need to maintain it is the point.

If movies, television, music and videogames are rated according to their own systems, why aren’t books? Why are books marketed according to reading level but not content? Marketing books according to reading level alone is like rating videogames according to people’s ability to push the buttons on control devices. Imagine: THIS GAME IS RATED E BECAUSE, HEY, EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO PUSH BUTTONS! Never mind that pushing those buttons shoots machine guns that reduce characters to piles of digital blood and flesh.

Ratings are not censorship; they’re a guide to what buyers will find inside the package. And before you accuse me of being homophobic, stop. While the IMs cited above happen to be between two male characters, would they be any less disturbing if boundbydad were a girl?

The Problem Is Marketing
The problem with Will Grayson, Will Grayson isn’t the book itself. John Green and David Levithan have written an entertaining novel that contains important messages about the power of self, creativity, friendship and love. It’s got an innovative hook, a cool premise, a compelling narrative and complex characters.

The problem is the way Dutton Young Readers is marketing it. When I spoke with the book’s publicist, she acknowledged that the publisher had anticipated this problem and told me I was the first of what they imagined would be many calls from parents about this book. She assured me that kids 14 and up have access to and use this sort of language all the time (this came as quite a surprise to my son). And she added that Dutton would be publishing the book on schedule.

Fine. But adding an honest rating to the book’s front cover would help Will Grayson, Will Grayson find the readers it is intended for. Its publisher -- and all publishers -- should take more responsibility for the books they publish by creating an independent organization whose job it is to establish a clear, objective system for rating books, including front-cover icons that indicate content. Whether they’re single-letter ratings or simply “explicit language” warnings, this level of honest publishing can only be good for everyone involved: authors, publishers, and readers. It would go a long way toward making sure that fiction is just in the books, not in their marketing plans.

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192 Comments:

Blogger Daniel said...

Tony:

Wonderful, thoughtful commentary, well-balanced and relevant. Important food-for-thought for any parent with a child whose reading level exceeds their emotional comfort level.

-- Dan Lavery

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:20:00 AM PST  
Blogger Angela Craft said...

I'm very hesitant about ratings, because we've seen with movies how they *have* become a form of censorship. Studios will cut or add to a film in order to get a desirable rating.

And then there's the issue of *who* is doing the rating. The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated delves into the secretive nature of the MPAA and how there's quite a lot of evidence that certain types of content (most obviously homosexual content) automatically bumps the rating up. I'd hate to see the same thing happen to books, which are often much more on the cutting edge than films.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 12:12:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Angela, how have ratings become a form of censorship? If a filmmaker makes a film to fit a certain rating, that's not censorship, it's creative choice-making. (It's also business.) Likewise, if an author chooses to write for a certain age group (as these authors have), it would behoove them to make their work appropriate for that group. As it is, like it or not, these authors have written a fine book, and it's being sold to a group for whom it's inappropriate.

I don't know about that side of the MPAA, but I would hope (and do hope) that if a ratings organization for is created, it doesn't fall prey to the same politicking.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 1:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger Angela Craft said...

Tony - if a screenwriter or director is told to cut something so a film will receive an R rating rather than NC-17, that is effectively censorship because an NC-17 film won't be shown in most markets. What happens when Wal-Mart decides it won't carry YA books with the equivalent of an R rating? All of a sudden you're going to find a lot of editors pushing their authors to cut their books in order to achieve this artificial rating, possibly (probably?) sacrificing artistic integrity along the way.

And while we might hope that whatever ratings board was created wouldn't fall into the same practices as the MPAA, how would this be guaranteed?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:16:00 PM PST  
Blogger Gregory K. said...

There are a lot of issues here, of course, not simply ratings. To you, for example, graphic language is a cause for concern, but early Chrichton isn't. Depending on which book that was, of course, it involves murders/viruses/etc. It's the same problem the MPAA runs into - nudity = R but wiping out millions of people can be PG. Really? I'd reverse that. And here in Los Angeles, I'd also back up the Dutton publicist's claim that language like that is well known among 14 year olds (even if they don't use it or admit it to parents!). So, how we would agree on ratings?

Also, the fact that there's sex, drugs, and rock and roll, so to speak, isn't new in the kids' book field. Ask folks about page 81 of Judy Blume's Forever and what a scandal it was back in 1975. Again, how do we decide ratings when people censor a book like the Higher Power of Lucky because it used the word scrotum on page one (properly, no less) and the most challenged book in libraries last year was a true-story picture book about two male penguins raising a baby?

I'd also note that while you are worried about your kids encountering this language, you showed your older son the pages. This seems replicatible to me - rather than trying to shield him, you engaged him, discussed what he was reading, were able to help him navigate the world as needed. You can do this about every book he reads in sight of you, can't you?

Finally, I'm curious - if your son didn't know the words, particularly the ones on page 101, why was he mortified to read them? By themselves, if one doesn't know the words, that line would have no uncomfortable subtext, would it? I know as a teen, I wouldn't have wanted to read anything like that in front of my father... but I asked him often to define things I didn't understand.

As you note, it's not a simple situation and never has been. But ratings for books hardly seems like a solution. I mean, do you make the whole rest of the book world off-limits to kids? Chrichton wouldn't be rated, would he? So how would that be okay? Or do you believe that every book must pass through gatekeepers before being available?

I'm glad for your son that you are so involved. You'll be able to have great conversations about what he reads. You can read online and find great books for them that fit what you'd like them to read. Parents need to stay engaged, protest when they think publishers have gone to far, and also trust that they have a strong enough relationship with their children that when something crosses the family's line, conversation will ensue. To me, that's better than ratings.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 4:44:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gregory K said what I've been thinking pretty well. I would just add, it's a slippery slope.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:51:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Jesus: read the dialogue. And think about it. What if it WAS in a movie? How comfortable would YOU be with your kid watching the movie that that was about? For that matter, if that book were published for adults, would it be available in regular book stores? From the sounds of it, you'd have to buy it in a plain brown wrapper from your local 7-11 (or wherever works of smut are sold).

Is a rating system the answer? Maybe not. But is it okay for publishers to be distributing this shite? What are you saying? Calling it literature gives them a badge to publish whatever?

Or call it fair across the board: no ratings for books? Ok, so what about no rating for movies or games or anything else? How is it OK on one and not the other?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:57:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

I just wrote a lengthy response to Angela and Gregory's comments, and then Safari crashed. Bummer. Some highlights, though:

- Books, like movies, are a business that relies upon art. Filmmakers and authors want to make art. Studios and publishers want to make business. All of them want to make money (artistic integrity be damned as much as not). I hardly think adding ratings to books will hurt them any more than they've hurt movies...or music...or videogames.

- If Wal-Mart chooses, in all their "wisdom," not to carry a certain book because of its rating, shame on them (but it wouldn't surprise me). I suppose in such a case the buyer might opt to get it from any one of the other thousands of outlets that will carry it.

- Is the word "scrotum" enough to get a book what amounts to an R rating? I'd say no. But would the work "fuck"? "Cock"? You betcha. (As for the penguins, I don't think ratings would solve that particular problem; I don't think anything would. Stupid is just stupid.)

- I didn't say my son doesn't *know* the words. I said he doesn't *use* them. Big difference.

- I wouldn't want what kids in LA do (or know) to establish the barometer, if you will, for everyone else. I used to live there. I know.

- Book ratings, as I see them, would not make any book off-limits to anyone. Instead, they would help guide consumers to books that are appropriate for them (however one defines "appropriate"). It's a question of more information being better, enabling us to make informed choices instead of blind ones.

- No, Crichton would not be rated. Books for grown-ups would not be rated. Grown-ups can take care of themselves. It's kids I'm worried about. Under-18s. For the same reasons an R-rated film might not be appropriate, neither would an R-rated book. Say, a book with the language Will Grayson contains. (By the way, market Will Grayson to adults and I have zero problem. As I said, adults can read what they want. Kids, not so much—unless their parents don't care. I do.)

- The conversations I have with my son about books are wonderful. We have an extraordinary relationship. But that doesn't mean he can read any grown-up book he wants any more than he can see any grown-up movie he wants or play any grown-up videogame he wants(much to his chagrin). It's my job as his father to be engaged *and* to be a filter of sorts. Book ratings won't provide all the answers, and it may end up being a small thing—but as a parent, I'll take all the help I can get.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:35:00 PM PST  
Blogger Gregory K. said...

So you're talking non-enforced guideline type ratings, but only on product specifically for kids. Meaning the entire rest of a bookstore would be unmarked, so if your teenager spent their own money on an adult book - and they do that - you'd have nothing to go on.

You don't want LA to be the standard for your kids. I understand that. But what should be the standard? Your version of what's acceptable? The views of the people who ban And Tango Makes Three? You can call something "stupid" but we both know that ratings would deal with theme and not just language just as the MPAA guidelines do.

The truth, of course, is that your son won't be hurt by those two passages you mention. You might find it unfortunate that he encountered them... even though he already HAS encountered those words (from peers? from movies? from books he's read?) even if he doesn't use them... but you've given him the support to process it, to think for himself, to know what's "okay" in his life. And you didn't need ratings to do it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:25:00 AM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Non-enforced? No. Non-pervasive? Yes. No ratings on books for grown-ups (as opposed to adult books). As for whether kids can buy them anyway, of course they can. Same's true of all kinds of products. But that's not a good enough reason not to have them. If it were, there'd be no need for adults-only bookshops; that material could be sold at Borders one section over from Curious George and Europe on $10 a Day. (And will you now argue that that whole notion, too—adults-only bookshops—is censorship? Please.)

My point is not that every book needs a rating. My point is that if publishers are going to market a book to kids, then parents need an honest guide to what that book's content is. As of now, there is no system for enforcing this. That's why Dutton can get away with marketing Will Grayson to children, even though it puts teenagers into wholly adult situations, using adult language. Am I condemning the book? Hardly. Am I hopeful that publishers will take some responsibility for the work they publish, helping it reach appropriate readers? Absolutely.

You ask what the standard should be? Certainly not mine. And certainly not yours. Besides, "what's acceptable" shouldn't be decided by either one of us. It's entirely personal—and it should be. But without ratings, the whole point is moot. Without ratings, there IS no standard. There is only every book-buying consumer left in the dark, at the mercy of publishers' marketing departments. Without ratings, then, THEY become the standard. At least movie studios, to some degree, because the MPAA has arrangements with theater owners, are forced to market their films responsibly. Tell me again why book publishers should not be held to the same (admittedly imperfect) standard?

I find it sadly amusing that these rather simple ideas—honesty, responsibiity—are being held in such contempt by you. Why is more information a bad thing? What are you so afraid of? I seems to me that your fear may stem from the fact that you feel full disclosure—that is, honesty and responsibility—isn't a good thing. That it will stop people from reading. Clearly the opposite is true. Ratings haven't stopped anyone from seeing movies, playing videogames, or listening to music. They won't stop anyone from reading books, either.

Finally, you seem obsessed with my son, as if your concern for him (and mine) somehow discounts this argument. Well, hardly. As I said in my original piece, HE didn't come across this material. I did—and I vetted it past him. End of story. It was, is, and will continue to be my hope that the cultural touchpoints he encounters are presented to him by their creators and distributors with honesty, so that he can evaluate them with the objectivity and intelligence he has in such abundance. He does this with movies, music, and videogames now. It's a shame that when it comes to books, he, like the rest of us, are left to judge them solely by their covers—no matter how misleading or dishonest or irresponsible they may be.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 12:52:00 PM PST  
Blogger Gregory K. said...

If you can find anything that I have written that suggests honesty and responsibility should be held in contempt, I'd appreciate you detailing it specifically when you decide to denigrate rather than discuss.

And statements like this - (And will you now argue that that whole notion, too —adults-only bookshops—is censorship? Please.) - where you put words in another's mouth and then disparage their made-in-your-head's reaction are also a signal that the conversation here has run its course. You do a variation on that them when describing my "fear" of information - making up arguments that I wouldn't make and then dismissing them.

I appreciate that you've never condemned the book. I apologize, too, if my mentioning your son made this conversation turn uncomfortable for you, though since you had used him to crystalize why ratings are necessary from your point of view, I didn't see why my discussion should turn to anything less specific. I'm sorry you label me as "obsessed" with him and want to assure you that I'm not (though I honestly do think he's incredibly lucky to have the relationship he has with you, and if all children and parents had relationships like that, the world would be a happier place).

As I said in my first comment here, parents should raise their voices when they think publishers have crossed the line, just like you have done. Kids should, too. But as you also make clear by the word choices in your last comment, it's best that we just call it a day and agree to disagree.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 11:15:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

I was thinking the same thing. Let's agree to disagree.

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, and I apologize.

As for the fear, I do get the sense you think they will somehow ruin the industry. I guess I just don't see what the big deal is—as an author, as a parent, and as a consumer. (And I actually think they'd help the industry.)

Anyway, yes. I appreciate the debate (never a bad thing), and I thank for being a part of it. We both have sound perspectives.

Given the way the world works, we'll probably be asked to collaborate on something any day now. ;-)

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 8:58:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Tony... On your ratings idea, I don't agree. I was one of those children who read far past my age level (college level comprehension in first grade), and read ALL those books that so horrified parents of my time; Godfather, Exorcist, Judy Blume's Forever, etc.

I wasn't harmed one iota by any of it. What I didn't know, I looked up in legitimate outlets - Library's, etc.

I was lucky in having parents that were distant and uninvolved for the most part. Had they been like parents of close friends, up in my face about my choices and reading material, endlessly prattling on about how it was "bad" or "harmful" or "blasphemous," I too, would have turned out like them. Stifled, unambitious, sexually repressed, Victorian and prudish.

Because my parents WERE distant and uninvolved I got to learn at my own pace, with no one else's preconceived judgements placed on my reading material, and able to make my own, which is healthy.

I have had an extremely successful life, marriage, and awesome teenage boys. They are allowed to read what they see fit, and I do not see the hiding behaviors that I see in other parents children. Stashing the forbidden under the bed, reading while afraid, etc.

On teenage boys - Yours, I'm willing to bet, from experience, was mortified not at the material, but at a parent thrusting THAT material into his face and asking his opinion at a time when privacy is utmost, bodies are changing, sex is a huge fantastic/terrifying mystery, and parents are just plain silly.

My boys (13, 15, 17) were all equally as horrified by straight talk at that younger age. Not because our relationship doesn't allow for it, it does, they have all brought me problems and issues I am forever grateful that they were willing to trust me with, but because ALL parents are persona-non-grata when it comes to sex after a certain age.

Spend less time worrying about what they're reading, and instead give a better grounding in how to handle what is read is a far better solution than censorship. You can argue the point all day, but any label equates to censorship. It will cause certain stores not to carry it, certain, misguided parents not to buy it, or allow it, and certain loathsome church groups to burn it without ever once reading it.

Don't stifle your child.

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 2:20:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Sue Bursztynski said...

Tony: If you want to sell more copies of any book, just make a fuss. I’m seriously considering asking someone to give a nasty review of my latest book – one that says it’s bad for your kids, they shouldn’t be reading this, ban it! The fabulous reviews I have had have not, so far, translated into major sales.

I have read a couple of David Levithan’s books, which I got for reviewing, and I’ve heard him speak. One of the two I read was a romantic comedy that was later turned into a movie. The other also had plenty of comedy in it. Both of them were full of swearing. Almost literally every second sentence someone would use the f word. It was “f-ing this” and “f-ing that”. I mean – why? What’s the point? The books were well-written and entertaining, but I mentioned in one of my reviews that the kids at my distinctly lower-class school, whom you would think would swear a lot, don’t use those words anywhere near as often as the ones in these novels. Someone responded that, of course, this is the way “hip young things” speak. I don’t know. I don’t work with hip young things, just ordinary kids. When I overheard one of them refer to “my f-ing locker” I called out, “Can your locker really do that?” and got a stunned silence.

I had to stop reading for a while when I read your quotes from the book, because I was rolling around on the floor laughing at what sounded to me like badly-written fan fiction. I mean – manpole? Don’t get me started on some of the fan stories I read years ago – Mr Spock’s masculine equipment referred to as a “jade tower” - my friends and I read some of this stuff aloud together and couldn’t stop laughing.

If the rest of the book is as bad as the quotes you have made it should fizzle out after the initial good sales due to the name of a respected writer on the cover.

But only if no one draws attention to it by trying to get it banned. Let's hope no one does.

Rating books can get complicated, though. We've been having a similar argument over rating computer games in Australia and the argument is not over. Who decides? Where do you publish the information? Not on the book, I hope! I have hidden with stickers bits on book covers saying the book is for this or that age group because otherwise students who might like it but don't want to read "kid" books won't read it. On the Internet? Maybe. In the end, if the parent is buying the book, it might help them to take a good look at it before buying. This is the only way to be sure.

If it's a good book, it will be understood and liked by kids who can handle it. If it's not a good book, or if they're too young to get it, trust my word as a teacher-librarian, they will put it down after a few pages. They've got better things to do than read about "manpoles"!

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:32:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Dear Anonymous.
Don't apologize for not agreeing. You have every right to. Though you clearly are not, I am saddened to hear about your parents' distance. What a loss—to you both. At least you've managed to have "an extremely successful life" etc.
As for my son, you'd lose your bet. He was as horrified to see the language in a book for children as I was. Despite the book's publicist's assertion, none of my son's friends use that kind of language. In fact, none of *my* friends use that kind of language.
The relationship I have with my son(s) is precisely the kind of relationship your parents did not have with you. We are wonderfully close, very involved—and none of us is stifled in the least.
My concern has nothing to do with what kids read. My concern is about honest, responsible publishing. Period. Right now, book publishers get away with something that no film studio, game publisher, or music label gets away with. And that's just wrong. Not because it isn't fair, but because it isn't right. More info is a good thing—and if "certain, misguided parents," as you call them, misuse ratings, to me the trade is worth the benefit. (And I do not believe information is censorship. I'm not advocating the censoring of anything. I'm advocating information. How people use it—that, I admit, may be censorship.)
Finally, please don't burn any calories sweating my parenting style. I don't worry about what my kids read because (a) I trust them and (b) they can handle pretty much anything. Actually, I find that my own permissive nature allows them to police themselves: they know what's right for them, what's wrong for them, and how to behave. I've seen first-hand what stifled, under-their-parents-thumbs kids do: They rebel. They get into trouble. Sometimes serious trouble. Some kids of distant and uninvolved parents do, too, doing all they can to get the attention they want. Thankfully, it seems you and I havebeen blessed with well-adjusted kids who know right from wrong, who appreciate the freedoms they have.
You may think me a conservative prude for all this ratings talk, but I'm willing to risk that. In fact, I'm neither. I'm actually just a dad who supports informed consumers, who sees nothing wrong with guidelines that help us choose wisely. What people do with that information—driven by their politics or faith or whatever—well, that's their problem.

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Sue—Thanks for your note.
One of the reasons this article has been pubished at this moment in time is so that it *doesn't* publicize the book at the time of its publication, which is still months away.
I appreciate your points about kids knowing good from bad. I just wish publishers did, as well. :-)

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 3:50:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Lindsay said...

A lot of YA authors seem to be about "pushing boundaries" of what's acceptable these days. Having a rating system sounds pretty easy to implement, and I can't imagine it putting much of a dent (if any) on sales. On the flip side, it is an easy short cut for adults deciding whether the book is appropriate for their kids.

