Fifty Shades of Grey

I just finished reading 50 Shades of Grey. It's definitely not for kids! Why isn't there a parental advisory rating system for these books, the way there is for movies or video games?
—Colin, via the inbox

You make it sound like this one bondage-and-domination novel is somehow the most scandalous tome of all time. It isn't. It isn't even among the world's most banned books. (I'll tell you what is in a minute.) As for your question, you aren't likely to see an NC-17 rating slapped on 50 Shades of Grey anytime soon. Here's why:

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Because very few people want such a universal ratings system, and it probably wouldn't work anyway.

In fact, according to Andi Sporkin, spokeswoman for the Association of American Publishers, there has never been much of a concerted effort to create a ratings system for books. 

Ever. Like, in the history of books. And that's largely because of the way Americans have tended to find their written entertainment.

Think about it: When you want to know whether a movie or video game is appropriate, you can't exactly go down to the local library branch and ask. But you can do just that with books.

"There always have been so many other credible sources of insight and opinion and and reading advice," Sporkin points out. "Librarians continue to play critical roles in guiding how readers choose, particularly as more people are using community libraries for everything from Internet access to e-book rentals.

"And bookseller staffs play an equally important role in helping consumers make choices, probably more so than the gatekeepers in any other entertainment industry."

There's also a little matter of scale. There are an estimated 10 major film studios, releasing roughly 1,000 commercial films every year, and about 150 TV networks, Sporkin estimates.

But "at the other end?" she tells this B!tch. "The last time I've seen figures, there were more than 3 million new U.S. book titles that received ISBN numbers in one year."

(ISBN is the global commercial book identifier, kids.)

"In the children's/young adult sector alone, there were more than 35,000 titles introduced last year; these joined an estimated 408,000 currently in print, produced by almost 19,000 publishers."

Still think we need a ratings system?


Finally, there's the whole issue of how you judge a book beyond its cover. After all, according to Sporkin, you know what book remains the most banned—at least, at the moment?

To Kill a Mockingbird. Not exactly smut, now, is it?

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