Are Trigger Warnings Necessary?

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As I’ve been perusing Goodreads lately, I’ve noticed a recent trend in the reviews left.  Readers are warning others that the story they are about to read has”triggers” that may cause the reader to be uncomfortable or unable to finish reading the book.  Triggers include topics such as rape, bullying, eating disorders and negative body image.

It got me thinking, should real warnings be put on these books?  If you look at manga in book stores, they all tend to have a rating on the back and explain why it got that rating: nudity, violence, etc.  The rating doesn’t stop someone from being able to buy the manga (not like they won’t let a 14 yr old into a rated R movie) but it gives the reader and the parent an idea of what they’re in for.

Doesn’t sound like a horrible idea, but then I got to thinking about what could be considered a trigger and it’s hard to say all the possible things that might set someone off.  It could be a story with divorced parents, it could be a main character with a drug problem, or bullying, etc.  It would be too hard to cover every possible issue.

There’s also the problem of giving away too much of the story.  Maybe you don’t know the circumstances surrounding the character who has an eating disorder, but you’d know from the warning that something is going to happen and, personally, I hate when things are given away before I read!

Also, if  we start doing trigger warnings on books, would we have to do TV shows, movies and music too? I feel that would keep a lot of great work from being read/seen/heard.

I don’t mind if readers add the warnings to their reviews, but I think it would be a bad idea to add it to the book itself.  When picking up a book, a reader has to know that there’s the possibility that they won’t like it, that it could make them laugh or cry, that it could make them uncomfortable or bring up bad memories.  It’s the chance one takes in order to escape into a book and they have the option of putting it down if it bothers them too much.

What is your opinion on adding warnings of any sort on literature?

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