Reading level isn't particularly helpful. I know I read several grades above my reading level as a kid (I think most children who grow up reading do), and there's a big difference between being able to comprehend big words and being ready for sexual content and violence.

Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 12:33:00 AM PST  
Anonymous InfoWitch said...

I am strongly against book rating, for reasons others have stated, and also have worked with teens for 10 years-- they know and use this language, although less often if they think an adult is listening. Why shouldn't the literature reflect their speech? An uncomfortable reader can put the book down and walk away.

But that's not why I'm posting-- I'm posting because I too have read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and I'd like to make sure anyone who stumbles upon this conversation has some chance of understanding these passages as they occurr in the book, not as random excerpts flying around the net.

Because context is everything.

p. 69, just before the "manpole" dialogue quoted in this article, contains the crucial context: this is a game, played by two friends: "this is a game we play, most of the time we're not serious. the first is we basically make fun of people who have IM sex by inventing our own ridiculous scornographic dialogue." The passage Tony quotes is part of the satiric fun being had, described as: "the romance novel approach. corn porn."

With that context, I think the whole conversation needs to be started over.

So.

As for the other quote-- it's the opposite of raunchy. Cock here is being used as short for cockerel, or rooster; pussy to mean cat. Not sexual, and in fact turns the "dirty" words back into clean, unobjectionable nouns.

I encourage anyone reading all of this to wait for the book to be released and read it before jumping off half-cocked and using a misrepresented text as a rallying cry for ratings.

Plus, it's a darn good read.

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:22:00 AM PST  
Blogger Brandi said...

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you.

When I was young, I came across all sorts of adult movies and literature, whether I was trying to or not. My mother's cousin's wife wrote a romance novel, and when I was about 12, I decided to read it. Of course, it had a lot of content that would be considered only suitable for adults within its pages. But although I was a little bit taken aback and shocked, it's not as if I was scarred for life, confused, or inclined to reenact any of it. I already knew to some extent what I could expect to find in the book. I knew that people had sex, swore, did “amoral” things, etc. When I read other books with explicit or sexual content, I spent more time evaluating the characters' decisions than thinking that I should say and do just as the characters do. If anything, it made me think the characters were morons who made bad decisions.

You would be silly to think that any kid over the age of 10 hasn’t sworn or been exposed to a lot of it, or doesn’t know a reasonable amount about sex, or doesn’t realize the amount of violence and cruelty in the world. Knowing it exists and how to handle it isn’t damaging. It’s enlightening. Books, unlike video games and a lot of movies, can help kids understand why these things happen, and why people act certain ways. It’s silly to think that video games and books can go by the same rating system, since the more violent video games have nothing more to offer than violence, while, though a book may contain violence, it also has the ability to show the suffering and senselessness of it.

In Looking for Alaska, John Green’s first book, there’s a scene where oral sex is involved. And it’s awkward and not romantic and just generally a bad experience. However, in a scene that follows almost immediately, you see two characters just kissing, and the main character values that experience so much more because he cared deeply for that person. I think this is a great way to show teens that loving the person you’re with is more important than just empty sexual experiences, and just kissing that person feels so much better than having an empty sexual encounter. I don’t think a scene such as this is inappropriate for 13 to 15-year-olds, as we begin to learn about our bodies around the age of 12. Hell, one of my best friends (who, coincidentally, had a VERY strict mother) was pregnant at age 13. I really do feel like exposing teens to good YA literature can help them learn, grow, and understand the world and themselves better.

I feel like giving a rating to a book for bad language and bad language alone is silly. Context is important. In the case of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the two boys are just making fun of people who participate in cyber sex. The book isn’t glorifying the language or cyber sex itself, but rather showing how it’s pretty lame. I don’t see how this could have a negative effect. I was aware that “cybering” existed since I was about 12 years old when I’d be on the internet in a chatroom dedicated to one of my favorite bands and would receive messages from random, shady people. Portraying how stupid it is in a book written by two influential, critically-acclaimed authors doesn’t hurt anything.

And, Sue B, um, that’s the ENTIRE point of the “manpole” passage. They are making fun of silly, cyber sex talk. It’s *supposed* to be atrocious writing. Again, context! It’s important!

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 1:49:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Helene said...

I just read the article and all the responses --and I am so glad I read all the responses! Tony, you invoke "honesty" and "responsibility" yet the way you presented your quotes, the way you knowingly omitted the crucial context seems quite dishonest and irresponsible to me. Thank you InfoWitch and Brandi for setting the record straight!

As far as discussing the idea of a rating system, I think Gregory K. has articulated my own thoughts much better than I would have. Thank you.

But, there is one thing that I haven't seen mentioned here: isn't the label "YA" the rating system Tony is asking for? You have "Children" books, and you have "Young Adult" books. This way, each child, each parent can decide when to cross the boundary to "young adulthood". As all have said, levels of maturity vary with each individual and do not have much to do with biological age. There are plenty of wonderful "children" books for all ages. The Young Adult label tells you "Beware, this may not be a good fit for children." There may be themes, or language, or situations that some may object to. Concerned parents can then read ahead and make personal decisions. But further breaking down the "YA" category into smaller subcategories become meaningless. PG 14? PG16? PG17? This becomes arbitrary and pointless.

Personally I am turned off by such attempts at classifying works of art, be they films or books, into narrow boxes. One small library I visit puts labels on the books in its adult fiction section, such as "romance," "Christian," "mystery," "inspirational," "science fiction," etc. What do I look for? the books WITHOUT the labels.

I think having a "Young Adult" category is helpful --but I also think it's enough of a warning system.

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 4:11:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

All due respect to InfoWitch, context is not necessarily everything. Content is.

It makes not one bit of difference that the IMing episode is to make fun of other people who do it.

A close read will reveal that Will is in love with the other guy (no spoiler here)—and so while they *say* they're making fun, for Will this is serious business.

As the rest of the book bears out.

As for cock vs cockerel, am I to understand that you're naive enough to suggest that the words chosen weren't chosen for their porn effect as well as, perhaps, their comic one? Please. That's the whole point. Disguise it all you want; it's wrong.

But then, you said it yourself. It's corn porn—and even with with the corn, it's still porn. And it's not for 14-year-olds.

Helene, I didn't omit anything because I don't think it matters. (See above.) It's one thing to write this stuff. It's almost worse to start calling it literature. To each her own, I guess.

As for YA being enough of a rating, well, if YA means that 14-year-olds are expected to be at the same maturity level as 18-year-olds, then no. It's not nearly enough.

Someone in one of the earlier comments put it well: You take your 13-year-old to a movie rated PG-13 (trusting that it *is* such) and find instead that it has R-rated content. That's not okay. *That*, Helene, is dishonest and irresponsible, no matter how you slice it.

As I've made clear here numerous times, I am against censorship. For the umpteenth time, anyone is free to read what they like, of course. But a ratings system for books—as it does with movies, TV, music, and games—will simply help consumers know what's between the covers...and buy with a little inside information.

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 8:37:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony,

I certainly believe in truth in advertising. But that's what the jacket copy is for. Are you saying that the jacket copy of the book is misleading? If a kid read the first few pages would he or she get a good idea of the rest of the content of the book? You are talking about replacing an effective, nuanced, presentation of the books content-- the placing of it in a YA section instead of in an 8-12 section, the look of the cover, the copy on the jacket, the tone of the first few pages, with a number-- Okay for 16! Not okay for 14!

Even though you agree that any two fourteen year olds can be very different.

You say that you are only ADDING information, but you are mistaken. What really would be added? No more real information than is carried by the very lame movie industry ratings. If I want to know whether I can take my twelve year old to a move "PG-13" helps me not at all. "Strong-language, some nudity" doesn't either. I can't see why you would want to import such a useless system to books.

When parents buy a CD or a movie or a videogame, it's almost impossible for them to know what's inside the package. Not so, books. Why would you need a label on the front when you can open the book and flip through it? Why should we want a system that has potential for great harm in terms of limiting people's access to books when anybody who is motivated has all the information he wants right there in his hand?

I think that most kids of almost any age, can tell from ten feet away what kind of book Will Grayson will grayson is going to be and they can decide, without any adult help at all, whether they want to read it. And that's all the marketing information I demand from a book.

Involved, open-minded parents don't need your rating system. Narrow minded parents who don't trust their fourteen year olds to choose their books for themselves-- they need it. Distracted parents who don't want to take the time to check out what their kids are reading--they need it. Obviously YOU didn't, did you?

hope

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 9:15:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Anon:

Am I saying jacket copy is misleading? Sometimes. Jacket copy is meant to draw potential readers in—not necessarily provide direction as to a book's actual content. It hints at story, teases conflict. Nothing more.

If you read other posts, you'll see that I do not advocate age-based rating, because kids develop at different rates.

Instead, I am advocating ratings like the ones used on TV and videogames. Mostly, these signal violence, language, sexual content. While these may be fine for some children, they're not for others. Age isn't the real determining factor.

My own kids are free to read, watch, and play what they want (though not Mature games). My wife and I keep a watchful eye—because that's what we see our job is, as parents. While we and our kids have a terrific, culturally aware relationship, other parents may need some help. A ratings system—even with its messiness and potential abuses—would provide it.

As I have said, those who will abuse such a system for their own censorship-based purposes do not need a ratings system to do that; they do it anyway. Read today's article at JanuaryMagazine.com, about the banning of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, for another sad bit of proof. Lnk: http://januarymagazine.com/2010/01/dictionary-banned-for-oral-sex.html

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 4:50:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Tony. I've thought about it and I still can't see the upside of such a rating system. Too messy, too prone to abuse, and for what? To give parents a short-cut on parenting. A short cut which will almost always fail them because no rating system can be relied on to distinguish between an upsetting, thought-provoking look at some of the challenges our children face (like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak), and schlock meant to titillate with sex and violence.

hope

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:17:00 AM PST  
Blogger Genevieve said...

Nice commentary. I haven't read all of the response that are listed here but I'm going to put in my two cents.

Personally, I find the two examples of inappropriate text typical of what I heard in jr high and high school. I'm 21 years old but I know 12 year old kids that speak with many sexual innuendos and would not be appalled by the examples you presented. The thing is, even if your kid says he doesn't use that language-- he probably has heard it. Personally I didn't swear much until high school but once I hit jr high most of the kids seemed a bit sex obsessed and dropped the F-bomb left and right.

And I grew up in a semi-conservative area where the kids were going to church on Sundays and hooking up after school. Kids know how to act around their parents, I still censor myself when I'm with my parents and I'm an adult!

And how old are the characters in the book? I've read other John Green and David Leviathan books so I'm assuming that they are around 16 or 17. If that's true, then the average 16 year old I've ever met is pretty comfortable with language that has sexual innuendos-- they may not use them themselves but they'll hear it. And have you ever seen the TV show "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" because that show is ALL about sex. I read somewhere that they have a tally online of how many times they'll say sex in an episode and they've hit like 40 or 50 times! Personally I think that the show is an exaggeration of high school, but it is true that teens talk about sex-- sometimes in a casual way, with innuendos, or sometimes seriously.

And most readers don't flip out over two passages. In my experience, everyone I know tries to look at the entire content of a book.

Overall, I think that your idea about having a different rating system for language/violence/sex is a nice idea but I doubt that it would work.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:43:00 AM PST  
Blogger Genevieve said...

Oh, and as a side note I have some issues with your blog title. When I hear 'kids' I tend to think of children-- not teenagers. Teenagers aren't really kids,they are not adults but will gravitate towards adult themes. Your title makes it sound like you're saying that books for 8 year olds are rated R. I would have found it more appropriate if you had "Are your Teens' Books Rated R?" rather than kids.

And another side note, for me 13 was very different than 14. When I was 14 I was in high school. I went to my first college party when I was 14, and most of my peer group had been to many college parties before me. Your child may be a parent's ideal child, but most really aren't. Also, I was considered a goodie goodie.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:56:00 AM PST  
Blogger Paige said...

With all do respect, we have enough problems with innocent books being banned as it is- a rating system would simply make that problem worse. School libraries would be hesistant to allow "R" rated books, when really the book simply contains one f-bomb or a homosexual character. The only thing I can see a rating system doing is keeping much-needed books from making it into the hands of kids who need them.

I'm a 15 year old girl whose parents have never monitored my reading. I've been reading YA since about third grade, and I'm sure more then once I've come across things that my parents probably would have wanted me to not know about until an older age. But the truth of the matter is that adults can't -and shouldn't- be filtering what we read, because in reality if it's in a book, it's out there in the real world, and we, the teens, are going to be exposed to it. Would you rather have us experience it through a book, or first-hand? Besides, if a book isn't right for a kid, I guarantee they will put it down. We know what we are ready to see and what we aren't.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 5:53:00 PM PST  
Blogger DC said...

When I first read your (what can only charitably be described as) thoughts, I assumed I had chanced upon a site for thick christian fundamentalists. The mind boggles at how repressed about sex is it possible to remain, whilst still having managed to successfully "do it" at least once twice.

When half of 11-15 year olds drink alcohol at least once a week, and 40% have tried marijuana (UK), worrying about teenagers being traumatised by reading the word man-pole (tee-hee!) is almost too quaint for words. What turns it downright scary is that you are enough of a totalitarian cock-wipe, to feel that embarrassing use of clumsy innuendo warrants state censorship of any content that anyone who is as much of an utter arse like you (eg. a surprising number of your commentards) may find objectionable.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:58:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Don said...

Ditto what Paige said, especially about libraries. Contrary to what Tony says, ratings are not just more information. They are a specific kind of information, based on a particular ideology, aimed at shaping consumption and publishing. Various parents may want to keep their children away from books with sex in them, with drugs in them, with particular religious views in them, with particular political views in them, etc. Parents are free to do that, but don't try to do it for me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:50:00 AM PST  
OpenID knichole said...

I agree with a lot of the things you said.

I'm 21 now, but I remember being 14 and picking up a few books that 100 pages in I became really uncomfortable with. I'm the world's biggest supporter of art, very anti-censorship and all that, but when I was younger I was personally uncomfortable reading books that contained language and situations similar to those that you mention in your post. This was not because my parents monitored what I read. Actually, they let me read whatever I wanted. This really was just a personal thing.

I really have no problem with authors who want to include this in their books, but when I was that age I would've really appreciated some kind of guide in the form of a rating, allowing me to steer clear of books that I would have eventually hated.

It's the same with violence in movies. I hate watching on-screen violence. Luckily, the ratings system tells me if a movie contains violence, so I can avoid it. Does it prevent others who like violent movies from seeing said movie? No. Does it allow me to personally decide whether I'm going to be comfortable watching the movie? Yes.

If parents are going to censor what their children read, they can do it without a ratings system. They do it already. But we should also give a little credit to teens out there who might want to monitor their own reading, and decide for themselves what they're personally comfortable with.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:25:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot has been said here that I don't need to repeat. For the record, my sentiments lie with Gregory K. and others of similar opinion.

I did want to add something that hasn't been mentioned here (that I've seen). My worry would be how a rating system would change what books were taught in schools. Would All Quiet On The Western Front get an R rating for the graphic content, and thus be "banned" from being taught? I read this book as a sophomore in high school, and we had serious, thought-provoking discussions afterward. I would hate for teenagers and children alike to miss out on important discussions like these, all because someone decided to put a rating system in place. I don't want my daughter reading Twilight, but if she wants to, I'd allow it and then use it as a way to discuss the issues the novel raises (whether it means to or not).
- Ashley

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:52:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Deborah said...

Enjoyed your comments and as someone who reads a lot of YA books, it never ceases to amaze me that parents are more upset about sexual content than graphic violence. And one thing you can take to the bank: most teens and preteens, perhaps not your son, would love for adults to label all the "dirty books" for them. would make their lives much easier. That's adolescence 101.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 1:11:00 PM PST  
Blogger TheBookworm said...

I really can't tell you how happy I am to finally read another person who believes books (especially young adult books) should have a visible rating or warning of content.

I'm a high school student, oldest sister of four, and lover of books. When I began reviewing on my blog, Au Courant, publishers contacted me asking for me to review some of their ARCs and I happily accepted.

When I began reading these books, several publicized and marketed as being for teens 13 and up, stunned me. Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, Innuendo, Sensuality, Homosexuality, Profanity, and more were present. And not just a little bit either, but in large quanities and were depicted as common, everyday things. They are not! I actually felt ashamed to be reading them, and then I thought, "This book is suggested by the publishers to my little sisters according to their marketing. There is no way that this is appropriate for young girls, let alone my sisters!"

So I began including a Movie Rating with each of my reviews and a list of the content in which it rates that book that level. I was attacked on my blog for doing such a thing and pointing out a book had sex in it and parent's should be aware of this before allowing their kids to read it. This post reminds me of all the controversy about "Castration Celebration" a book published by Random House Teen lately.

When all other forms of media are rated or content warned, why shouldn't books be?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:27:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

knichole: You're right. Parents (and others don't need ratings to censor books...or anything else. They do just fine without them. You're also right about teens being able to choose for themselves‚ and as you indicated, a simple rating would only help.

<>

Anonymous: As I have said, I don't think schools need a reason to ban any book, and ratings won't make that easier. It also won't stop readers, who can easily find books just about anywhere, banned or not.

<>

Bookworm: How wonderful that you read books and write about them. And how brave. Will Grayson falls into the category of "large quantities" of this sort of material, though I only cite two examples in my article. Your larger point is mine: it isn't the books themselves, it's how publishers market themto kids. And of course, as you know, your last point I totally agree with.

<>

DC: Your comments say far, far more about you than they ever will about me. And the fact that you hide your profile from all of us here says even more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:36:00 PM PST  
Blogger robyn said...

do your children read the whole story or are they going to stop and fixate on one particular passage or sentence? anything can seem wrong when it's taken out of context. did you read the whole book? if so, and it doesn't merit the time to read it simply because it was written poorly, that's fine. but to say it shouldn't be taken on its whole and rated on several sentences is irresponsible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 7:32:00 PM PST  
Blogger L. Diane Wolfe said...

Welcome to the world of YA novels! You'd be shocked at some of the language and sex that resides within the pages of some of the bestsellers out there.
When writing my own YA series, I tried to keep it clean but realistic. There's no drugs; graphic sex, language or violence; and the stories are uplifting with a moral conscious. However, there are adult situations, as the characters are late teens-early twenties, and that is also the audience for my series.
I've thought about a rating system for books,but here's the reality. With half a million books coming out each year, there is no way a review board could keep up. Book release dates would be delayed by months while the publisher waited for someone to finish reading the book. A movie takes 2 hours to review - a book 10-30 hours. Big publishers would be favored over small and their books reviewed first. So unfortunately, it's just not viable unless publishers place their own labels on the books.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:03:00 AM PST  
Blogger Maria Padian said...

I appreciate this thoughtful, honest post. Remember how we pilloried poor ol' Tipper when she wanted labels on records? We need to consider these issues carefully without screaming "Censorship!" first.
I think writer David L. attempts to push us out of our comfort zone for a variety of reasons, not all of which have to do with "art." I also think his publisher ... who is also my publisher ... is in the business of casting as wide a net as possible in order to sell books. 14-and-up is as descriptive as they get when it comes to indicating how "mature" the content is.
I think it is naive to ignore that these decisions are ultimately dollar-based. Writers, you know this. Once your book passes from your hands and your editor's hands, and reaches the sales and marketing departments, the focus shifts. They may not monkey with your content, but the title, the cover and the jacket copy are determined by the bottom line. I'm not saying this is a crime: heck, I want to make money from my books! But it's the reality.

