Books should come with ratings, like movies.
As a reader, I'd mostly select R-rated titles, like I do with movies. Not because I love sex and violence, but because I like stories that push the limits of conventional expectations, and I find that most authors who push those limits don't limit their characters to polite language.
I would steer away from G-ratings, or anywhere I might encounter a bakeshop mystery or a cat named Fluffy. Not because I hate cats or cupcakes, but because I feel like I'd be less likely to be challenged or surprised by those stories—and I like to feel both when I read.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a book that should have been rated. Great story, compelling characters, but lots of people were repulsed by the brutality of the rape scene, and more. I would choose to read it again in a heartbeat—in fact, an R-rating would have likely made me pick it up even sooner than I did. But others could have saved their time, money, and sensitivity and spent them instead on a book that was more up their alley.
As an author, my promotional goal is to connect my stories with MY readers. I don't want to offend the wrong audience with Clare's foul mouth and adventurous love life. I want to put these books in the hands of readers who actively enjoy a bit of urban edge in their detective fiction.
Partly, this could be a geographical issue. I'm writing in Canada, where like Europe, foul language isn't something most people blink at. In the United States, perhaps because of the religious influence, more people take up arms against bad words.
Which is fair enough—I like that we live in a world with such varied taste. It means I can write in my voice, a knitting mystery author can write in her voice, and Quentin Tarantino can push violence to his own limit. And it's why I like the rating plan.
Using movie ratings, I think my Clare Vengel series would fall somewhere between PG-13 and R. There's no violence or brutality. They're fun, fast reads. My teenage cousins are allowed to read them. But they're anything but cozies.
Do you agree that books should be rated? I'm not talking about creating an official ratings board with all the ensuing headaches and bureaucracy. I'm thinking of an honor system where the publisher estimates the content and sticks a rating code on the cover—to help a book find its true audience.
If books were rated, where would your preferences lie?
Robin Spano's latest novel, Death's Last Run, explores the death of a New York Senator's daughter on a ski run in Whistler, BC. Publisher's Weekly calls this book “engaging,” and “a believable tale of estrangement, love, lust, greed, power and revenge.” For more information, including reviews and sample chapters, click here.