You recently read a book and it’s now your favorite thing in the world. You’ve bought every single edition there is, lined them all up on your shelf, taken a dozen pictures to share with your book buddies, and now your goal is to make sure that every person you come into contact with gets to read it, too.
And what luck! Your best friend is running a book drive for their local homeless shelter/hospital/teen center. It’s almost too perfect of an opportunity to get this favorite book of yours into the hands of more readers. But, before you go and buy 5 more copies of this book to donate, let’s consider a few things first.
Not every book is appropriate for every situation. And that’s perfectly okay!
Think back to that book you just read and now love with every fiber of your being.
Do you remember that chapter that included child abuse? Or maybe how the main character struggled with their eating disorder throughout the entire book? Or perhaps the story focuses on somebody dealing with the aftermath of losing their entire family in a car accident?
Reading about these situations might not be an issue for you, but for a lot of readers, it’s difficult.
But, Mari, part of the plot was difficult for me and reading about a situation similar to what I’ve been through helped me cope. Won’t it be the same way for others?
Maybe! But, also maybe not. And it isn’t our place to assume that it will.
I’m somebody that enjoys reading about heavy content I can relate to. It helps me feel less alone and it can help me heal. But for a lot of other readers, it can send them spiraling into depression, self-harm, unhealthy eating habits, and suicidal thoughts.
It’s a good thing there are trigger warnings! Won’t this help keep people safe?
Yes! Trigger and content warnings are incredible things! Unfortunately, though, the vast majority of books do not include these warnings anywhere inside. Instead, they are spread by word of mouth from those that have already read the book.
We can’t expect the person who will be distributing the donated books to be familiar with the content inside every one. I’m a blogger that spends the majority of my free time reading and talking about books daily and I don’t even know what is inside countless books.
And yes, there are databases out there listing content warnings for hundreds of books. Something like this could be used in these scenarios, but it isn’t foolproof. Here’s why:
- A copy of the database could be printed and given to those distributing the books. But, there is no way to guarantee they will consult the list or pass on the information to the person on the receiving end. This also takes extra time from those doing the distributing that may not be available.
- The person donating the books could put a note inside each one with trigger/content warnings. Again, though, this has the potential to take a lot of time (depending on the number of books) that the person simply might not have. It’s also possible that books with writing inside won’t be accepted because they then are not in ‘new’ condition. You could put a sticky note inside, but these tend to fall out.
Teens can handle so much more than adults give them credit for! Shouldn’t we be letting them decide what they can and can’t read?
I wholeheartedly agree with this! Teens can handle more than the majority of people think they can. We have to consider the situation and environment, though. Sure, that book with heavy content might help 9 out of the 10 people it could go to, but what if it falls into the hands of that 1 person that will suffer harm from it? Was it worth taking that chance?
We also have to consider that when organizations request donations, there are guidelines that must be followed.
These guidelines aren’t just for kicks, they are put in place to keep people safe. And they have to consider every possible situation to protect every person that walks through their door.
Trust me, I know this is hard. Thanks to some incredibly generous book friends, I’ll be donating a good number of young adult books to the children’s hospital that takes care of my son. When I was choosing books to go on an Amazon wish list, it hurt my heart to not include one of my favorite reads from this year, Deposing Nathan.
Nathan is such a powerful and important story, but it also includes some incredibly heavy content. I knew that if this book was donated in this specific scenario, it had the potential to do more harm than good. I tried to think of ways to make it work, but I had to accept that this was not the right situation for this particular book.
I’m not saying that books with heavy content shouldn’t exist.
Because that isn’t true at all. We need stories that make every reader feel seen, and that means having content that could potentially make people uncomfortable. But there are right and wrong times to be sharing these books.
If your friend was struggling in their recovery from alcoholism, would you take them to a bar because it’s your favorite place to hang out? No, you wouldn’t. You would consider the situation and understand that your favorite place to hang out isn’t always the most appropriate. It’s the same way with books.
As book influencers, we have a responsibility to readers. We should be doing everything we can to help keep others safe. And a good first step is to understand that not every book is appropriate for every situation. And that’s okay.
What are your thoughts on this? Should guidelines in these situations be respected or should we instead be trying to change them? Let me know in the comments!