L. Diane Wolfe is right: labels are not a viable option. But librarians, teachers and parents DO have options. If you don't have time to read childrens' books in advance, do your research: books are SO highly vetted on the blogosphere/journals/amazon before they officially launch. We can make informed decisions, and, as you did in this blog, share our opinions in ways that make an impact.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:41:00 AM PST  
Anonymous lauren myracle said...

Tony, what an interesting article--and as an author who writes for tweens/teens, I appreciate your willingness to truly grapple with this issue rather than rant about it. There are plenty of ranters already!

Others, especially InfoWitch and Brandi, have already contributed important info to the convo. I just want to add that, having read Will Grayson/Will Grayson, I myself:
--LOVE it;
--imagine most teens would be sophisticated enough as readers to know where the heart and soul of the book lie, as opposed to fixating on what comes across in individual sentences lifted from the page;
--suspect that the raw, goofy, explicit honesty of the boys' interactions will speak to real guys (and girls) who are also raw, goofy, and possibly explicit;
--and finally, I would let my son read it in a heartbeat. He's 11. Would he have questions about some of the content he would encounter? No doubt, but hey, I can take it. As a mom, I don't mind talking about explicit stuff with my kid, because I trust my own heart and soul, and I trust my kid's heart and soul. And when a book like Will Grayson/Will Grayson comes along--a book that made me cry because of how good and true and courageous it is--no way am I going to keep it out of my beloved son's hands.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:44:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Courtney Saldana said...

I would just like to add (as a YA librarian who has been working with teens for 10+ years) that the important thing here is the intended audience. These books ARE meant for teens (generally described as 13-18). A rating system would most likely make it more difficult for teens to get the books they need: be it in a censored school environment, libraries that are restricted to ratings and parents who won't buy "R" rated books for them. I have a favorite quote "kids are living stories everyday that we wouldn't let them read." How horrible that a rating system could effectively take a book that a teen needs out of their hands.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:52:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Margot Magowan said...

Yes! Rate children's books! I just started a blog to rate kids books and media (http://bit.ly/b4Tc8h) because I find so much of "kid friendly" media perpetuates stereotypes that are horrible for my kids.

Not only that, but the model for our rating system-- the MPAA-- is practically all male, ttally sexist, and obsessed with vague allusions to drugs or "adult material" when its far more damaging for malleable minds to watch or read about yet another spoiled princess smile passively, waiting for some guy to recue her. So many books are based on movies, and then all the toys come out from the same stories.

I am the mom of 3 girls, also a writer/ commentator and co-founder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, an org that teaches young women to be leaders and crhange makers. My new blog rate kids media and products on how empowering they are for girls because I was desperate for this kind of resource. Books get 1- 3 G's for girlpower, or they get 1- 3 S's for perpetuating sterotypes. My fantasy is to have stickers with Ss and Gs on all kids books.

Margot Magowan

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:54:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Hannah said...

Hi Tony,

Thanks for your thoughtful post here. Speaking as someone who works for the marketing department of a children's publishing house (Lee & Low), I respect your call for books to be marketed honestly, in a way that accurately reflects the book's intended audience. This is something we'll be thinking about a lot in the next few months because we have our first graphic novel coming out next fall and it's a true story about a gang shooting in Chicago. How do we make sure that this book won't end up in the hands of a kid who isn't ready for it?

Still, I don't think ratings are the answer for a number of reasons that other people in the comments above have already pointed out. Ratings can never be based on just content without interpretation, because someone needs to decide what is or isn't appropriate, and that's dangerous. I know you're not calling for WILL GRAYSON (which, incidentally, I also just finished and loved) to be censored, but I can see censorship being a natural outcome of any attempts to rate books.

Anyway, I posted a longer response up on the Lee & Low Books blog, http://blog.leeandlow.com/. Just wanted to stop by to say that I appreciate the points you bring up- we publishers are listening.

Hannah

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:57:00 AM PST  
Blogger HWPetty said...

No offense, and it's possible your son is an exception, but if my parents had confronted me with a book that had those words in it at 14, I would have acted horrified too. ;)

That's not to say I didn't hear (and use) those words, amidst a myriad of others, at least a half-dozen times on my way to Algebra that day. But I was always appropriately disgusted in front of my parents.

Using your own example, rating systems are subjective and completely backwards... pulling out someone's heart only constitutes PG-13, but sexual language earns an R-rating?

Really?

We have to protect our teens from the very natural act of sex at all costs!! But violence, even gory, tortuous violence, is okay as long as the kid is out of grade school.

Wow. Kind of a sad commentary on our culture.

And that hypocrisy is the exact reason why I stand opposed to ratings on books. Who decides what is or isn't appropriate for a certain age group?

I agree with Angela that this becomes a slippery slope for sales, awards, and even book sellers and librarians? Do you make a kid have parental permission to purchase or check out a book with an R-rating?

Could a 12 year old, who may desperately need the message in a book about drug use, eating disorders, or teen prostitution, be kept from those books because of some arbitrary rating system that doesn't take into account a child's very real life experiences or maturity?

Too many of the roads leading away from book ratings lead to restricted access and censorship.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:31:00 AM PST  
Blogger Jennie said...

This is such a hard issue, and I sympathize. Teen books encompass a wide range, and what's suitable for an average 18 year old (taking into account that every person and reader is different) is very different than what's OK for an average 13 year old.

On the other hand, rating books will keep books with higher ratings (which are perfectly acceptable for juniors and seniors) out of high school libraries because the freshmen can't handle it. And the current rating systems we use on other media are fundamentally flawed.

But, more than that, there's a good chance it'll backfire. Kids and teens love to read "up" and many will gravitate towards the books that have the "naughtier" ratings.

So, how do you keep kids from reading the books with higher ratings? The same way we keep them from other media-- carding them and refusing them access. And there we are.

I still remember the shame and mortifcation that I felt when the record store refused to sell me Guns 'N' Roses' Use Your Illusion because of the content sticker on it. I had to have my MOM go to the store and buy it for me. Luckily, I had a Mom who was willing to do that.

I also remember my embarrassment when all my friends went to go see a movie in high school and I couldn't get in, because it I have a summer birthday and they didn't. I was two months younger than my friends, so no R-rated movies for me! We did something else that night, but the next weekend I sat at home, alone, when they went to go see it.

Last month, my husband and I went out to dinner and then to a movie. The waitress didn't have a problem with my beer at dinner, but I did have to show ID to get into a movie.

And then we're actively denying books to teens, which is not ok.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:08:00 PM PST  
Blogger Nic said...

An interesting article with some good points. I had to think about it - and with this topic popping up in at least one other place I've seen recently, I've been thinking about it anyway - and I have to say I disagree.

First off, I wonder what exactly the aim of the ratings would be.

If it is to actually stop younger teens from reading books that some unfortunately-probably-biased board has decided are for older audiences (not letting them buy or check out books with a higher rating than their ages), then I am appalled.

I assume, though, that its purpose is to make children, teens, parents, and others aware of the material. This is reasonable, but I think it unnecessary. Even if a reader can't tell from the cover, author, or jacket copy what material will be in a book, readers can and will put down books that upset them. When I was twelve, I picked up my first Western, thinking it would be all adventure, only to close it when I hit an extremely explicit scene of a cowboy riding things other than horses. (And when I say "things," the plural is intentional.) I was - and am - a rabid reader who is loathe to drop a book without giving it a fair shot, but I've never had trouble putting one down that made me that uncomfortable. And while I remember the experience, I'm not traumatized, nor was I at the time.

I agree with Helene: the YA designation is meant to indicate the presence of aspects not appropriate to younger readers. I know it's unspecific, and some YA books may present any individual reader with no problem while others get that reader up in arms, but if one wants to avoid being shocked, one should stick to the children's section. It isn't as if the books there are all easy or kiddie books - really, the main difference between them and YA is how they address, or don't address, controversial issues.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:45:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I just say that it's ironic that you're writing this article based on a quote in which one of the scrren names for a character is "boundbydad"? Thanks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:19:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Thanks, all of you, for your considered—and considerate—commentary.

Clearly, there is a lot to think about.

Censorship was not my point—I loathe it—but I see how ratings could inspire it.

Just to be clear, though, the ratings I suggest are not meant to keep anyone from any book; rather, they ae meant to guide a book into the right hands. (Define "right" any way you wish.)

And the ratings I suggest are not the MPAA's movie ratings. They are very much age-driven, whereas the ratigs I suggest are content-driven. Why? Because those of you saying that kids mature at different rates are right. I'm with you.

For those who seem to think I am holding my kids back from reading what they want, you're wrong. They can—and do—read anything they want. Do I suggest they steer clear of something on occasion? Yes. My job as a dad isn't to bind my kids—as Anonymous suggsted—but to guide them. Much as they might argie the point, my kids do not, in fact, know eveything; neither do I. But my years give me a certain perspective and a certain advantage. Giving my kids totally free reign would be, in my mind, irresponsible. I don't restrict, but neither do I ignore.

That's all for now. Again, thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:47:00 PM PST  
Blogger TheBookworm said...

As I read your comments, Mr. Buchsbaum, I have to say I'm extremely impressed with your patience (I surely would have gotten... crabby... by now) and ability to say what you mean clearly. I stand behind everything you just stated in your comment and on your post a 100%. :)

Thanks for once again saying what I couldn't articulate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:21:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(This is the same anonymous who posted the ironic comment) Also, I would like to point out that the innuendo used in the first quote probably wouldn't be censored on an episode of, say, House, M.D., a show rated TV-14, not TV-MA. Point being, it's innuendo.

Unless you had already had some experience with such phrasings, you wouldn't understand it. In fact, "fierce, quivering manpole" could mean a number of things, especially to an uncorrupted mind. Those of us who have experience with innuendo know what the intention of the phrase is, but anyone unfamiliar with the phrase might think "uvula" or "arm", for example. It's all a matter of perception. This is further proven in an optical illusion sometimes shown to kids. Kids see nine dolphins, while adults see two humans mating.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:38:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

As someone who is not long out of their teens, I find the idea of rating books somewhat laughable.

Looking back, would I have avoided reading books because of a rating? Probably not. If the content of a book made me uncomfortable enough to offset the merit of the rest of the book, I would probably have given it up.

Would my parents have not allowed me to read a book because of its rating? Probably not. Now, other parents may have different ideas when it comes to this than mine had, but my parents had a great trust in my ability to tell the difference between fiction and reality. For the same reason that a book where characters could fly or perform magic wouldn't cause me to throw myself off a cliff in hopes of catching the wind or try my hand at witchcraft, books containing mature language and mature themes would not be causes of such action in myself. Besides discomfort, is there any other reason to dissuade someone from reading a book than the thought that they may try to imitate what they read?

Would I have been dissuaded from reading a book I would have otherwise enjoyed because the cover advertised to ALL my classmates that I was reading above the normal maturity level of my age (and thus possibly reading smut) or under the maturity level of my peers (inciting similar ridicule as someone may face from the ignorant masses for reading YA literature as an adult)? Probably.

The notion of a rating system seems like it might not be effective at keeping books out of the hands of people who aren't capable of handling that particular work but rather may be effective at keeping books that may well change someone's life for the better out of their hands because the cover was labeled incorrectly by the completely subjective process of assigning labels. The intentions of such a scheme may in most cases fail to line up with the actual effects of such a system.

I don't think there should be an issue with what teenagers read. They are smart enough to understand what they are reading and they are smart enough to choose what they are reading. Give us -well, them, I guess. I often forget I am no longer a teenager- the benefit of the doubt.

The teenagers who actually pick up a book like Will Grayson, Will Grayson are going to be the type of teenagers who have much experience reading. Teenagers who would be shocked to find something like the quotes above probably haven't been reading all that much to begin with. I think a bigger issue is that many teenagers don't read enough. Putting barriers to their exploration of literature- placing further stigmas than those I feel currently abound around YA- is merely counterproductive.

If adults can think for themselves, why is it so hard to believe that literate, book-reading teenagers can think for themselves?

Friday, January 29, 2010 at 2:17:00 AM PST  
Blogger Alicia said...

As a middle school librarian who interacts with hundreds of 11-14 year olds each day, I can say that YES it's true, this book is probably NOT appropriate for most of my students, and I won't be adding it to our collection. The content doesn't match with where they are developmentally. As a result, they would likely SELF-SELECT not to read the book, or to stop reading it (if it were in the collection). In my experience, I've found that teens are amazingly self-aware and know what they can handle.

BUT, if I were a high school or public librarian, I'd add it to the collection with no hesitation. There's nothing here that raises my eyebrows. It sounds exactly like the things my friends would've IMed and also exactly like how most teenagers I know talk. For certain, not all teenagers talk like that, even in jest. But they've heard it: in person, on TV, in movies, online. And if a teen came across this book and it turned out not to mesh with what they were interested in reading (i.e. the content was too much for them), I'd bet they'd put it down and read something else, or just kinda skim those parts b/c they feel awkward reading those scenes. It's not like just because they started a book they have to finish it. So I wouldn't really worry about it.

When I was in middle school, VC Andrews was all the rage. It's the same today. Did I get most of what was happening? No. Did I get some of it? Yes. Did reading those books hurt me or distort my view of healthy family and sexual relationship? No. It was a book, and I was a teenager, and I could handle it.

Let's give our teens the credit they deserve and respect them to make their own choices about what to read and what not to read. They can handle it.

Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:55:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Margot Magowan said...

Tony,

I understand the ratings you suggest are completely different from the MPAA (thank God) and I think they seem v. smart and reasonable. But it's also true that institutionalized rating systems and censorship groups with real power throughout history have been predominantly created and enforced by men. It's just interesting to think about how that has influenced our standards and what we think is acceptable and how it would differ if women had ever had this kind of power/ influence.

Margot

Friday, January 29, 2010 at 11:55:00 AM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Hi Margot. Thanks for your thought. I think the differences between how men and women behave, run things, and influence culture are fascinating. Personally, I have always been far more influenced by (and interested in) women's perspectives than men's. As for book ratings, if an objective governing organization were to be created, I would hope its members would be equally representative of both genders, with the input and influence of each.

Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:18:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony,
I strongly concur with your views on this topic 100%. I have two daughters, 12 & 13 - and it definitely is an issue that should not go unnoticed. If you're interested in pursuing this campaign - please let me know what I can do to help.
Thank you,
Angela B.

Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 8:52:00 PM PST  
Blogger Lawral the Librarian said...

Hi Tony -

I think it's great that you are involved in your kids' reading lives and want to put something out there to help other parents be involved in what their kids read, but I doubt that it would work the way that you envision in most households. More than that, as Jennie pointed about earlier, kids will want to "read up."

Example, using movies instead, when I was 8 or 9 most of my friends had a lot less restrictions on what movies they were allowed to watch than I did. One, in particular, LOVED Freddy Krueger, which I wasn't allowed to watch, nor did I really want to. I knew that it was way too much for me. I also knew that I was totally lame for not having seen it, so I watched it with her at her house at a slumber party. I was freaked out for weeks afterward (and totally lame for calling my mom, crying, to pick me up). I still don't watch horror movies.

I would hate for a kid to be pressured into reading a book that is too much for them to handle, content-wise, because all their friends are reading books rated "whatever." As a lot of people have said already, kids will usually put down a book that makes them uncomfortable. They'll be less likely to do so if they're being pressured into reading it to begin with.

Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:21:00 AM PST  
OpenID Sommer said...

The truth is, rating systems will lead to censorship.

Maybe not by the well-intended parents who want some guidance, but definitely by those in charge of the money. School districts will tell librarians they can only buy books in a certain rating class. Borders and Barnes & Noble will start shelving kids books differently. Retailers will stop carrying certain ratings. Teachers will not be allowed to teach books outside of certain rating categories for certain classes. All of which will lead to lower sales, and publishers will start requiring their YA writers to edit out unacceptable material before publication to fit a better selling rating. Authors and books will be sanitized for better sales. Books will lose integrity. Do you really think that Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger would be the classic, important, life changing book that it is if Salinger had been forced to edit out all sexual references and swear words?

I feel for parents trying to navigate what's appropriate and what isn't for their kids. It's too bad that there isn't a resource out there that talks about books honestly, what's in them, what a kid will get out of them, and how a parent can talk about the tougher subjects and riskier language in a book that would be a better guide than an arbitrary rating system designed by people who do not look at a book's content/context/importance but at the number of times the f-bomb appears, or someone refers to a sexual body part. Rating systems will not help parents know that a book is good for their kids.

Finally, not every 14 year old, 16 year old, or 18 year old is at the same maturity level. While one 14 year old may never swear, another 14 year old swears he never does only when questioned by a parent. While one 14 year old has been reading voraciously for years and is comfortable with mature themes, another one may still be hovering around the chapter books. One parent who believes that never mentioning sex, swear words, or violence to their kid will mean they will never be exposed to it will have a very different standard for their kids than another who is more open on these subjects. This isn’t an argument for or against parenting techniques, it is about making books available for all, and letting each parent and the teen decide what is best. Making an "official" standard takes away that personal freedom that parents currently enjoy.

Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 5:59:00 PM PST  
Blogger melissa @ 1lbr said...

What an interesting discussion. I see meritorious aspects on both sides of the equation. I applaud any parents who are involved in their kids' lives.

I've been writing book reviews for just over a year now (on my blog) and I include "ratings" on how much language, sexual content, and violence are in the book. I've learned that sometimes these can be very subjective, even when I am watching for those things in what I read. I do, however, wish that I'd known what was in some of the books before I picked it up. Right now, this requires some research and looking at people's reviews, and many parents can't or won't or don't do this. I don't know if ratings on books would help or hinder, but I like to know what I'm getting into.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 9:09:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Authors should stand by their work. If they felt to write it, then they shouldn't be scared of people knowing what's in it.

Rating systems would do nothing more than guide individuals on both sides to make more informed choices. Period.

True artists won't be deterred by something as simple as ratings.

But consumers definitely want to know beforehand about this kind of content.

If they find the content objectionable, then they wouldn't really be the intended audience for the book anyways, and the artist behind it shouldn't be bothered.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 3:14:00 PM PST  
Blogger emily said...

I am actually a thirteen year old girl, who is extremely excited to read that book, so I just want to clear a few things up:

1. First of all, thirteen/fourteen year olds do, in fact, say that kind of stuff. They say it a lot. It's one of the best ways to establish that you're not a kid anymore, that you've grown up and are an adult. It's not intelligent, sometimes, and it's not mature, maybe, but it's what we do. It's just how the world is.

2. Your son saying that he doesn't, respectfully, is probably not the whole truth, and his mortification about reading stuff like that is less to do with what is actually on the page and more about having to read it with his father. I know if my parents asked if i said stuff like "cock" and "pussy," I would lie through my teeth, because that's just not the kind of stuff you want to say to your kid.

3. The reason that books are less patrolled on ratings than movies is because books are not visual. You don't have to see the people, you read them, which makes it a lot less graphic. Adding to that is the fact that the book you pointed out (as far as I know) does not have graphic action, just dialogue, makes it way, way less concerning.

