The XX Factor

Whoa There, Tipper: No Ratings on Kids’ Books!

By way of the NYT ‘s book blog comes this question from January magazine : Should kids’ books be rated? Novelist Tony Buchsbaum was reading a review copy of a new YA novel, Will Dutton, Will Dutton , containing this riveting IM exchange:

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!!!

Buchsbaum doesn’t give any context for it, so I don’t know if it’s crude joking or a strikingly unsexy example of IM sex. What I do know is that he doesn’t want his 14-year-old son reading it-or, at least, reading it without him knowing that the book was chock full of such language. Apparently it’s a comic novel-not something that you’d immediately assume required the kind of adult supervision of, say, an after-school special on incest. So I can see his concern, and I can understand the knee-jerk reaction: If my kid is reading this, I want to know about it! But I think he’s wrong. For one thing, I agree with the publisher’s defense of the language-I suspect kids 14-and-up do “use this sort of language all the time.” To me, it’s just the kind of mocking, crass-but-kinda-creative talk a teenager might throw around, both to show he’s cool and he “gets it,” and just to take some of the shock value of this sort of thing and seize it for his own. As it happens, I just connected (thanks, Facebook) with some of the rudest, crudest teenage boys a girl ever had the privilege to know from my own youth, and this is just the kind of stuff they tossed around back then.

More importantly, this language, this attitude, this content, if you will-it’s out there. Buchsbaum compares rating books to rating TV shows or movies, but I’d argue that the same content, in those contexts, is far more powerful. There’s a big difference in reading about that “quivering manpole” alone and figuring it out and, as a teen, coming to terms with how you feel about the manpole, the word manpole, and its very quivering, and seeing it on the screen in a room full of parents or peers. That’s why books are special, and that’s why they should never be rated or censored. A book is the best way to come across something scary, shocking, or just new, and learn how to handle it yourself.