Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book Ratings: A Matter of Literary Morality

I’m an English major. I’ve probably mentioned that once are twenty times here on ye old blog. This subject is very much an “English Major” moment. It’s a matter of literary morality; or lack thereof.

I just finished reading “Teacher-Man” by Frank McCourt. There are many brilliant things to be said about this autobiographical novel about an Irish immigrant who taught in the New York public school system for 30 plus years. You’ve probably heard his name attributed to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Angela’s Ashes.” No I’ve not read it – it’s on the list. Of course I, being not only an English major (which McCourt was) and having gotten my teaching certificate (as McCourt did), and having a passion for education (which McCourt might), this novel immediately snagged my interest. What I expected was surpassed. It was real, enlightening, beautiful, and enthralling. McCourt details the grit of teaching in the public school system and less than paints himself as the ideal teacher. I think that's why I liked it so much - it was the teacher's journey - always growing, reflecting, changing, asking himself "what went well, and what could I do better?"


When reading something like this, something that is “real” and intense and even autobiographical, you’ve got to expect to be thrown out of your comfort zone; most especially if that comfort zone is carries religiously attached moral principles of what “of good report and praiseworthy” should look like, ha rather, should “read” like. You think I’m going to say that McCourt’s book was somehow amoral or immoral or, gasp, inappropriate. Well… it was crude, crass, and just exactly how it all happened for McCourt. It was, in point of fact, real. The language, the “life scenarios”, the learning and growth and experiences, all stem from one mans life. It’s how it was. It’s how it happened. And that’s how he wrote it. If you don’t want to read it – well don’t.

Now listen, having been an English major at the U, I became acquainted with some rather “colorful” literature. Personally, very personally, I’m sensitive to a lot of media material that most folks find common place. Certain words make me jump, certain scenarios make me squeamish, and some things are just plan uncomfortable, unnecessary, and yes, inappropriate. I don’t watch R rated movies because I don’t like the material. It doesn’t… uplift me in any way but rather… makes me feel as if I could've spent my "entertainment" time in a much more productive way. It’s hard to explain to a world where watching head explosions and explicit sex scenes while hearing language and conversations that would make your grandmother turn in her grave or a sailor blush is common place, that I just don’t like to see, hear, or accept those sorts of “real life” scenario’s as “common place” “acceptable” “free-thinking” or “just how things are – grow up.” I’ve been called old-fashioned, traditional, prudish, and uptight because of my personal moral choices. I just don’t want certain material in front of my eyes, in my ears, or playing through my mind. That's just my choice. And if some can choose to watch those sorts of things, then I can choose not to. Right? Yes.

Which brings us back to the idea of literary morality. McCourt’s novel really is one of brilliance, though, there is hard language, adult themes, and sexual promiscuity laced throughout. All things that I, personally, don’t like to voluntarily put into my head. I realize that description sounds like the fine print explanation below a movie rated PG-13. But there in lies the point. I would like to know what I’m getting into when I start reading a novel just like I know what I should expect to see when I go to a movie. How does Hollywood let viewers know what to expect? If they should take their kids to see a movie or not? Hollywood RATES their movies so the viewers can make an INFORMED decision.

Likewise, I feel that novels should have a system of the same; a rating system of you will, to warn, or rather, let the reader make a more informed decision as to what lies ahead, so they can decide if it’s something they want to experience. Doesn’t that seem fair? I would’ve liked to known that when I started McCourt’s novel (or any other number of novels I've read throughout my major and beyond) that there was going to be strong language, thematic discussions, and some sexual content. Then, I could’ve made a decision before purchasing and investing time in this novel to see if I really wanted to read it. I’ve started many books that I’ve put down or thrown away. Many times I’m frustrated because I would’ve liked to of known what I was in for before I had to find out for myself. It’s like seeing a preview for what looks like a children’s cartoon, only to find that you’ve just brought your 5 year old to an animated porno. Too bad you had to find out after paying for the films and then sitting through the opening scene. Damage is done. Reading the back cover or sleeve of a novel only gives a generic outline of what the book is about, not what it contains. I’d like to know – for my own reading pleasure – what I can morally expect from the novel I’m considering investing my time in. It’s a form of entertainment isn’t it? Movies and now TV shows have carried a rating with them for years now - it’s time novels did the same.

Don’t get me wrong, authors/writers should be able to write and publish what they want. They should be able to tell their stories and the stories of their characters how it happened or how they imagine it happening, to create a “good” story. I don’t think books should be banned or burned. NO no no no no. Oh the thought makes me hurt inside. No burning. No banning. As a reader, I just want to have the opportunity of making an informed decision.

So what to do. Well – I’ve decided to create a little blog. A blog to rate books. It’s called the “The Cautionary Librarian” and I’d like your help in this “rate that book” pioneering endeavor. Now remember – this isn’t a “rate that book with 5 stars if you liked it and 1 star if it totally sucked.” No. I’m interested in the “morality” of the book. Turn the book into a movie and think to yourself – what would this be rated? I’m going to start adding books and books and books. Then you, the reader, will add your votes. I want you to tell me first, what you feel the book should be rated based on the MPAA standards of rating (so G, PG, PG-13, R), and why you give it that rating. It will be put to a vote and as democracy has taught us, majority wins.

There are more instructions on the blog – and though it is still “under construction” suggestions and ideas are welcome. Ya know, especially considering I’ve not read every novel ever written… yet. If you are an avid reader, or would like to be an avid reader, or KNOW and avid reader, and perhaps have the same “literary moral” concerns that I have, I think this site will be extremely useful. Let me know if you feel this is a BRILLAINTLY EXCELLENT IDEA OF AWESOMENESS – and I will let YOU know when it’s ready for the big debut.

Again – “The Cautionary Librarian.” Coming March 2009. Family friendly...always.

Oh and McCourt’s book – PG-13. And I probably would’ve still read it. Maybe... could've done without a few... "things."

1 comment:

Marisa Jean said...

Yay for the new blog! I think the rating system is screwed up, so if you could tweek the picture shown so that PG-13 might be more suited for a more mature audience, I'd be supportive. Looking forward to looking at it!