4. Seriously, you do not know what your son actually says around his friends. I'm not suggesting you're a bad parent -- I love both of my parents a lot, but if you asked them what they thought I talked about with my friends, it would be way, way off. Mostly because what young teenagers (and old teenagers) talk about is SEX. I don't want to be crude, but that's what it is. It's the biggest mystery in life, and we're just starting to figure it out, and, naturally, we talk about it. A lot. Using graphic terms. Usually ones much, much worse that the "shocking" language you pointed out. And no, I'm not particularly promiscuous -- every single person I know talks like me.

5. Teenagers are very good at self censoring. Your son knows that if he actually tells you that, yes, he talks about graphic sex all the time with his friends, bad things will happen. He thinks that he'll be grounded, given a hugely, horribly embarrassing lecture (take it from me, those lectures are TERRIBLE), patrolled when around his friends, and generally lose all of the freedoms he's spent years getting. And maybe he really would, and maybe he wouldn't, but that's what he thinks, so yeah, of course, he would tell you he doesn't talk like that. Likewise, I would never, ever, ever go over to a friend's house and curse in front of their parent. It's just not allowed, and it's rude, and it's inappropriate, and I would not do it. And no one else would either.

6. Your son has access to things that are much, much, much worse that that. I have heard many times about guy's sleepovers, and do you know what they are centered around? Porn. They look up porn, they watch porn, they talk about porn, they are horny teenage boys who are obsessed with sex. And they can find it, easily. The internet has made that so much easier --I promise you, your son has seen a naked woman, if he is a thirteen year old boy in America with (I assume) some access to a computer.

7. Seriously, a rating system? Do you know what an R rating on the front of a book cover would scream to 10, 11, 12, 13 year olds? It would scream READ ME. It would scream I AM CONTRABAND. It would scream YOUR PARENTS WOULD NOT APPROVE. And, therefore, it would fly off the shelves.

Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 5:58:00 PM PST  
Blogger emily said...

(too long for one comment, here is the rest!)

8. Pubescent = sexually mature. That's what puberty is. And you get lots of funny parts, and lots of funny feelings, and if you can't use a (relatively chaste, honestly) book to figure them out, what can you use? Your friends? I promise you, teenage boys are not a good place to get sexual information from. I cannot tell you how much better it would be to have them read books about it than repeat what they've learned from watching porn, because that is always hugely unrealistic, misogynistic, and also, disgusting.

9. I'm sure you're a wonderful father, but seriously, at thirteen, your kid does not really need as active a filter system as you are giving him. Unless you plan to place him in a bubble and never let him talk to people his age or watch any TV or movie or go on the computer ever, this is not even near the worst thing he will encounter. I guarantee you that he has significantly more explicit conversations on a daily basis, if he has even a passing similarity to any of the many, many boys I encounter on a regular basis.


10. If it is, by some crazy chance, too sexual for him, I assure you that he will survive. I read Wicked when I was nine. I read some truly traumatizing graphic rape sex on the internet when I was eleven. Were these the best choices I could have possibly made? No. Did I recover? Yes. In Wicked's case, it was such a wonderful book that I didn't even care about the two or so pages of sex. In the case of the traumatizing fic, I hit the back button and forgot about it. I am fine, now, and do not carry any lasting traumatizing scars. (Additionally, I wasn't even going to finish Wicked until my mom saw it and freaked out on me and took it away from me because it was "too grown up." Obviously, I spent the next several months plotting ways to read it, and did, and was much rewarded by the amazingness in it.

That...got a little long winded. I'm sorry! Any type of censorship, especially about books, brings out the words in me. Especially ones that assume that people my age act much, much younger than they do. Because, I promise you, in any middle school, three quarters of the guy's conversation, and a good portion of the girl's, is about the kind of stuff that would end up in an NC-17 movie.

Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 5:59:00 PM PST  
Anonymous josh said...

Well, Emily just made the points I was going to make, more effectively than I would have made them, and I'm a 29 year-old lawyer.

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 2:27:00 PM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

What is the rating going to accomplish? Bookstores won't adhere to "No selling of y-rated books to z-aged kids," librarians certainly won't either. What's the point? And as someone else mentioned earlier: who decides what is and isn't appropriate for a 12-year-old versus a 13-year-old? I would let my 12-year-old read Nora Roberts, but some parents won't allow theirs to read picture books about gay penguins.

How do you even know you can rely on the ratings to be to your own specifications? Will there be a checklist on the last fifty pages, detailing every offense of the book? Uses swear words once: check. Uses swear words once per page: check. Violence: check. Graphic violence: check.

If you're so concerned about what your child is reading, why not read it with them instead of shoving the responsibility onto a third party?

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 3:19:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Emily: Very artculate. Thank you. I can't speak for every other kid in the world. As for my son, however, I know him. I know his face. And I know the kind of relationship he has. I have news for you, and it may come as a shock: Not only do I not know any kids who speak the way the kids in Will Grayson do (in that scene), I don't know any adults who speak that way. Please understand that I was 13 too, once. I know exactly what they're like. I remember clearly. But what a teenager does or thinks or says isn't the point. Nor is the quality of Will Grayson (which I said in my piece was a pretty good book). The point is that the book is being marketed inappropriately. I don't know how many times I have to say it, but clearly I have to say it again. The once-clear edges between books for kids and books for adults has been blurred to be almost non-existent. I think it should be clearer. Period. If you read my piece with a little more care, you will see that I am fully against censorship—and said so. I am also against—even if you don't—irresponsible publishing.

Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble.

Cordella: What people DO with ratings is up to them. Schools. Libraries. People. It's entirely personal. Controlling that would be censorship. Information, though, such as ratings, is not. Not for movies, not for music, not for videogames, not for TV—and no, not for books. Period.

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 7:40:00 PM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

I'm confused, Tony. I did not make any comments about censorship or "what people do with ratings." After reading some of your other responses, I am starting to think that you have no interest in the points people are raising and only want to dismiss them (such as the practicality of a ratings system, who decides, the qualifications, etc.), or you're simply not reading what people are writing. Considering you once again inserted words into people's mouths and twisted their words around to try prove themselves wrong -- and you misspelled my name -- I think the latter may be the case. It's sad, because I think this is a conversation that needs to happen, and needs to happen properly.

Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 8:04:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, this discussion is hilarious. Readers/commenters: don't bother responding. Our friend has already made up his mind. However, it would be interesting to hear what his son *really* thinks.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:39:00 AM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

Cordella. Hm. That's certainly what I see on my screen. (I'm guessing your name might be Cordelia, but the I looks like an l. If that's the case, forgive me.)

You say bookstores won't adhere to the idea not selling certain-rated books to certain-aged people. You also mention librarians not adhering. (a) What makes you an expert in what so many people will do? And (b) I think that qualifies as commenting about what people might do with a ratings system.

Maybe you should try reading your own comments before blasting mine.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:31:00 AM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

I had to laugh at your "Well, your name MIGHT be something else," comment. It was a good break in between wild accusations, and was thoroughly entertaining.

Once again, you react defensively and pull out all stops on making other people's words prove yourself right and them wrong. My previous comment is just as relevant now as it was before: you have shown no interest in the points people are raising and only want to dismiss them, if you acknowledge them at all.

What makes me an expert in bookselling and library service? I have held both jobs for significant periods of time, and I know people who are still in the fields. Oh, I'm sure you'll respond with something like, "Well, they're not all booksellers/librarians so you can't know how they'd ALL handle the restrictions," to which I can only reply with, "Well, your son isn't every child on the planet, and yet your limited knowledge of pre-/teenagers seems to make you an expert on what kids do and do not do." All of the arguments you have saved up rely on what you think your son knows or does -- and I'm fully expecting you to tell me that I'm obsessed with your son, since that also seems to be a common argument of yours. Perhaps if you considered the world outside of your own, you might be able to understand what other people have to say.

I dare you to re-read all of the critical comments on this post (perhaps in a font you can read without confusing letters), and respond to just half of the points people have raised in objection to a ratings system. I double dare you to do it with reasoned, logical arguments, and without using your son as a stand-in for what you think all teenagers are like. Because only then can this become a discussion and not just Tony Talking At People.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:37:00 AM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Three weeks and 66 comments later, I think it might be time to let this one rest. Some really terrific points have been made for both sides. Actually, when I think about it, two sides doesn't cover it: this is a multi-faceted question with no simple answer: though if overall opinion is any gauge, rating systems for books for kids ain't gonna happen.

Here's one thing I love: there has been so much passion in this conversation. So much spirit and energy. People care so very much about both the question and the possible answers. With watchers like this, in the longrun, I don't think it's possible to go wrong.

Thanks so much to all of you for your participation.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:25:00 AM PST  
Blogger Scarlet said...

I know I'm a little late in the game, and it's been suggested that this conversation move on (I'll gladly host it on my own blog), but I just saw this linked on my Twitter feed, and I have some concerns. They're not new; some people have already posted "What if?" scenarios, but they haven't been fully addressed by those in favor of implementing a ratings system, and I would like to see what they think.

I think the idea of a ratings system for books is interesting. Although, I personally believe if there were ratings on books marketed to younger audiences, there should be ratings on adult books as well, just for consistency, and because kids often read far above their reading/maturity level.

But while I think the idea should be explored, I'm wary of the specifics of it. Who would decide the standards for ratings? How would they be published (on the cover, in an online listing)? How would they be enforced?

Reading Tony's posts, I'm unsure what exactly he's advocating. He says that the ratings should not be age-based, but similar to the way video games are rated: Everyone, Teen, Mature. As a frequent book shopper, and librarian, I see books separated into these categories already: children's collections, young adult collections, and adult books. In some stores and libraries, they're further divided into genres such as science fiction, cooking, music, history, or romance novels. It's not a marketing problem; I rarely see books in one collection that should belong somewhere else.

My personal objections to the idea have also been discussed by others. It seems almost impossible to regulate, whether by the people creating the standards or those enforcing them (as a librarian, I will not tell a teenager they can't have a book because of an arbitrary rating), and it opens up the doors to abuse.

And like someone said before: it's just another responsibility being taken away from parents and given to someone else, which is something that bothers me immensely. I don't think publishers should be the parents, and I don't think parents should have it that easy -- if they're really so concerned about their children's media intake, they should be involved enough to research it themselves instead of relying on someone else's moral compass. Honestly, I think having a rating on a book would just make parents lazy.

I guess my objection can be summed up as this: I think rating books is horribly impractical. If the pro-ratings commenters could explain exactly how it would work, I would be more open to it. But from what I've read so far, it's a disaster waiting to happen.

(And this is just a side note that didn't really fit in with my little schpeal. Tony, I trust your confidence in your son, and I think you have a great relationship with him, but he is not representative of all teenagers in America. He sounds like a great kid, and you sound like a great dad who is involved with his son. That kind of parent-child relationship is rare, and your son being mature enough to know what books make him uncomfortable puts him in the minority. I work with dozens of kids every day at work, and I can assure you that almost all of them use much worse language than the quotes you posted. It's tragic, but that's just how most teens are now. Be proud that your son isn't one of them.)

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:59:00 PM PST  
Anonymous crookedmouth said...

"Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

Your comment is meant to belittle Josh, but it seems to only belittle Emily. She owned the debate, if you ask me. And I don't think she'd misspell "articulate."

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:57:00 PM PST  
Blogger Lucky said...

Emily just destroyed any logical argument you had in defending censorship... and not only do you not acknowledge the validity in the points she makes, but you brush her entire point aside like nothing more than a child's whimsical fancy. As if YOU, an anal retentive father, have more insight into the world of a 13 year old than an actual 13 year old. Because you are not listening to reason, the breadth of your entire post becomes moot.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:59:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Evan said...

tony i guarantee that your son has seen fare worse things. hes part of the internet generation, there's a 90% chance hes already witnessed girls craping into each others mouths or a granny being screwed by a horse. Reading about quivering manpoles will not harm him. seriously its people like you who ruin things for the rest of us.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:14:00 PM PST  
Anonymous karrens said...

What's interesting to me, here, is that Emily came through which a comment so thorough and composed that I'm given pause as to whether or not she can actually be thirteen, and the response from Tony is brief, condescending, and deflective. Perhaps he did not mean for it to be condescending, but certainly he responded with the thought in mind that “she's just a kid”, and he didn't need to respond to her points with any substance; such is manifest in his tone and, more than anything, the length of the response.

To that end, I'm interested in addressing the closing statement he makes; he is opposed to censorship, but also to 'irresponsible publishing'. I'm very curious to find out what exactly that is today, because over the course of my many, many years it has meant a great many things. Huckleberry Finn? Irresponsible. Fahrenheit 451? Irresponsible. Animal Farm? You guessed it.

The point is that propriety is subjective and contextual. The Bible recounts atrocities quite vividly, pregnant women being torn open at the blade of a sword and such. Does it need one of these 'ratings' you propose?

If you want to shelter your children from certain content, doing so is exigently your prerogative. But please, in doing so don't allow yourself any comforting lies; any rating system is going to act as a form of censorship. It's intrinsic to the character of the act.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:16:00 PM PST  
Blogger Connor Leahy said...

How about instead of treating your child like a mindless dolt, you realize that sex exists. How about you stop trying to teach them to be ashamed of their sexuality, and instead tell them to use a fucking condom? Why don't you try ingraining responsibility rather than ignorance and shame into your child? Has it ever occurred to you that just maybe we have gentiles for a reason other than pretending they don't exist?

On a side note, is the word fuck or cock really so terrible? I can't think of more than five or six people I know in this word who refuse to use a word because of its social stigma. I'm damn sure you've sworn at someone in your life, and I'm also damn sure you didn't jump to apologize the moment the word was out of your mouth.

How about you use some common sense. Maybe sites like January Magazine should develop a rating system warning people when an article is full of stupidity.

The use of the word "Cock" offends you, and idiocy offends me, I'd like a rating system too.

Here's an idea - stop trying to force your moral values on those of us who think you're full of poppyCOCK.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:24:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I see the issue here. Tony, in one of your comments you mention a "clear line between kid books and adult books."

You are aware that there isn't really a clear line between kids and adults, right? Please tell me you don't really think that adulthood and being 18+ are the exact same thing.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:49:00 PM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Some of the heat here is getting kind of silly. The comments fueling each other rather than relating to the piece that they're commenting on, if you follow. A lot of people have really honed in on the ratings aspect of Tony's original essay and, to me, this was only ever a small part of what he was saying. The idea, I think, is to have a conversation about books for children and to really look at what that even means. And we've been doing that. Can keep doing that. But mudslinging really has no place in that conversation. Mud stops it being about this glorious journey of books and reading. Starts it being about personalities and even imagined personalities and, in the end, just a place to vent. I don't think anyone actually wants that.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:32:00 PM PST  
Blogger Hunter said...

When you were 13, is not the same for 13 year olds today. Times has changed and its time for you to open your mind a bit. Get with the times pop.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:44:00 PM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Hunter is right: 13 year olds now are different: more protected, more sheltered, more precious. Look back a couple hundred years: people at 13 were parents, were working. So don't try to take the conversation that way: it's foolish. People do not change. And sophistication? It's in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:49:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony: Emily just handed you your proverbial ass on a platter and the best you seem to have been able to to do was infer an ad hominem attack on the 29 year old lawyer.

If you cannot recognize the eloquence, logic and veracity of Emiliy's statements, I don't think it's appropriate for you to go handing down judgments on others abilities to speak.

Emily hit the nail on the head on all her accounts and the ONLY reason I believe there is a CHANCE your son really is as innocent as you claim to know he is, is that if you are telling the truth, as a farther of a young boy already, YOU have not made aquaintence with anyone who speaks or acts the way Emily says many do, then you (and thus possibly your son) must live about the most sheltered and shut in life I can imagine.

Kevin Bacon is supposed 7 degrees away from everyone in the world. I would guess that 99.9% of the world is 1 degree from at least one person who speaks and acts in a way you seem to find morally reprehensible.

And if you are in the .01%... you are not the one to be demanding the world bend to your views. You have the unfortunate privelege of being the vast minority and unfortunately it's only reasonable that you be the one to make accomodations and not vice versa.

As a note, I remember reading quite some seedy books in Jr High (and High School) which dealt with some very adult themes (murder, violence, corupt government etc) and I one of them I believe was "Black Boy" (I could be mistaken on the name now) and it was about some black boys, a full page was dedciated to describing in GRAPHIC detail young boys, bend over holding their ankles while grown men slathered their "veiny" genitals in vaseline and proceeded to engage these boys analy.

Now that's pretty explicit.

And just like Emily, to this very day I am just fine despite that and other similar run ins.

In fact those portions of the story added to the power of the narrative, were key points and as important as any other part of the story in the writers expressionary goals and would almost certainly bring censorship on those books under your standards.

And like Emily, I encourage you to think forward more than one step and do more than hope that whatevr governing body you might dream up doesn't infringe on our rights and accesses.

I beleive I read recently that Ann Franks diary was banned from some schools for describing the vagina as having lots of folds and her wondering how a many could find his way in.

I don't think for a moment that the day schools (out of fear of prudish parents like yourself) stop allowing book of a certain rating at all would be far to follow an official rating system.

And that, sir, would be the FAR greater shame than your son seeing the word "cock" or any such thing.

Please don't be ignorant of the reprocussions of actions like this, because if you aren't careful, you might just get what you ask for.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:49:00 PM PST  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

More recent anonymous: am I invisible? Are you not hearing what I'm saying at all?

I mean, seriously: Ann Frank's vagina? You know what else? All of those poor mummified Egyptians has penises before the French cracked their tombs which also has nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

Please: go back and read the initial piece. You're debating a comments conversation, for crying out loud. The initial piece had merit. Taking this to a personal level is stupid. Please stop it.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:53:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Roisin said...

I'm going to point out to a comment that Tony made in response to Emily's logical response to his article.
You may have once been 13, Tony Buchsbaum, but that, I'm going to assume, was a good 35 years ago. Things have most definitely changed. What you were talking about with friends at the age of 16/17/18 even possibly 20, is what tweens are talking about now. Your son, as most have mentioned, will have already heard worse, and of course he is not going to tell you. It took me until I was about 16 to have a comfortable conversation with my dad about those types of things.
You can choose to keep your son away from books that are graphic and what not, but he'll find them on their own. I can almost guarantee that his school library will carry this book and that he will find it, especially after you posted this review about it.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:12:00 PM PST  
Blogger Scarlet said...

"The idea, I think, is to have a conversation about books for children and to really look at what that even means. And we've been doing that."

I have to respectfully disagree with you, Linda. I did not get that impression from the original post, and I believe that every comment posted afterwards further distanced from the discussion of what books for children are. You're right, there was a lot of mudslinging and detracting from the original piece. And let's be honest, you contributed to the personal attacks as well.

The way I interpreted the original piece was that Tony was concerned about materials that are marketed to youth. Not children -- I think we all have a fairly good idea of what qualifies as a book for children -- but what the standards are regarding acceptable content for teenagers. The way I read it, Tony's focus was on what type of content is acceptable for young teenagers, and that a ratings system is needed for parents to know what's inside a book for their kid. If you read differently, I'd love to hear your interpretation.

I would love to direct the conversation back to its original focus. I'm even still waiting for someone to tell me how a ratings system would work...

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:44:00 PM PST  
Blogger Neemaia said...

