Ratings System for Books

This article is rated PG for complex themes and spelling mistakes

Rating System

I’ve been toying with the idea of reading the fifty project books electronically. As part of that research, I’ve looked through the eBook reader offerings from Apple, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and others. During my studies, I found this curious entry in the FAQ section for Apple’s iBooks app.

Do parental controls apply to books?

No, the book publishing industry does not offer a ratings system which can be used to limit access to books based on their content. However, you can prevent children from downloading the iBooks application by turning off access to the App Store.

You might want to sit down and catch your breath. I was as surprised as you are to discover this omission by the book publishing industry. It’s no wonder you never see kids trying to sneak in to the Rated-R section of the public library.

Despite the lack of a standardized ratings system for books, everyone knows that there are G-rated books, R-rated books, and even a few books that defy classification. This fact applies equally to famous and infamous books. Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking appears firmly in the G zone. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita falls at the other end of the spectrum. In fact, nineteen of the 1,700-plus candidates for The Well-Read Man Project—over one percent!—have R-level-or-beyond sexuality as a major theme, something you want kept out of the hands of the PG crowd.

A book need not push the limits of standards to convey great ideas. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol appears on the candidate list, and its Muppet incarnation is seen by millions of kids every year. But then there’s Beowulf.

Go ahead and grab a classic book. Don’t be afraid. Just remember that the Academy of Paper and Ink Arts and Sciences has not imposed any ratings on the text. You might discover things that will shock your senses. But you might also discover ideas that will make you grow.


  1. I agree whole-heartedly with that last statement. Reading things that may shock you is a path to growth as a human being. I have (for example) been broadened by Dan Savage’s newspaper column (“Savage Love”) and the rather frank discussion of drug use in the novels of Spider Robinson. And remember – R ratings apply to many forms of human behavior that we think children are ill-equipped to process healthfully. But you’re all grown up now 🙂


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