We’ve all read a book (or many) that contains something that we find personally offensive, distressing, or off putting. Many of us might have certain themes we’d prefer to avoid, I certainly do. But how do we go about this? I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be able to identify if a book is going to contain one of my ‘trigger’ themes. Blurbs are not always as comprehensive as they should be, and even when they are, they still don’t tend to fully disclose content. Which brings me to a point of concern: that potentially distressing content is being considered as a ‘plot twist’ or a ‘plot surprise’ that needs to be kept secret so as not to ‘spoil the story’.
I have a few issues with this.
Everything we watch, from movies to television shows and even documentaries, have a rating and are prefaced with a content warning. Yet books are not, and as anyone who reads will know, just because you’re reading it instead of watching it doesn’t make it any less distressing. Imaginations are vivid landscapes and once seen, it’s very difficult to un-see. So why can’t publishers put a content warning in the front of a book, indicating that it contains potentially distressing material? You could surely word up a warning, alluding to the theme without fully ‘spoiling’ the story. And anyway, I’d honestly rather know what I’m in for because finding out that a child has been sexually abused, as just one example, is not a plot twist I relish.
What does everyone else think on this? Are there any themes you would prefer to avoid that you’ve been distressingly caught out on? Would you like to see relevant content warnings in the front of books and to what sort of themes do you think it should extend to? Whose responsibility is it to warn readers? The author, or the publisher?