I'm a writer (of adult fiction which is sometimes recommended for a YA audience). I'm also the mother of two teenagers (the older of whom directed me to this article). I think I'm pretty on top of what they know about life, sex, etc., compared to what I knew at their age, back in the Pleistocene era.

Understanding the context of the Will Grayson, Will Grayson quote, it doesn't trouble me too much. I know my kids. My younger daughter is in the YA age-group, and while she is familiar with all the words and acts that appear in that excerpt, she is still at the age when sex is still unimaginable and icky. She knows her own tolerance, and self-censors. When something bothers her, she comes and talks with me (recently she read about half of Push and put it down. "It's kinda heartbreaking, but a little too intense to finish right now").

If a parent wants to know what her child is reading, they can start by checking the recommended reader age on the dust jacket. That's a starting place, and I prefer it to an explicit ratings system--not least because some kids are going to be drawn to R-rated movies and songs with Explicit lyrics, and they will want to read a book with the equivalent of an R rating, because it's labeled as more mature, or more sexual, or more violent.

The other thing that no ratings system addresses is the differing things that trouble a young audience. When my older daughter begged to see Titanic because all her friends had done so, I said no. The carnage would have upset her, but more than that, the emotional violence of a mother forcing her daughter into a marriage she loathes would have disturbed her enormously. Didn't bother her friends--and their mothers knew their kids and decided they could handle it.

When I was my daughter's age people passed The Godfather around in math class, with the page of the first sex scene dog-earred. As tame as that seems now, it was hot stuff in the early 1970s--except I remember thinking it was stupid, and passing it along to the next person. I think kids still do a lot of that--more than we give them credit for.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:50:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Paige. She's somewhere in the comment mix here. Before I read her post, I was about to type the exact same thing.

I'm a 24 year old woman who has always been an avid reader, since before I can remember. My parents have never monitored or evaluated my reading, though they were very attentive parents. I specifically remember picking books up that I quickly put down because I was not ready for the explicit content. So I stopped reading and moved on to a new book. Big deal.

I went to a conservative Catholic grade school, but our reading wasn't kept to flowery, cutesy stories. Our teachers assigned books such as "Go ask Alice" or "A Child Called It." These books are undeniably disturbing, but were useful tools in making us aware of what was present in the real world and how to avoid it. Frankly, it taught us how to process emotions we hadn't dealt with before, and I'm glad to have experienced those emotions through a book rather than the shock of living them.

Do you truly think that a book ratings system wouldn't be subject to some sort of abuse? And I don't know how you can say that context means less than content. Context hugely defines the meaning and value of the content.

I recognize that the terms used in the book in question were chosen for their quality of sounding graphic, but that was the point. It was a joke. If you think your child hasn't heard a sex joke by now, you're most likely wrong. If you think your child hasn't TOLD a sex joke by now, you're most likely wrong.

If you don't want your child reading that book, you probably shouldn't allow him on the internet, as that sort of talk is EVERYWHERE, as the book shows. At what point do you draw the line?

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:02:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony:

It's obvious from your asinine and utterly disingenuous replies to the thoughtful, and absolutely correct, critiques of your article posted here, that it's pointless to try and get through to you. It's obvious that you're in full on blind-defensive mode, but here's my take.

1. It seems like you're jealous of the success of the book you're criticizing, and have let your jealousy cloud your judgement to such an extent that you're willing to stoop to censoring this book to prevent it from reaching it's target audience.

2. You must have been the most sheltered 14 year old in the history of humanity to think the passages you quote would shock any teenager. I remember being in grade 4 in the 90s and hearing far worse language/scenarios from my classmates.

3. You absolutely are recommending censorship. You want to restrict literature from it's target audience because you're a spectacular prude who's offended by words and ideas that literally would not offend a child. You've tried to downplay the fact that rating books would provide an extremely effective tool for keeping them out of school libraries, which we know you realize is a fact.

No one needs you to be cultural and moral arbiter to the helpless teens of the world. You aren't proposing a solution to a problem. You're creating one out of nothing.

JD

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:22:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Chris said...

Linda: The comment about the Diary of Anne Frank is completely relevant, being a book that Tony probably wouldn't want his kid reading with parts like it has.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:28:00 PM PST  
Blogger anomie said...

"Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

Nice ageism, bro.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:39:00 PM PST  
Blogger russ said...

Tony: Sorry buddy, but I know I'm not the only one reading this that thinks you sound absolutely deluded when you say that you don't know any one that speaks that way. Really? Do you know your neighbors? Do you know your coworkers? Do you know your son's friends' parents? Do you know your son's teachers? Do you know the members of your church or whatever social gathering you may subscribe to? Sorry to shock you, but most of these people probably use some this language you are appalled by, if only occasionally. So of them may not use it at all, but many of them use it frequently. Of course they don't go around saying it at every whim; however, just because you do not hear them say it, does not mean that they don't use it at all. Even Emily, a lowly 13 year old girl by your standards, seems to understand this concept perfectly well.

Sorry to go off topic, but maybe the reason your view on books is so out of touch is that you are out of touch with reality.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger Robert said...

There's a very simple point here that a lot of people are missing: kids who aren't mature enough to handle a subject generally don't. They find ways to understand it at their own level, or they ignore it. When I was in third grade, I was a voracious reader and got a hold of Eli Wiesel's personal account of the Holocaust, Night. Wanna know what happened?

...Nothing. I understood it to be fiction and was mildly engaged, and only came back years later to find how horrifying the subject matter truly is.

The funny thing about ratings systems for kids' bookd is that they're largely unnecessary. If a kid's not capable of handling subject matter, he or she generally does not understand it. The images in the book only have meanings to kids who already understand them.

The reason such ratings systems do exist for kids is, as others have mentioned, because movies are graphic, and don't require such pre-existing knowledge. In other words, while a young child would have a hard time understanding or imagining a written sex scene, you can bet a scene from a pornographic film would leave the child with some questions.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly gee what an argument! TWENTY THREE SKIDOO. Sorry Tony, pardon my french, your fragile ears... You might take this opportunity to look around and realize your delusion on the subject of 13 year olds.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:53:00 PM PST  
Blogger anomie said...

Actually, ratings system exist because of parents like the author of this "article".

Ratings systems are unnecessary if parents do their jobs. Nothing that could actually be considered harmful is easily accessible to children, except on the internet.

Up to the parents. Do your jobs. Big Brother has enough to worry about, it can't hold your hand and your kid's hand for you at the same time.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:54:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helicopter parents like you are why the kids these days go nuts when they hit college.

Start treating them like adults. The rest of the world is.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:59:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bec said...

I know all parents think they KNOW their kids and use the I was a kid once too as an excuse to make them feel good about what their kids were doing. Well, I am a substitute teacher so I have the wonderful experience of hearing kids in their true context. I'm not their "real" teacher so they think they can get away with it. Kids DO talk about sex. Shoot, I remember in middle school and high school sneaking my friend's mom's books and laughing like crazy when we'd read the naughty passages aloud (much like it seems to be in this book). Parents need to realize that their kids are going to do things they have no idea about. They don't know everything little thing their kids do unless they keep them in a box and don't let them have a life. I bet if you put those 2 pages into context, they would hardly seem all that bad. I think Emily previously gave a pretty accurate description of what I hear from students on a daily basis. A ratings system for books is ridiculous.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:06:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been following this argument, and I want to propose a simple breakdown for everyone.

CASE 1: With ratings system.
Books with inappropriate content are only read by prepared children with open-minded parents. Prepared children who aren't so lucky are excluded (bad). Unprepared children are also excluded (good).

CASE 2: Without ratings system.
Prepared children are able to read the books, whether their parents approve or not. Unprepared children avoid the books, or skip over the parts that bother them.*

*I base this off my own experience as a completely unsexualized 13-year-old, who came out normal in spite of reading the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series.

So, basically what you need to prove to support your proposed ratings is that parents are better at knowing if their 13-year-old is ready to read about sex than the child himself. I seriously doubt that, personally, especially since the kid (prepared or not) will be exposed to this stuff anyways via internet/peers.

I will end with one comment directed towards the OP: I don't doubt that your relationship with your son is every bit as open and fantastic as you claim. But do understand (remembering your own childhood, no doubt) that even the World's Best Parent doesn't know everything that goes in his kid's life.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:10:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. I nominate Emily for "Winner of The Blog"

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:11:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, I think you should be thrilled that your kids are reading regardless of the content. Many kids cannot read; many who can read don't.

Let me ask you. Why is sexual dialogue so terrible... What about violence? Violence against women?

How would you rate the great classics of literature? The Odyssey? Catcher in the Rye? 1984?

How about the bible? Would you want someone to slap a rating on the bible? The bible is extremely graphic. It is filled with violence and sexual content(Sodom and Gomorrah?).

You need to really think about what you are proposing. I think it is a HUGE leap backwards. You will only be hurting everyone at the expense of protecting your already sheltered child. Hopefully your kid can overcome having such an overprotective, helicopter-parent and enjoy life as well as good literature.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:21:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emily: 1
Self-righteous, highly delusional father: 0

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:22:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As a middle school librarian who interacts with hundreds of 11-14 year olds each day, I can say that YES it's true, this book is probably NOT appropriate for most of my students, and I won't be adding it to our collection. The content doesn't match with where they are developmentally."

What a joke. Trained child psychologists know what is appropriate for children, not librarians. Are you proposing by merely being around subject matter you gain expertise in its detailed intricacies?

You may be slightly more qualified than non-librarians but that doesn't enable you to make broad judgement about whats appropriate for children.

The same thing goes for the outraged father in this article. With the internet these days seeing inappropriate content, or words like cock, is extremely easy.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:25:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

robert im confused if you mean its actually fiction, or you thought it was fiction because its an autobiography.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:27:00 PM PST  
Blogger Robert said...

Yes, I understand that it's an autobiography. When I read it the first time, I was also somewhat aware of this. But I didn't understand it as an autobiographical work; it was gruesome enough that I just slotted it in with fiction in my head. I rejected its real-ness until I was ready for it.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:34:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Cat said...

I see exactly what you mean about ratings and I fully agree with you. However, I must say that 14 year old kids really are exposed to such language everyday, understand it, and use it, no matter what your son may say. So while from a parents point of view a 14 & up rating may seem preposterous, from my point of view, it's pretty on point, if a little young. Maybe 15 & up, 16 & up would be a bit better.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:35:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Riley said...

Emily, you're my hero. Rarely have I heard an argument rebutted so thoroughly. Brava!

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:38:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Your ex-pal James said...

"josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

So in the same comment you thank Emily for her response and then essentially kick her down into the dirt for being 13?

I wish your misguided rantings were as clear and succint as your hypocrisy and I hope you don't let your son read how you really feel about 13 year olds. Despite whatever you've convinced yourself of, he's got interesting thoughts in his head. Don't ever assume that just because he's not older he can't make points that mean something.

An attitude like yours can easily do more damage to a teenager than a thousand books that mention the word "cock."

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:48:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

EMILY’S COMMENTS AND OTHERS', AS THEY WROTE THEM — AND MY COMMENTS IN CAPS. (THIS WILL GO IN MORE THAN ONE POST.)

1. First of all, thirteen/fourteen year olds do, in fact, say that kind of stuff. They say it a lot. It's one of the best ways to establish that you're not a kid anymore, that you've grown up and are an adult. It's not intelligent, sometimes, and it's not mature, maybe, but it's what we do. It's just how the world is.

 GRANTED.

2. Your son saying that he doesn't, respectfully, is probably not the whole truth, and his mortification about reading stuff like that is less to do with what is actually on the page and more about having to read it with his father. I know if my parents asked if i said stuff like "cock" and "pussy," I would lie through my teeth, because that's just not the kind of stuff you want to say to your kid. 

THAT’S YOU.

3. The reason that books are less patrolled on ratings than movies is because books are not visual. You don't have to see the people, you read them, which makes it a lot less graphic. NOT NECESSARILY. SOMETIMES PAINTING MIND PICTURES REQUIRES A WRITER TO BE MORE GRAPHIC, NOT LESS. THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT IMAGERY.

4. Seriously, you do not know what your son actually says around his friends. GRANTED. [CUT] And no, I'm not particularly promiscuous -- every single person I know talks like me.

 I BELIEVE YOU.

5. Teenagers are very good at self censoring. Your son knows that if he actually tells you that, yes, he talks about graphic sex all the time with his friends, bad things will happen. ACTUALLY, HE KNOWS THE OPPOSITE. He thinks that he'll be grounded, given a hugely, horribly embarrassing lecture (take it from me, those lectures are TERRIBLE), patrolled when around his friends, and generally lose all of the freedoms he's spent years getting. AGAIN, HE KNOWS THE OPPOSUTE. And maybe he really would, and maybe he wouldn't, but that's what he thinks, so yeah, of course, he would tell you he doesn't talk like that. Likewise, I would never, ever, ever go over to a friend's house and curse in front of their parent. It's just not allowed, and it's rude, and it's inappropriate, and I would not do it. And no one else would either.

 SORRY, BUT I DON’T GET YOUR POINT HERE.

6. Your son has access to things that are much, much, much worse that that. CLEARLY. THAT’S THE WORLD WE LIVE IN. [CUT] I promise you, your son has seen a naked woman, if he is a thirteen year old boy in America with (I assume) some access to a computer.

 YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT. SO?

7. Seriously, a rating system? Do you know what an R rating on the front of a book cover would scream to 10, 11, 12, 13 year olds? It would scream READ ME. It would scream I AM CONTRABAND. It would scream YOUR PARENTS WOULD NOT APPROVE. And, therefore, it would fly off the shelves. MAYBE YOU’RE RIGHT. BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE THE IDEA WORTHLESS.

8. Pubescent = sexually mature. That's what puberty is. And you get lots of funny parts, and lots of funny feelings, and if you can't use a (relatively chaste, honestly) book to figure them out, what can you use? Your friends? I promise you, teenage boys are not a good place to get sexual information from. I cannot tell you how much better it would be to have them read books about it than repeat what they've learned from watching porn, because that is always hugely unrealistic, misogynistic, and also, disgusting.
 
TRUE ENOUGH.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:50:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

9. I'm sure you're a wonderful father, but seriously, at thirteen, your kid does not really need as active a filter system as you are giving him. ACTUALLY, EXCEPT FOR A VERY FEW INSTNACES, MY SON DOESN’T HAVE A FILTER. HE PRETTY MUCH READS WHAT HE WANTS. Unless you plan to place him in a bubble and never let him talk to people his age or watch any TV or movie or go on the computer ever, this is not even near the worst thing he will encounter. AGREED. I guarantee you that he has significantly more explicit conversations on a daily basis, if he has even a passing similarity to any of the many, many boys I encounter on a regular basis.


 MAYBE. BUT I DOUBT IT.

10. If it is, by some crazy chance, too sexual for him, I assure you that he will survive. HE SURE WILL. [CUT] Any type of censorship, especially about books, brings out the words in me. Especially ones that assume that people my age act much, much younger than they do. NO ONE, CERTAINLY NOT ME, IS ASSUMING THAT. Because, I promise you, in any middle school, three quarters of the guy's conversation, and a good portion of the girl's, is about the kind of stuff that would end up in an NC-17 movie. MAYBE YOU’RE RIGHT. BUT SCHOOL ISN’T A MOVIE, NOR A BOOK. IT’S LIFE.

<>

Cordelia Logan said...
I had to laugh at your "Well, your name MIGHT be something else," comment. It was a good break in between wild accusations, and was thoroughly entertaining. 

Once again, you react defensively and pull out all stops on making other people's words prove yourself right and them wrong. HARDLY, THOUGH I TREAD LIGHTLY, LEST I ENFLAME YOU. My previous comment is just as relevant now as it was before: you have shown no interest in the points people are raising and only want to dismiss them, if you acknowledge them at all. YOU’RE WRONG. IF I DIDN’T HAVE ANY INTEREST, I WOULDN’T RESPOND AT ALL. BUT IT IS CLEAR THAT MOST PEOPLE HERE DID NOT READ THE ORIGINAL ESSAY, AND IF THEY DID, THEY DIDN’T READ IT CLOSELY ENOUGH. THOUGH OF COURSE I AM NOT REFERRING TO YOU. I WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING. ;-)

<>

Lucky said...
Emily just destroyed any logical argument you had in defending censorship... and not only do you not acknowledge the validity in the points she makes, but you brush her entire point aside like nothing more than a child's whimsical fancy. As if YOU, an anal retentive father, have more insight into the world of a 13 year old than an actual 13 year old. Because you are not listening to reason, the breadth of your entire post becomes moot. HARDLY. I BELIEVE I SAID SHE’D BEEN VERY ARTICULATE (TYPO ASIDE) AND THANKED HER. I TOOK (AND TAKE) HER ARGUMENT VERY SERIOUSLY. HELL, I EVEN TAKE YOURS SERIOUSLY. ;-)

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:51:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

<>

karrens‬ said...
What's interesting to me, here, is that Emily came through which a comment so thorough and composed that I'm given pause as to whether or not she can actually be thirteen, and the response from Tony is brief, condescending, and deflective. IT WAS ENTIRELY GENUINE. I LIKED WHAT SHE SAID SO MUCH THAT I DIDN’T THINK IT NEEDED ANY ARGUMENT. SHOULD I HAVE APPLAUDED? Perhaps he did not mean for it to be condescending, but certainly he responded with the thought in mind that “she's just a kid”, and he didn't need to respond to her points with any substance; such is manifest in his tone and, more than anything, the length of the response. 

PLEASE. I SENT UP FIREWORKS, BUT YOU DIDN’T SEE THEM. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? To that end, I'm interested in addressing the closing statement he makes; he is opposed to censorship, but also to 'irresponsible publishing'. I'm very curious to find out what exactly that is today, because over the course of my many, many years it has meant a great many things. Huckleberry Finn? Irresponsible. Fahrenheit 451? Irresponsible. Animal Farm? You guessed it.

