Reader Discretion is Advised

I am returning to my blog after a long hiatus. Mostly because I have been spending all my spare time reading rather than writing. Now, a book that I read has brought me back to writing.

My favorite genres of fiction are mystery, horror, and thriller. These genres have their sub-genres and my favorite among those are murder mysteries, supernatural horror, and psychological thrillers – think Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and writers similar to Peter Swanson. The psychological thriller is a finicky category for me. I loved Clare Mackintosh’s “I let you go” but hated Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”.  It’s also a very popular genre in current times with a lot of new authors choosing to write such thrillers. I am in the process of discovering an author of the genre who is as reliable as King is to horror and Christie is to mysteries. So, I try a lot of new authors in this genre and choosing these books has become a game of chance.

There are three types of books that bother me. The first one, which I come across very very rarely, are books that make me wonder how they ever got published. These are the ones with bad writing, giant plot holes, and one-dimensional characters. I never shred a book to pieces in a review because I believe that writing a book, editing it, and then publishing it is in itself an achievement that deserves praise. It is more than most people can do in their life and I am sure that the book was the author’s “baby” and I never want to belittle it. Criticism does no good except when it is of the constructive kind. The worst thing I can say about a book is that it is a waste of my precious reading time (after all, others may enjoy it).

Then there are the books that have the potential to be great but don’t do it enough justice. These are books where the premise is interesting, but I feel a little let down at the end of the book. These are also books that got almost everything right but is marred by some glaring error. Most often it is something that requires you to suspend disbelief like when someone acts out of character or something defies logic. I read a thrilling book by Karin Slaughter called “The good daughter”. It was well-written, fast-paced, and invoked strong emotions in the reader, but there is a person in the book who acts illogically (or maybe I just couldn’t picture someone acting like that?). That book bothered me for that reason.

Then there are books that are perfectly good but just not my cup of tea. I recently read a book that kind of fell into this category. I avoid genres that I do not like and in most other cases the synopsis on the back of the book gives me some idea if I will like it or not. But, recently this technique let me down. I read a book called “I Know Where She Is” by S.B. Caves. It’s a debut psychological thriller by a British author and follows the recent trend of psychological thrillers about missing children. To any parent, a missing child is the worst possible nightmare. Books with this premise already start off with an emotional punch. This particular book then veered off into a subject that is a horrific nightmare for anybody: sexual abuse, specifically sexual abuse and torture of children. I have do not have any complaints about the language, pacing, or the plot (although that kind of stretched plausibility a bit). But, I just could not handle the subject. Of course, I could have just stopped reading it, but the author did a good job of reeling me in and before I knew it I was too invested in the story to stop. I needed to read it to make sure it had a happy ending (the ending was okay, it wasn’t unhappy but not very satisfying).

I have read books on this subject before and struggled with it. I have read books where it was the central focus and those that had it as a part of the plot. One book that stands out in my memory is Amy Gentry’s “Good as gone” which was based on the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. After that book, I swore off books that deal with sexual abuse of children as the central topic. Although both these books weren’t too graphic (thank God for that!) they just made me sick. After I finished “I know where she is” it followed me for ages and I finally figured out what was really bothering me. While it may be true that I am not able to handle such topics because I am older or because I have my own children, the real reason this book affected me so much was that it caught me unawares. There was no indication in the synopsis of that book that indicated that it was heavily based on this topic. I have been very careful to avoid such books but this one somehow slipped through the cracks.

The whole experience got me thinking about the fact that books do not have “ratings” likes R-rated or M for mature or warnings such as  “viewer discretion is advised” that appear in movies, video games, and TV shows. It made me wonder why. Juvenile books have some indication of targeted age or reading skill level but that is it. Why? When I ran a google search on this, I came across some blog posts that heavily disapproved of any such warnings, even “trigger” warnings to protect victims of such abuse who might accidentally read it.  It made me realize that I would support such a rating system. It will surely help such survivors of abuse and allow others to make more informed decisions about what to read.

When I discussed this with my librarian husband, he suggested that it might have something to do with freedom of speech and the controversies about banned books. But, I think those factors would apply to movies, video games, and TV games as well. I still do not know why its different for books. After thinking about it a lot, I have come to the sad conclusion that it is different for books because no one cares. Not enough people read enough to fight for such a requirement as others have done for video games and such. People just don’t read any more in this era of instant gratification. So many people prefer to watch the movie than read the book. What is your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Happy reading!

-AB

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