The point is that propriety is subjective and contextual. YES, IT IS. I HAVE SAID AS MUCH THROUGHOUT THIS DIALOGUE. IT IS ALL COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE. BUT HOW CAN ANYONE MAKE A SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION ABOUT SOMETHING ABOUT WHICH THEY KNOW NOTHING? THAT’S WHAT I MEAN ABOUT RESPONSIBLE PUBLISHING. IF IT WERE RESPONSIBLE, PUBLISHERS WOULD TELL READERS WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW TO MAKE AN INFORMED BUYING DECISION. THAT’S IT. AS OF THIS MOMENT, THEY DO NOT. THE AGE INDICATORS ON BOOK COVERS (ON THE BACK, SMALL TYPE, ALMOST BURIED) HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH CONTENT OR CONTEXT; THEY HAVE ONLY TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT A READER KNOWS THE WORDS IN THE BOOK. IT ASSUMES THAT IF ONE KNOWS THE WORDS, IT MAKES THE CONTEXT AND CONTENT OKAY FOR THAT READER. I THINK IT’S TERRIBLE FOR A PUBLISHER TO ASSUME – AS THIS PRACTICE DOES – THAT EVERY TEENAGER IS THE SAME BECAUSE HE OR SHE IS A CERTAIN AGE. NOT ALL 13-YEAR-OLDS ARE THE SAME SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY’RE 13. NOR 15, NOR 17. EACH ONE OF THEM IS DIFFERENT, EACH OF THEM LIVES A DIFFERENT LIFE, AND EACH OF THEM MATURES AT A DIFFERENT RATE. TO ASSERT ANYTHING DIFFERENT WOULD BE ABSURD. I AM MAKE NOT MAKING THE ARGUMENT YOU (AND OTHERS) THINK I AM. NOR AM I FOISTING MY OWN BELIEFS ON ANYONE ELSE (NOT EVEN ON MY SON). I KNOW EVERY KID IS DIFFERENT. I KNOW IT AND I ACKNOWLEDGE IT AND I CELEBRATE IT. PUBLISHERS, ON THE OTHER HAND, DO NOT. A FAR MORE HONEST WAY TO MARKET BOOKS IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THESE DIFFERENCES AND NOT PILE PEOPLE INTO AGE GROUPS THAT MEAN, VIRTUALLY, NOTHING. IF THEY DID IT ANOTHER WAY (DON'T LIKE RATINGS? PICK SOME OTHER WAY), IT WOULD ALLOW EACH READER TO MAKE INTELLIGENT CHOICES FOR HIM- OR HERSELF.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:52:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

<>

Neemaia said...
[CUT] If a parent wants to know what her child is reading, they can start by checking the recommended reader age on the dust jacket. YES, I THOUGHT THAT MIGHT WORK TOO, UNTIL I LEARNED THAT THE RECOMMENDED READER AGE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CONTENT; IT IS SIMPLY AN INDICATOR OF READING LEVEL, AS IN: DOES THE READER KNOW THE WORDS? I DON’T THINK THAT’S SUFFICIENT, FOR REASONS STATED JUST ABOVE. That's a starting place, and I prefer it to an explicit ratings system--not least because some kids are going to be drawn to R-rated movies and songs with Explicit lyrics, and they will want to read a book with the equivalent of an R rating, because it's labeled as more mature, or more sexual, or more violent. 
I GRANT YOU THAT, BUT THAT ALONE DOESN’T MAKE IT A BAD IDEA. [CUT] When my older daughter begged to see Titanic because all her friends had done so, I said no. The carnage would have upset her, but more than that, the emotional violence of a mother forcing her daughter into a marriage she loathes would have disturbed her enormously. Didn't bother her friends--and their mothers knew their kids and decided they could handle it. I WONDER HOW YOU KNEW ABOUT TITANIC. DID YOU SEE IT? DID THE RATING CLUE YOU IN? DID PEOPLE CALL YOU NAMES BECAUSE YOU GUIDED YOUR DAUGHTER AWAY FROM SOMETHING YOU BELIEVED SHE WASN'T READY FOR? SHAME ON YOU! (KIDDING.)
<>

Anonymous‬ said...
Tony: 

It's obvious from your asinine and utterly disingenuous replies to the thoughtful, and absolutely correct, critiques of your article posted here, that it's pointless to try and get through to you. GROW UP. It's obvious that you're in full on blind-defensive mode, but here's my take. 

1. It seems like you're jealous of the success of the book you're criticizing, and have let your jealousy cloud your judgement to such an extent that you're willing to stoop to censoring this book to prevent it from reaching it's target audience. THE BOOK HAS SEEN NO SUCCESS…BECAUSE IT HASN’T BEEN PUBLISHED YET. HAVE YOU READ ANYTHING HERE? PLEASE. 

2. You must have been the most sheltered 14 year old in the history of humanity to think the passages you quote would shock any teenager. MISSING MY POINT. AGAIN, HAVE YOU READ ANYTHING HERE? I remember being in grade 4 in the 90s and hearing far worse language/scenarios from my classmates. 

3. You absolutely are recommending censorship. You want to restrict literature from it's target audience because you're a spectacular prude who's offended by words and ideas that literally would not offend a child. You've tried to downplay the fact that rating books would provide an extremely effective tool for keeping them out of school libraries, which we know you realize is a fact.

No one needs you to be cultural and moral arbiter to the helpless teens of the world. You aren't proposing a solution to a problem. You're creating one out of nothing. 

I WOULD CALL YOUR COMMENTS HERE ASININE, BUT THEY’RE NOT THAT GOOD.

<>

anomie said...
"Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

Nice ageism, bro. YEAH. JOSH SAID IT FIRST. ABOUT HIMSELF.

<>

russ said...
[CUT] Sorry to shock you, but most of these people probably use some this language you are appalled by, if only occasionally. MAYBE THEY DO. MAYBE I DO. BUT I AM NOT A BOOK BEING MARKETED TO 14-YEAR-OLDS. So of them may not use it at all, but many of them use it frequently. Of course they don't go around saying it at every whim; however, just because you do not hear them say it, does not mean that they don't use it at all. GRANTED. Even Emily, a lowly 13 year old girl by your standards (I DIDN'T SAY LOWLY; YOU JUST DID.), seems to understand this concept perfectly well.

 Sorry to go off topic, but maybe the reason your view on books is so out of touch is that you are out of touch with reality. POSSIBLE. OR, PERHAPS, YOU ARE.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:52:00 PM PST  
Blogger Tony Buchsbaum said...

<>

Anonymous‬ said...
Helicopter parents like you are why the kids these days go nuts when they hit college.

Start treating them like adults. The rest of the world is. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WORSE. THE COMMENT, OR THE FACT THAT YOU'RE TOO MUCH OF COWARD TO USE YOUR NAME. PATHETIC. (SAME FOR ALL THE OTHER ANONYMOUS POSTERS.)

<>

Thanks for all your thoughts. Seriously. A shame this has gotten so personal. I believe I am entitled to make my thoughts known, just as you are to comment on them.

For those who believe I am your enemy because I suggest something you disagree with, can’t we simply disgaree?

For those of you who have tried to show me the door with such rudeness: By doing so, you have demonstrates that you don't value the freedom of speech you seem so desperate to uphold. You say I am in favor of censorship, but I have made my views on that quite clear. To see what a censorship really fan looks like, try the nearest mirror.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:53:00 PM PST  
Anonymous smarter than you said...

Tony you got owned by a 13 year old so just give up with your little pandemic your dealing with. when I was 13, not long ago, i knew much worse stuff than your son would've learned from that book. Kids are maturing faster and i guess you cant handle it. Just because you have a problem with it doesn't mean it should receive a higher age guideline.

P.S. I feel bad for your son for having such over protective parents. Mine have always given me freedom to watch what I want and read what I want. The only thing that will result in keeping your son from the real world is less maturity as he gets older because he will learn those things later.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:00:00 PM PST  
Blogger biyabo said...

Props to Emily for completely destroying this argument. As if the argument was bad enough, Tony responds in a domineering and disingenuous manner which appears to disregard good points because they were made by a self-proclaimed thirteen year old girl.

Ratings are not personal. They are not democratic. They are created by a small, nonrandom and non-representative group of individuals and does control information. To imply that such a system is completely harmless is nothing short of propaganda.

You wouldn't be simply sheltering your teenage child, you'd be snuffing him. How about you take away the internet too. Friends too. While some (or many, in my opinion) would not agree with your "sheltering" your child, you're the parent. Not much we can do. But for you to institute your blindly conservative perspective on all of print media... this will never stand.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:00:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh .. . Cruise Control ...

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:04:00 PM PST  
Blogger Mark said...

Tony, if you plan to take on a 13 year old in a debate in the future, I recommend brushing up on your rhetoric and perhaps a quick refresher on spelling. As it stands now you are simply embarrassing yourself in public.

You don't know 13 year olds, I highly doubt you know your son, and you seem to be really deluding yourself.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:18:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read half of Stranger in a Strange Land when I was 14 (1982). I found it too far fetched and rambling to continue. Sure there was incredibly graphic content, but my buddy had warned me about that when loaning me the book. Am I scarred by the experience? No. Do I wish it were R (cough) X rated ? No. Do I wish I'd continued with it? Yes. Would I march against book ratings like you outline? Hell yes.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:32:00 PM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

"HARDLY, THOUGH I TREAD LIGHTLY, LEST I ENFLAME YOU."

Okay, Tony. I tried to be reasonable, I tried to respect your opinion, I tried to make this a discussion, but you just can't handle that, apparently. You've shown nothing but contempt for everyone responding who disagrees with you, and it's clear that you don't feel as passionate about this issue as you claim. You are only responding for drama cred. Get a LiveJournal and join a fandom, already. Good Lord, this is the lamest internet wank I've seen in years.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:33:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to say this, I'm 13 years old and had no problem with anything above. I find violence much creepier than sex (unless there is violence in the sex, haha).

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:35:00 PM PST  
Blogger Calvin said...

"Tony Buchsbaum said...
<>
Anonymous‬ said...
Helicopter parents like you are why the kids these days go nuts when they hit college.

Start treating them like adults. The rest of the world is. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WORSE. THE COMMENT, OR THE FACT THAT YOU'RE TOO MUCH OF COWARD TO USE YOUR NAME. PATHETIC. (SAME FOR ALL THE OTHER ANONYMOUS POSTERS.)"

Dodge that statement a little more.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:37:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering the perverse drivel this "Buchsbaum" turd scribbles, does he really have a leg to stand on here? Oh and getting taken to to town by a thirteen year old girl? How embarrassing for you, old man that your only defense is that "she couldn't possibly be thirteen!" Pathetic.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:47:00 PM PST  
OpenID ella404 said...

My inner 13 year old bookworm is horrified, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. :) At that age I read everything I could get my hands on, from trashy romance (that did, indeed, feature quivering manpoles), to Animorphs and the Illiad, and it didn't do me any harm. Moreover, if I didn't like something- if I thought it was poorly written or it made me uncomfortable- I was more than capable of putting the book down, or skimming.

My parents both grew up in households where they were free to read as they liked. They extended that privilege to my siblings and me, and I don't think a ratings system would have changed that. Still, I find the idea of rating books deeply disturbing. While I often discussed books with my parents, reading was also a deeply personal and private refuge from the outside world, (including my parents), which allowed me to explore many an adult theme, sexual and otherwise.

There are some things that teenagers won't, or can't share with their parents, and books have been providing insight into those matters since proper young ladies had to flip through the Bible to get sex ed.

That said, as a few other people have mentioned, the existence of the internet has rendered this discussion largely moot, as it allows any teenager who is even a little bit curious and is in possession of a mouse to partake in as much age inappropriate material as they desire. Anything that maintains the YA label is unlikely to be *too* shocking to them, unless of course their parents take the opportunity to remind their kids that they, too, are aware of the existence of sex, which is a humiliating experience for most people under the age of 18.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:51:00 PM PST  
Blogger Neemaia said...

I WONDER HOW YOU KNEW ABOUT TITANIC. DID YOU SEE IT? DID THE RATING CLUE YOU IN? DID PEOPLE CALL YOU NAMES BECAUSE YOU GUIDED YOUR DAUGHTER AWAY FROM SOMETHING YOU BELIEVED SHE WASN'T READY FOR? SHAME ON YOU! (KIDDING.)

I saw Titanic and made my judgment based on the film and what I knew about my daughter. I would not call anyone names; I don't believe I did so in my comment. If you're angry with someone, please direct your anger at the appropriate target.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:53:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't exactly read through all of the comments here, but two things caught my eye. Both of these are for Tony:

1. "For those who believe I am your enemy because I suggest something you disagree with, can’t we simply disagree?"
- It is possible for people to just state their opinion and agree to disagree, but when you decide to leave messages like "(a) What makes you an expert in what so many people will do? And (b) I think that qualifies as commenting about what people might do with a ratings system. Maybe you should try reading your own comments before blasting mine", people are going to defend their points and point out flaws in your argument. Its not because they think of you as an enemy, its because you are so rude when you respond that they must defend themselves.


2. "For those of you who have tried to show me the door with such rudeness..."
- you do realize that when Josh agreed with Emily's points and said he couldn't have worded it better, you responded by saying "If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."? You complain about people being rude to you but you can show disrespect and insult others? All this person did was agree with a logical and well-written opinion, and you respond by insulting their intelligence and competence in their career? And after doing so you expect people to be courteous when talking to you? Does the saying "treat others how you want to be treated" come to mind? If you don't want people to be rude, don't say such rude things yourself. You can gain a lot more respect that way.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:00:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am 12 years old and what is this?

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:03:00 PM PST  
Blogger Costas said...

Dear sir, I have two kids right now, aged 3 and 9 months.

I would rather my children read the word cock in a book than not read at all.

At 14 years old, I read Danielle Steele Hollywood Wives.

Relax. If your kids get on the internet, they've probably discovered youporn and redtube anyway.

While it's your job to keep them away from inappropriate content, they will ALWAYS find a way. Quit worrying about this - your kids are reading.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:23:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

She made her point better than you made yours. (Quite the hypocritical and arrogant statement.)

Oh by the way, I guarantee you that you do not remember being 13 as vividly as you think. I would know seeing as how I'm 17 and can barely remember my 13 year old self. I sit here with 5 other 17 year olds as well, and suffice to say, we're all rather hazy on the subject. You do NOT know your 13 year old self. And of the few things I remember, I do remember joking about vulgar subject matter on a daily basis. Every group I was in, excluding the prudes (social misfits to put it crudely ), talked rather frankly about very mature subjects.

And Emily is right. I'd tell whatever lie I could to get out of getting the (sexual) lectures. They were horrid and counter productive in my opinion. Talking with your kid will help, but lecturing and reprimanding him about it is very very bad.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:31:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, my 10-year old son hears worse things than that on the playground. I know this because I'm open and honest with him, I treat him as a thinking human being rather than some depthless proto-person, and in return he is open and honest with me. I know what's happening in his life. He asks me personal questions about things that matter to him and trusts that he'll get a relevant answer.

I don't know what point censorship serves, except perhaps the denial of your responsibilities as a parent -- responsibilities which include helping your child engage with the world as it really is, rather than as you'd like it to be in some mythical (probably Christian) fantasy.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:36:00 PM PST  
Blogger Ernest said...

Hey Tony. I believe that you may want to consider reading some well-established child psychology books.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:47:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Emily made some of the best points on here. Please read her comments again, and take some time to reflect upon them.

When I was 10, I read Ender's Game, which remains to this day one of my favorite works of fiction. I also read Maus, a graphic depiction of the holocaust. These were suggested reading in my 5th grade class, and I am forever grateful to my teacher for introducing these books to us. They were emotionally difficult to get through at times, of course, but were a valuable part of my education.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, I don't have any problem with you voicing what you believe, but you need to understand the difference in technology from when you were growing up and when your son is growing up. Three inappropriate words in Google can bring up things worse than anything your son is going to read in the near future. You think you know what its like to be his age, you may think he is not ready for this, but with the resources our kids have available these things need to be addressed with them sooner. You think he isn't ready for this because your comparing him to yourself, but you can't do that when there is such a great difference in technology. Your son may act disgusted or bothered, but I acted the same way to avoid the topics with my parents. Parents not only have the responsibility of filtering things for their kids, but introducing them to the world. If you wait too long to answer their questions or talk to them about this, they will go to someone else. You don't want that.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:51:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author of this piece, Tony Buchsbaum, asked:

"Um, would you want your pubescent child reading this?"

My answer is "Yes, of course. Why in God's name don't you want your child reading it?" Trying to keep teenagers in ignorance is not only futile, but active harmful to them.

Steven.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:36:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arguably, of course, teenagers ARE ignorant so KEEPING them in ignorance is pretty easy.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:40:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Brian said...

Tony,

First off, welcome to the internet!

Second, it's generally a safe bet that when you advocate a ratings system, even with good intentions, you'll ultimately create a chilling effect. Censorship can be indirect, and that's exactly what ratings systems produce. I defy you to deny this. It isn't a hard point to defend.

Finally, it is often difficult to predict what you are prepared to handle. For example, I recall a link to a video of a beheading (it may have been Daniel Pearl) on the internet years ago. I spend several minutes debating over whether I felt comfortable seeing such a thing. After a few seconds of the video, I opted not to continue. It's important (and empowering) to make a decision like that for yourself. I doubt that it would be possible to predict or describe the emotions that an individual would experience as a result of offending material.

Though I agree with most of the comments regarding the tone/lack of substance in your replies, I do commend you for having chosen to read and respond to them. As I was not prepared to witness a beheading, you may not have been prepared to receive so much attention for a poorly-conceived ratings plan.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:22:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony -

I feel for you bro. I have a 4 year old son and every day I am amazed at how fast kids grow up these days.

The simple truth is that there are a lot scarier things out there than words and ideas in books. Drugs, gangs, school shootings, drunk drivers, easy access to porn, teenage pregnancies, etc. etc. etc.

You can't protect your kids from everything.

Build a solid foundation in your kids and trust that they will make the right choices for themselves as they come of age. It sounds like you already have.

PS. I think it is kind of... silly (?? - trying to be polite) ... to assume your kids are open about 100% of things. Don't you remember being a kid? Maybe you and your kids have a one in a million relationship but don't be so sure.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:41:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of the comments made here so will not rehash.

Isn't being able to read something at your own pace that you aren't quite comfortable with exactly what growth is? I guess to be more direct:

Only by new experiences (ourselves, life, media, others, all experiences) do we experience growth. If we don't have anything subtly nudging us into a bit of the uncomfortable than how do we mature?

I don't think that a rating system would be successful in any way shape or form. - just for the sake of argument I am forgoing the whole censorship bit which I do agree with - There are way too many complexities when it comes to a work to objectively put a rating onto it. Only by experiencing it can you determine if you are ready for it.

Your argument of - isn't it disingenuous for them to market books with material you feel in appropriate to YA? You are making that a conflicted statement.

Child -> Young Adult -> (still young)Adult -> Adult

I believe that the confusion is one side sees older child and the other sees young adult. I don't think putting numbers on it will do any good.

Do I personally think that it is bad business? No, for the many reasons mentioned above and eloquently summed up by Emily.

I think the problem is that you misrepresented where you truly stand on this situation in an effort to make a targeted posting. I don't know if that was intentional to draw more attention / stand out from less opinionated pieces or if you truly feel this way. I think the reason behind all these people reacting passionately to your responses is because if it is the later, they are genuinely concerned about the mental well-being of your son.

Linda, these comments have grown out of an extension of this confusion I feel that recommending we get back to the original story is moot. This is an ongoing dialogue and the script is changing. Welcome to the internet.

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:43:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why would you, as a parent, want to do anything to prevent your son or daughter from reading as much as he/she can? i feel that the younger generation doesnt read enough- putting any type of system in place that inhibits or discourages reading is appalling

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:52:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos to Emily for her phenomenal lucidity and excellent logic.

Kudos to Tony for clearly loving his kids quite a lot.

Remember, physical age doesn't always track with emotional age. I was 16 when I was 12, and I was 14 when I was 20.

I do know for damn sure that a ratings system would not have, *could not* have stopped me. Librarian/bookseller tells me, "you're too young for this." I would have stolen it, borrowed it, read it in the book store, whatever. It wouldn't have made any difference.

Except getting to page 114 and going "Quivering meat pole?! That's why this book is R-rated?!?! That's so effin' dumb!"

as opposed to getting to page 114 and thinking "Quivering meat pole. Huh. Sounds pretty gay. Where's the sci-fi section, this book is stupid."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:29:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Mike Lee said...

Tony,

I just want to say: I'm a sophomore at Stanford University, and if my parents had been able to censor what I read when I was 13 years old, I would not be here right now. The freedom that I gained from being able to read whatever I wanted far outweighed the debatable negatives of being exposed to things that were "inappropriate" for my age.

You are only doing your son a disservice by assuming that he is incapable of handling some graphic language in a book. And as Emily pointed out, he is being exposed to much worse things on a daily basis, regardless of whether you believe her or not.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:38:00 AM PST  
OpenID fragiletower said...

"Your son saying that he doesn't, respectfully, is probably not the whole truth, and his mortification about reading stuff like that is less to do with what is actually on the page and more about having to read it with his father. I know if my parents asked if i said stuff like "cock" and "pussy," I would lie through my teeth, because that's just not the kind of stuff you want to say to your kid. 

THAT’S YOU."

So your son would be willing to admit to you that he says words such as 'cock' and 'pussy'? Why would he be willing to admit that?

"Your son knows that if he actually tells you that, yes, he talks about graphic sex all the time with his friends, bad things will happen. ACTUALLY, HE KNOWS THE OPPOSITE."

Your son knows that it's ok for him to talk about graphic sex with his friends, but you're afraid of him reading graphic sex in books?

"I promise you, your son has seen a naked woman, if he is a thirteen year old boy in America with (I assume) some access to a computer.

 YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT. SO?"

You admit that your son has probably seen porno, but you're afraid of him seeing a textual description of sex? I think you need to re-examine your priorities.

"Because, I promise you, in any middle school, three quarters of the guy's conversation, and a good portion of the girl's, is about the kind of stuff that would end up in an NC-17 movie. MAYBE YOU’RE RIGHT. BUT SCHOOL ISN’T A MOVIE, NOR A BOOK. IT’S LIFE."

What exactly is your point here? Yes, kids do talk about sex in real life. That's why it's pointless to ban books on the basis of their content.

"the response from Tony is brief, condescending, and deflective. IT WAS ENTIRELY GENUINE. I LIKED WHAT SHE SAID SO MUCH THAT I DIDN’T THINK IT NEEDED ANY ARGUMENT."

You didn't think it needed any argument, but you put in the effort to post a long paragraph dismissing everything she said. Right.

"I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WORSE. THE COMMENT, OR THE FACT THAT YOU'RE TOO MUCH OF COWARD TO USE YOUR NAME. PATHETIC."

Resorting to ad hominem attacks is truly what's pathetic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:41:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to bring it up; Christian morals are dug deep into American society.

I always admire the French and their strong secular nature since Napoleon. They can walk naked in the streets, and most don't even bat an eye.

If only we were fortunate enough not to be so uptight about things every single human being in the history of all eternity has either had a part on their body, or thought of.

Sex is a good thing. Sex is why we're here. All animals on this planet sexually reproduce. Education is the key, not stifling learning; especially due to biblical morality.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:21:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there should be a ratings system for articles on the internets.

I let my 14 year old son read this assuming it was an article detailing an ill-conceived plan to implement a ratings system to censor young peoples reading habits and low and behold he's confronted with phrases like: "thrust your fierce quivering manpole at me, stud."

How dare you Mr. Buchsbaum? You of all people should know better. Shame on you sir!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:26:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am extremely concerned about parents or a society which attempts to suppress casual references to sex, witchcraft, or homosexuality while openly promoting war, torture, over-consumption, and intolerance.

If you don't like freedom, move to Iran or Israel. If you, like the Teabaggers and other morons, claim to defenders of the Constitution and our inherent freedoms, then STFU and spend more time teaching your own kids how to understand the world rather than reject it.

Words are only jumbles of letters. "Fuck, shit, piss, cock, cunt, dick." Just words. If you teach your children to fear words, you are empowering those who would attack you using them.

If you want to cloister your kids and create more ignorant, xenophobic, homophibic, warmongering hate-heads, there is nothing I can do to stop you personally. But, I will fight to the death to stop you from poisoning other children, especially mine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:29:00 AM PST  
Anonymous MM said...

Don't brush Emily's comments away like that. She's got good points, excellent even! Every parent says and thinks they know their kid which is bullshit anyway, seeing as the kid's behaviour is much different around their parents than their friends.
Now, stop obsessing over some 'bad words' in a book. The kid's probably seen much worse. That's why I think the rating is appropriate (seriously, it's 14+ or so rating, why do you make so much fuss about it..?)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 3:01:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony,

You know, this entire thread is proof of why reading books is healthy.

Given your concern about teenage entertainment, I don't doubt that you will have many discussions with you kids and for that I commend you! For me, however, the thought of a child not being allowed to read a book because the parents are too lazy to engage with their child, and, therefore, choose to censure the child's reading habits based on a rating scale is frightening!

- Books are not equivalent to movies. They are not visual. You cannot stop a movie in the theater. Walk out shielding your kids eyes and ears? Maybe.... You *can* put a book down on your living room coffee table with a single gesture. These are not equivalent!

- I read loads of horror, science fiction and fantasy when I was younger and if my parents had filtered my reading life would have been much more dismal.

- Stop putting the pussy on a pedestal. I'm really not joking when I say this. Mostly.

Finally you mention that your son is able to self-monitor. If that is the case then a ratings system is... what is the word? Hmmm. Inappropriate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 5:25:00 AM PST  
Blogger Michael said...

It was hopeless to try to keep kids from adult content in the 1960s and it is even more so today in the era of Google. The odd idea is that some people think somehow seeing how adults deal with sex is traumatic.

If the kids hormones have not kicked in the fascination with naked bodies and body parts is mysterious, and if their hormones have kicked in they understand the fascination just as well as adults.

So your 12 year kid learns some slang for body parts and that some folks use that slang for insulting or ironic speech. Somehow I think he/she would have gotten that message by junior high anyway.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:06:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to know what Tony's kids are doing, reading, saying and so on, except for him. Face it Tony, your kids swear, they're probably even having sex, and you're oblivious to everything. Maybe it's time you give these people a listen and find out what your kids are REALLY doing.

Also, Tony, there's no need for a censorship system, for movies, for books for anything really. I mean, you can find porn on the internet in like 10 seconds, why bother to even censor anything - it's not like it will stop anything. Listen to the people Tony, you communist, and embrace the world for the sick place that it is - I'm willing to bet my life that your kids have done so already.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:37:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few questions, Tony.

1. What is your son reading now for school? What's he reading for pleasure?

2. What did you read for school and pleasure when you were 13?

And, finally, a comment: it's one thing if an individual parent wants to monitor his or her child's reading. That's his/her prerogative. It is another thing entirely when said parent wants to monitor EVERY SINGLE CHILD'S reading. That is called censorship.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:50:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, your desperate attempts to now make a point by point rebuttal (if I can call it a rebuttal - "SO??" is not a very strong argument) have me wondering who is the adult and who is the child now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:16:00 AM PST  
Blogger Dan said...

No censorship of course. If we as parents have done our job our kids will thrive. Tony, you are just one step on the "slippery slope" away from banning books like "The Catcher in the Rye". Even if you don't find that book like that objectionable, someone with less character coming after you, perhaps long after your kids hit the age of consent, will use your actions to ban books he or she finds objectionable, citing your actions to justify their own. Police your kids if you feel you must, stay away from my kids choices.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:29:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are all so sweetly American. From the original posting to all these heated responses. All these cries of "freedom of speech" and "ceonsorship" and so on. You are carrying on as though the rating system initially proposed was some sort of gateway drug to mayhem.

A rating system is clearly not a good idea nor would it ever gain support, either in your country or the UK, where I live. If you wondered about that before, surely you see it now. However I did not get the idea Tony supported censorship even if some of his comments here have been ill-advised. One does not create the other.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:17:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a parent and teacher, I'm a firm believer that children should read as their interests guide them. The parents' and teachers' jobs are to be open and available to discuss the things that confuse or trouble kids, not to try to keep their minds pure. Believe me, the notes they read from other kids, whether texted or written on scraps of notebook paper, are going to be a lot racier than the book you quote. As the Bible says, we're defiled not by what goes into us, but by what comes out. I'm mamculuna at LiveJournal, but seem unable to post that way, BTW.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:20:00 AM PST  
Blogger Will Shetterly said...

Emily rules. I don't usually offer my credits on the theory that opinions are ultimately accepted or rejected on their own merits, but I'll pull out the big guns for those who dismiss the opinions of a 13-year-old:

I've been an author for twenty years now, with novels from major houses and a few nominations for major awards. I couldn't say it better than Emily, and I doubt I could say it as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:48:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Fadhil said...

fragiletower beat me to the punch. I was about to rip that retort into shreds. Nicely done, fragiletower.

And tony, my man:

"Animal Farm? You guessed it.

The point is that propriety is subjective and contextual. YES, IT IS. I HAVE SAID AS MUCH THROUGHOUT THIS DIALOGUE. IT IS ALL COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE. BUT HOW CAN ANYONE MAKE A SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION ABOUT SOMETHING ABOUT WHICH THEY KNOW NOTHING?"

Exactly! It's all about context. There is no way a couple of numbers and symbols are going to give you the subtle context in which whatever form of nastiness is happening in the book. There *must* be some other way to find out what the book is all about. I wonder what that could be...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:48:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parental denial is the strongest force in the known universe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:53:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Lynn-Marie said...

So much energy has been expended on this dialogue! If everyone who has participated and felt compelled to comment would donate one dollar, or even five if you can afford it, to give relief to Haiti, the world would be a better place.

Haiti Relief Fund

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:18:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Nathan said...

First, I want to say to Emily that she is awesome (but I suspect already she knows).

Tony, the internet is a harsh place. While I disagree with pretty much everything you suggest, I do understand your getting defensive.

I’d just add to what everyone else says that I think you have mistaken what you desperately want reality to be for what it actually is. As a 40 year old father of 4, I can tell you my kids (18-10) are all good kids who have never tried drugs or fooled around in any way. But that is just my perception. I’ll hopefully get to find out what the reality of this time was in 6-10 years. I’m well aware the reality I experience is not the reality they experience. My kids get good grades, they are well liked and respected by adults and their peers. They are viewed positively in the community. Frankly, they have earned my trust, and I’m comfortable that they will successfully moderate life away from me, which includes doing things I would not want them to do. Really, what more can we ask?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:09:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, are you a man in denial or what?

Emily is on the money.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:41:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Adam said...

Mr. Buschbaum,

I deeply sympathize with you and understand that you want to do what you believe is best for your son. I think many of the other commenters here lost sight of that.

From what you've described, it seems that your relationship with your son is rather rare, and . For sake of argument let's consider that it's true.

I believe you didn't use such language, even in jest, when you were 13. Nor did you ever hear your friends at that age use it, nor do they now, nor have you heard your son, nor have you heard his friends.

To sum up: I do not contest any of the facts you assert, because I believe they are all irrelevant to your case. Note that I am not calling you evil, stupid, or anything similar.

You are deeply invested in protecting your children, and one of them is starting to discover a world that fascinates him like nothing has before. As an adult, you're aware of the dangers this world poses to innocents, and no one is more innocent than a child. In many ways, 2010 seems like a dystopian future for parents who were children themselves 30+ years ago. While there are different dangers, today's world does not have to be any more dangerous to children than yours was at their ages.

You're clearly a loving, devoted father. But your child is no longer just a child. You can continue to prevent him from reading certain books, watching certain movies, listening to certain music, etc., but this is not in either of your best interests. Teaching your children right from wrong and fact from fiction is.

If you allow your children to explore their interests with your strong support, there is little in this world that can corrupt them. Staying active in their lives, explaining to them the *possible* lifelong consequences of acting like fictional characters do--this is what will protect them best, not trying to prevent them from material you would rather they not see. Given the choice, would you rather your children be innocent, or responsible? Teaching your children how to deal with these influences will protect them far better than shielding them.

You're a very good parent. I urge you to think critically about your approach and what I suggest, and then decide what you think is the best way to protect your children: strengthening their characters by teaching them how to properly react to parts of the world you don't like, or preventing them from exposure to parts of it you think they're not ready for yet.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:15:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Will said...

So since this discussion is still going on, I'll add my piece. I have only read about half the comments, but was surprised that the issue of ratings leading to censorship through business decisions was not brought back up.

Tony seems to claim that publishing of media is a business so it is not censorship if a business decision is made to change content to garner sales. I disagree with this assertion (and please correct me if it is an incorrect interpretation). It is most certainly censorship if a ratings system provides incentive to refrain from certain content, albeit a subtler form than outright banning.

This is not to mention the potential for corruption in any ratings board. As Tony says, it's not for you or I to determine what is right or wrong for children to read, but if that is the case then who *is* right? Someone will have to be on that board doing the selecting, and you can bet they'll have personal biases.

One of the first posters also included the example of Wal-Mart deciding not to carry something based on ratings, to which Tony replied that you could just buy it somewhere else; this is missing the point, however. Wal-Mart -- due to its very large market share in a very diverse range of products -- has huge power to control how products are created, although I can't say if they have much power in the department of literature. They have, however, carried censored versions of music CDs without marking them as such and have refused to carry items based on their conception of "family values." (One source here, just the first article that came up on Google: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/01.09.97/walmart-music-9702.html). There is plenty of potential in a situation like this for publisher pressure to censor works in order to increase sales via getting them carried at Wal-Mart or the like.

TL;DR: Providing incentive to create certain types of content under the threat of lost profits is a form of censorship.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:16:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

Clearly, we have had some snow days on the East Coast. I can't believe you people can actually accuse the author of not knowing his own son, while you yourselves believe that someone who posts on the internet as a 13 year old girl is actually a 13 year old girl.

Can we all take a breath here?

If people want to write about sex, drugs, and rock and roll for 12 year olds, why is it ridiculous to label that in some way on the cover? Why does our society have to allow others a format and a market to get to our kids?

I read EVERYTHING my daughter reads before she reads it. It's time consuming. It means I don't read the books I want to read. It is a sacrifice, but one I gladly make to ensure she is infused with the good and the beautiful before she is inundated with the ugly pain of this world.

Thank you Tony for suggesting a ratings system for books. I think it's high time for one. I'm sure it wouldn't be up to my standards of review, but it would be a wake up call for parents. It would also force authors, publishers, and retailers to own up to what they're selling.

Why is that so unreasonable?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:18:00 PM PST  
OpenID lauramcewan said...

Meg, because, your daughter isn't going to learn how to make her own decisions about her likes and dislikes, or to gauge her own level of interest or comfort, if you hand-direct EVERYTHING she is doing. It's disrespectful of the child herself to assume she is not capable nor smart enough to simply put a book down, look something up, or ask a question.

These are the kids whose parents go to college with them, challenge the professors on grades, and expect their child to respond to every phone call and text they send, every hour. No room to breathe, and without mommy holding their hand, they fail, because they've never been allowed to fail, or resolve, or put down a book if they don't like it, and learn from it as they were growing up.

Give her some space and some room to make her own choices. She's twelve. Not five.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:17:00 PM PST  
Blogger Justin said...

Check out the history of the PMRC- (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parents_Music_Resource_Center)

This sort of thing never goes anywhere.

The best solution, if you're afraid of your children's psyche being irreversibly corrupted by naughty language, is to read everything you want them to read first. It's nobody else's job to be their parent. It is also important to make sure they never set foot in a library without supervision or who knows what information they might find.

By the way, when I was 13 I was reading Crichton. Being in 6th grade meant every curse word was in vogue, and sex was interesting. Plus I had the internet. It's a different world than you grew up in, and it's not going to change for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 2:25:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I read EVERYTHING my daughter reads before she reads it."

Your poor daughter. She must feel as if you're in her head all of the time. I'd suggest reading some adult books instead, and letting your daughter be a separate individual. It's the only way she's going to learn to navigate the world without you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 4:08:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

"Why is that so unreasonable" is in reference to a ratings system.

It is disrespectful to the child herself to dump adult content and adult problems on her(whether in literature, on TV or by parental life choices) and expet her to deal with it at 12. She is forming her value system (and value of herself) and it's my job to help her do that.

We are going to disagree on that point.

So let's get back to the book ratings. Why is THAT so unreasonable?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 5:37:00 AM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

Meg said: "It is disrespectful to the child herself to dump adult content and adult problems on her and expet her to deal with it at 12."

Laura said: "It's disrespectful of the child herself to assume she is not capable nor smart enough to simply put a book down, look something up, or ask a question." *

I'm siding with Laura on this. Meg, you cannot filter through everything your child encounters. As many have pointed out, it does not matter if a kid reads the word "cock" in a book, because by age 12, they've heard that word on TV, at school, from their/other parents, that they're already desensitized by it.

Meg, you want to help your child set a values system. That's great. Help her. Don't form her ideas for her. And don't expect the world to stop because you disagree with how it turns. You cannot cannot canNOT expect other people, and especially other COMPANIES, to parent your daughter for you. It is your job to guide her through life, not Penguin Books. If you feel uncomfortable with a book -- whether because the cover has two teens making out, or because it's got an orange spine -- READ IT. Do the work to find out if it's appropriate for your kid or not. Wanting a ratings system on books only says that you're too lazy to do this. Are you too lazy to investigate a book for your 12-year-old?

*I am quoting a comment by Meg that I cannot see on this page, but I got a comment notification of her reply. It may not have shown up yet on the page or she deleted it; I don't know. Regardless, this is a real quote from Meg.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 9:24:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

You are all still commenting on my parenting. You have a right to your opinion just as I have a right to reject your opinion.

Can we move on from that aspect of the discussion? We are not going to understand or agree, but we can still discuss the ratings.

(BTW, I DO read it if I think it's going to be objectionable. But mostly, I read it so I can discuss it with her.)

A ratings system is not about people being too lazy to read for themselves. It's about those who market stuff to my kids (making millions for $$ in the process) owning up to what's inside the book by talking about it on the cover.

We have nutritional content on food. We have ratings for movies, tv, and video games. WHY NOT BOOKS??

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

Meg, until you can read people's comments without immediately thinking they're insulting you personally, this conversation will go nowhere.

My answer to your question of "why are ratings so unreasonable" is simple (and I've said it already, you just ignored it): filtering out 'bad' content for your kid is not the publisher's job, it's yours. It is not the publisher's job to be the parent of your child. They don't need to "own up" to anything. They are marketing a product for entertainment, not an instructional video. If you are so concerned about your child's reading habits, read the book yourself. A ratings system IS lazy parenting, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

Someone else commented with this earlier: how do you think the ratings system should work? You're obviously for such an idea. Will it be a fifty page checklist in the back? Will it be like movies or video game ratings? Will it be age-based? Who will decide what is appropriate for a twelve year old versus a thirteen year old? Is it based on the least common denominator, the child who is most likely to be swayed by someone using the word 'cock'?

Why don't you tell us why this is such a great idea, and how you'd make it successful?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 12:34:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, why has no one mentioned

READING THE FLAP COPY?

Publishers have flap and back cover copy so readers can see what the book is about, and what age level it might be for. That's your "rating system" right there.

Thank you, and good night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 1:24:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Claire said...

If I understand the article in question, what's being said is that the things children read need to be more carefully watched. As a career librarian, I could not agree more. This doesn't need to be through a rating system per se, because people don't seem to like that idea. Maybe publishers of children's books could be more self policing. Even though no one wants an actual rating system, I think we're all agreed that books published for children should be mnore circumspect. After all, if it's other types of things they want, it's all out there available. But if we're going to call it children's fiction (or young adult or whatever age it's being marketed to) it should be appropriate for the ideal portion of that age group.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 5:32:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

Yes, Claire, exactly, but the point remains: who determines appropriate? Right now, publishers assign an age range on the flap jacket that has only to do with reading level, not subject matter. As a parent, I have to read it to see what is in the book.

How about grade 6, L (for curse words), S (for sexual content), V (for violent content or death), DA (for drug or alcohol use/abuse) and MT for mature themes (civil unrest, genocide, abortion, etc.)

Better yet, why can't the publishing industry police themselves the way other entertainment industries do and just give me a "head's up" on a few things. I'd be grateful.

The flap jacket is a marketing tool, not a warning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 6:41:00 PM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

"Better yet, why can't the publishing industry police themselves"

Because they don't have to.

"As a parent, I have to read it to see what is in the book."

Heaven forbid you have to put effort into stifling your child!

You still haven't given us a good reason why this needs to happen, and how it would work. Indignation is not enough to make it useful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 7:46:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

Cordelia,

I gave you a ratings system. Aren't you going to trash it? Oh, you still can't resist insulting my parenting to make the effort.

The reason this needs to happen is that books for kids are becoming more and more adult in the content and less and less young.

Mothers work outside the home now. They have ex-husbands and real husbands or boyfriends to deal with, step children and bosses. In general parents don't have time to police everything their children are exposed to.

So since the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY is putting adult content into children's literature, why shouldn't they be accountable for what is in the book by stating in on the cover?

Do you have any children? Or do you just like giving advice to people because you know more than anyone else?

I've got to go, my kid wants to google something and I've got to be right there to make sure nothing bad comes up.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 5:31:00 AM PST  
Blogger Travis said...

Jumping into this conversation late, I want to respond to a couple of points. For the record, I'm a 19-year-old male and a voracious reader.

From Tony's original essay: "So-called book ratings, like “14 and up,” indicate reading level, not content. And even when such indicators are used, they’re buried on the back, in tiny type, near the barcode. Hardly responsible publishing."

My response: Why should the publishers be responsible? Ultimately, the responsibility to decide what a young adult -- a young ADULT -- should be reading is with their parent. I applaud you in that regard. If you come across a book that you don't want your child reading, then by all means, don't let them read it. That's your choice.

I think the main problem with any type of ratings system is, as has been noted several times throughout this discourse, that each person is unique. That what is appropriate for 13-year-old me, a few years ago, wouldn't necessarily be appropriate for 13-year-old Johnny Smith of Uncasville, Connecticut.

The only system I could see having any benefits is one that simply states the content and passes no judgment on them. For example, taking John Green's first book, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, the back cover could have a sentence that reads: "This book contains mature themes, including depictions of smoking, drinking, and sexual acts." Appending something along the lines of "Therefore, this book is not appropriate for those below age XX" would, in my opinion, only lead to efforts at censorship (which we all seem to be against.)

To Meg: This is an honest question. Why are you so afraid of your daughter reading something that may shock her? I assure you, if your daughter spends any time with people other than yourself (which, honestly, seems questionable), she has already been "inundated with the ugly pain of this world." It is (again, in my opinion) better to let her read about them, discuss them with you, and understand the world around her. Otherwise, the only way she's going to learn about these types of themes you discuss is in the real world. And trust me -- that's a scary place.

Oh, and the books we're discussing aren't "children's literature" -- they're meant for teenagers. You know, people who are old enough to drive cars, get pregnant, start families... those people.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 9:00:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Sandra said...

You Americans are so bloody concerned with censorship. (Ooooh!) It's as though you see it lurking around every post. Bloody relax a bit! It's far more important to be certain your children are reading things that will help them grow in a healthy way than to imagine the thought police are attempting to peer at you from every crevice.

And yes: it IS, in fact "children's literature," because despite the fact that, as Travis said, these particular young people are capable of driving cars and reproducing, I'm imagining that, in order for there to be a reason to have publishing arms directed at people at a certain age, there should be some DIFFERENCE between the books published FOR them and the ones they can just find and read. It's not a daft assumption either. Or are you saying that publishing books for this age group has no point?

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 9:29:00 AM PST  
Blogger Cordelia Logan said...

Meg, if you read my previous comment, you'd see that I did trash your "ratings system," by ignoring it.

"How about grade 6, L (for curse words), S (for sexual content), V (for violent content or death), DA (for drug or alcohol use/abuse) and MT for mature themes (civil unrest, genocide, abortion, etc.)"

...Is that even a coherent sentence? That's what you want plastered on the front cover of a book? What about kids who are held back three years to grade 6 or two years ahead, or an adult who dropped out?

Since you're all for people doing things for you, how about I make up a functional ratings system!

You vote for age-ratings, which I think should rely on the least common denominator. By least common denominator, I think that my autistic 12-year-old brother should be the marker for all 12-year-olds. After all, he knows how to read! He could easily grab a book marked "For ages 12 and up!" and be thrown into a world he doesn't understand at all.

Here lies the biggest problem with your love for age-based ratings. You HAVE to factor in children like my brother, otherwise you open up the possibility of lawsuits against the publisher.

This is how a ratings system would work, doing the things you actually want it to accomplish:

The last 50 pages of the book are a checklist of all potentially offensive material.

In bright neon pages in the back of the book, there will be a checklist of all potentially objectionable material, including the number of times a swear word is used, and the level of detail in sex scenes. My idea for the sex scene detail would be the Ellora's Cave system: S for Sensual, with fluffy, purple-prose-ridden passages of love and desire; E for Erotic, where nothing is left to the imagination, tab A goes into slot B/C/D/E; X for eXtreme, which I'd say is as graphic as a book you'd find at Adult Outlet, or someone engaging in autoerotic asphyxiation.

Here's a sample page for a book I just read: http://tinypic.com/r/11rrjb5/6

Obviously there would be more pages indicating content like "abusive relationships" and "name-calling" and "uterus-eating demon babies" and "magic," but since you're only concerned about the word COCK, I figured these pages wouldn't really matter.

Once you pay the publishers to put these pages in, then you have to go about keeping these contraband books out of the hands of poor, impressionable children. Put a bill through Congress making it illegal for stores and libraries to hand out books with x-type content, or they face a fine.

There you go, Meg. A fully-functioning ratings system.

I was not trying to insult your parenting skills, but since that's all you see, I may as well: your inability to rationally respond to anything anyone says to you tells me that you have no idea how to talk to your children. If your parenting skills are anything like what you've exhibited here, I am terrified for your child.

You intentionally misunderstood my point earlier. I was not advocating reading every single thing your child could encounter (though you seem to advocate such a thing), because I believe that is sheltering them from the Real World. My point was that you should acknowledge that your child may well be more mature than you, and you should learn to pick your battles. You can't watch over everything they do and read.

You're right, Meg, I did not give birth to children I did not have time to raise. Instead, I was stuck raising two siblings (one with special needs) when I was 15. What kind of parent would I have been if I'd had to read nothing but books for infants when I was forced to be an adult?

And still, you haven't given me one good reason why a ratings system is necessary. You can cry "responsible publishing" or "misleading marketing" all you want, it still doesn't give you any good reason why the publisher should do your job for you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 1:40:00 PM PST  
OpenID haddayr said...

This quote says it all:

"Josh: If you can't make your points better than a 13-year-old, well, perhaps we really are in trouble."

You clearly have no respect for teenagers, not even incredibly articulate ones like Emily, which is probably why you want this rating system.

I am very suspicious of adults who do not see children and teenagers as people worthy of respect and trust on their own right.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 1:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Meg said...

Travis, I would be very happy with the line you propose for the book flap. That is all I am asking for.

We all know that reading is a very powerful experience. It happens inside your head -- it's not on a screen or a sound in the air. When you read something, you own it, in a sense. Books are intimate.

If I don't let my kids go to PG movies, or watch certain programs on TV, or even own video games, why, why would I let them read books with the same problematic content? I wouldn't, clearly. The problem for me (and LOTS of friends of mine -- my daughter and I do have friends, believe it or not) is that we have no inkling as to what's in a book unless we read it first.

"This book contains mature themes, including depictions of smoking, drinking, and sexual acts." You are right, Travis, no age range is required if that statement of fact is on the book itself.

That sentence or something similar would go a very long way to helping parents know what their kids are reading. If we value our children and childhood itself (playing outside in the fresh air, reading with a flashlight under the covers, getting the giggles, running so fast your side hurts) society won't push adult things on children before their parents think they are ready for it.

I am not asking people not to write books I don't like. Write whatever you want. Just tell us what it is on the cover. If it's written it in the book, why shouldn't it be disclosed on the cover?

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 3:30:00 PM PST  
OpenID lauramcewan said...

Sandra, we fought for our independence from your country for several reasons (I presume you are British by the use of "bloody" and "You Americans".)

I for one would rather NOT have someone else decide for ME what my child should or should not read, by THEIR opinion of the content. THAT is censorship, and yeah, we don't want it happening. It's NONE of your business what my child is reading. NONE. And you should have no say in the matter. NONE.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 5:39:00 PM PST  
Anonymous J.D. said...

"You clearly have no respect for teenagers, not even incredibly articulate ones like Emily, which is probably why you want this rating system."

What I can't believe: that anyone ever believed that Emily is a 13-year-old girl. Considering that most teenagers these days seem to have trouble composing complete sentences and keeping their contractions sorted out, I'm guessing that "Emily" is as much a 13 year old girl as I am. Want proof? Just look at "her" postings. Hardly the work of a child.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 10:01:00 PM PST  
Blogger Scarlet said...

JD, I think the "age" of Emily is pretty irrelevant to the argument. Does it really matter if she's 13? Since no one else commenting here is claiming to be 13, that would make her just like everyone else commenting, so would lying about her age make her points any less valid? I don't care how old she is and I don't think it matters, but I'm a little wary of anyone who thinks all 13-year-olds are too stupid to make a point and support it. There are plenty of well-spoken young adults in the world, some of whom have even been published authors before reaching high school. I think Nancy Yi Fan, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and Christopher Paolini would probably laugh at your assertion that they can't write simply because they're younger than you -- they'll laugh all the way to the bank...

So, uh, does anyone want to tell me how to implement a ratings system successfully, since it's clearly such a popular idea? I doubt anyone actually agrees with Cordelia's plan (since it's impractical and would be inside the book instead of outside, so you may as well just read the book). So who decides what's appropriate for what age? Anyone? Bueller?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:00:00 PM PST  
Anonymous J.D. said...

I'd say "her" age matters a lot because, if you read through the thread, you can see that a lot of the argument in the 100+ messages included in this thread is based on the "protection" of this "13 year old girl". And why insist on a rating system? It's pretty obvious that it would be an awesome way to sell books. Look at how upset everyone around her got and that makes me bet that the book that started all of this is going to be one hot seller when it comes out even if it IS a piece of crap (which seems likely, after all that's been said here.)

So the conclusion from all of this noise: if you want sell a lot of second rate children's books, create a rating system then slap something nasty on the cover. It ought to get them moving out the door.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 4:08:00 PM PST  
Blogger Scarlet said...

JD, I think you really missed the point.

Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 11:38:00 AM PST  
Anonymous J.D. said...

Scarlet, how did you get to be the keeper of the point?

Monday, February 22, 2010 at 12:07:00 AM PST  
Blogger Scarlet said...

JD: Seeing as you were responding to me specifically...

Monday, February 22, 2010 at 10:27:00 AM PST  
Anonymous K. Smith said...

Back to the original post:
Tony - - if you are still reading these -- I totally agree with your premise. Thank you for bringing up the question.

For all those people posting here who simply answer that parents should just read the book first: it is simply too time-consuming to pre-read the entire book. It would be great to have a system like the TV ratings (some mild violence, foul language, etc.) so a parent could make a judgment in 1-2 minutes rather than spending 1-2 hours reading / skimming a book.
Believe it or not, some parents are trying to steer their kids reading choices more towards the wholesome / uplifting / innocent rather than just putting up with bad language, violence and inappropriate sexual content.

Friday, February 26, 2010 at 9:04:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Novelist, Novelist Plus and Novelist K-8 are great tools available to all of you to disern what kind of content is in a book and what age group a book is for. These are databases that are usually available at your local libraries. Ask your Librarian to show it to you!!!!

Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:17:00 PM PST  
Anonymous rbarn091 said...

No ratings. That's nonsense. While I agree that the language found in book in question sounds rather adult, so is the language in The Catcher in the Rye (as I'm sure other posters have already pointed out) -- because publishing and film are business, ratings do become a de facto form of censorship.

The important thing is that writers are left to write, and readers read. We shouldn't add some middleman who will determine what's suitable and what's not.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 12:39:00 PM PST  
Anonymous K. Smith said...

Although Novelist gives plot summaries, etc., the best hints at mature content they give is "older kids" - - meaning what?

Notably, in the latest Scholastic book order my daughter brought home (she's in 4th grade), they had a little note by the book "The Face on the Milk Carton" stating that it is for "mature readers". Maybe this is at least one way of marketing for that gray area between children's and young adult books.

Friday, March 5, 2010 at 9:59:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read many of your comments and i wonder what the issue is with at least letting the reader know what they are in for. I am an adult and I try to read books that are appropriate for my personal beliefs. My problem is that alot of the time I don't know that there is a expicit sex scene ahead until I get there. At that point I have to quit reading the book. I would like to have the ability to check the back of the book, for example, to see if the content in it would be appropriate for me. It doesn't need to have a particular rating but if it said "contains graphic sexual situations" "strong language", that would be enough for me. I don't see that as censorship, it allows the consumer to be informed. As it is now I am stuck reading christian novels because they are safe, but not well written. I would like to expand my reading selection and I would be more willing to buy a book if I knew it would stand up to my standards.

Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 2:32:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as a teen who does not like to see sex scenes in movies neither in books, I would like to be able to know what to expect when picking up a book. I've even watched movies rated-R which are only rated as such for violence and language without having any sex in it. In my opinion these books and even movies which contain graphic sexual depictions is what has caused the need for abortion, and also what has caused the high-rate of teen pregnancy. You wanna argue with this, you are not very bright. We all know as youth whatever we see in movies as cool we wanna go out and do ourselves. So am I saying put all these books in adult stores, no. Simply rate the books and also state what it contains to make it that specific rating the same as movies. Not for you adults, as some of you are just full of lust. But for young people like me that don't want to corrupt our minds with this trash they are selling to us!!!!

Monday, September 13, 2010 at 12:26:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Life's not rated your kids will see that stuff sooner or later.My thought is...there just reading it not doing it in real life whats the harm in that.Besides I been around drugs and stuff my whole life and I don't drink smoke or do drugs.I might cuss like a salor,but thats about it.Everyone now a days is to busy protecting there kids from life,but the big problem is teaching them right from wrong...thas the big problem kids are spoiled brats now a days.Getting everything they want handed to whenever they call back in the day we was lucky if we got to stay inside and play video games let alone drink pop that wasn't spirt.The probably isn't books not being rated is stupid people acting stupid.Like when they was trying to ban Harry Potter.If your going to banned a fantasy book over relgious crap then you must ban all fantasy themed books. Let your kids explore there minds...there no harm in it.

Sometimes the crazest stuff invokes alsome creativity...I should know I read a lot of wicked books that had a lot of wicked stuff in them for my age ,but my mom didn't care I wans't doing it so who cares....now disney moives are rated r because of smoking..wtf?

Monday, November 1, 2010 at 6:39:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Navy Pomegranate (Of Justice) said...

I doubt anyone is still on this, but nonetheless, I would like to respond to the extremely insulting assumption that Emily is not a thirteen year old girl, because she most certainly is. (Although admittedly her birthday was in July, so she is now 14.) I am one of her closest friends, and the two of us were together when she composed this response; I agree with every single point and can guarantee you that she was indeed 13. I find JD's statement incredibly condescending - there are many teenagers as intelligent or more intelligent than adults, and I think adults need to learn that instead of insulting us.

Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 8:20:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG! Did any of you even read the comments? Its like people are just stating their own thoughts not really commenting on anything that's been said. Crazy!

Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 1:21:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Jeanette said...

LOVED YOUR POST !!!!!
I need assistance with my campaign to get ratings on books. I am looking for statewide or nationwide organizations that would be sympathetic to my cause and be willing to help me petition publishers for book ratings on book covers.
Within two weeks my son found two adult books in the juvenile section of our local library. They contained R-rated profanity, graphic violence, and explicit sexual content. I approached my library about the books and one was moved to young adult section. Yet my frustration has increased over the last couple of months after my research led me to conclude that the need for a rating system for books is long overdue. Information about potentially offensive content in books before they are read is severely limited.
It is my responsibility as a parent to monitor the media that my children are exposed to. I have been praised several times by library staff for being an involved parent and for monitoring and discussing the books my son borrows. However, this experience has made me realize that I am not given enough information to truly monitor the reading material available to my son. I was letting the librarians be the gatekeepers because they have information that I do not. But as I have discovered, my opinion of what content is appropriate for my kids is very different from the opinion of the staff at my library.
I want to have the ability to determine the content of the books my children read, but in order to do that I need a simple, easy, consistent content rating system. Such a system already exists for movies, television shows, and even video games. Why not books? I don't let my 10 year old watch rated R movies because I feel that they are inappropriate for his age. Yet there is no simple way for me to make the same decision when my son pulls a book off the shelf in our library.
I am NOT asking for censorship, only information. I am requesting that publishers use an industry-wide standard rating system for books similar to movie, video game, and television ratings, and for those ratings to be easily found on each book. With this system in place, parents will be able to make the same informed decisions about books that we already do with movies, TV, and video games.
Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Any help would be appreciated.


Thanks.

Jeanette Voss
Book Ratings Campaign
www.bookratingscampaign.com
bookratingscampaign.blogspot.com

Monday, July 11, 2011 at 2:21:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Marielisa said...

Hi everyone, I must say I did not read every reply or comment to Tony, but I only want to leave my support and understanding of what Tony is trying to say here. I have 3 kids and my oldest girl is turning 14 in a couple of weeks. She is a bookworm and unfortunately she put her hands on "Twilight" when she was only 11 at her best friends house (who has 3 older sisters) Yes it's a great series or so it seems but as Tony says here, NOT for an 11 or 14 year old. Ever since I noticed the sexual talk or interact in this series I was spooked on what my child would or could be reading. Obviously from that moment on every book she wants I first try to find honest reviews to see if it is appropriate for her. Yes she loved Harry Potter which she read in English and the reread in German so she kept busy for a while there. She also loves all the books about Percy Jackson which I highly recommend for your boys Tony. I am lucky I live in Venezuela and most books I must order online so she can't just pick it up at the library since she doesn't like to read in Spanish. For those of you who worry like me and Tony and , as I see, Jeannete, the following web page helps to "rate" the books but unfortunately they don't have lots of books: http://www.theliteratemother.org/
Jeannette, hope you get all the support for "bookrating"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 6:54:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Compass Book Ratings said...

Wonderful article which nails the issue.

The Literate Mother website is a great resource. There are a few other websites out there like Rated Reads and Facts on Fiction. Some of the big challenges are consistency of ratings and just the sheer volume of books out there.

Also, just launched this month is Compass Book Ratings, formerly known as Squeaky Clean Reads. (Disclosure: Compass Book Ratings is my website.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 2:33:00 PM PDT  

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