According to a recent article in The Guardian, the students at University of California, Santa Barbara are formally requesting that certain books come with "TRIGGER WARNINGS." Oh, yes. It's true. Certain books, they claim, have content that is "distressing" and therefore, needs to come with a warning. Kind of like a pack of cigarettes. Books such as Mrs. Dalloway, The Great Gatsby, and Things Fall Apart - they claim - have content that might trigger a bad emotional reaction in certain individuals. Therefore, they ought to be warned. On the book cover.

For those who have never heard the term, a trigger warning is something that has traditionally been applied to something like a website or a discussion thread --- for similar reasons. Victims of rape, recovering addicts or those getting over eating disorders, cutting, etc....exposure to certain topics at critical times during their recovery can be harmful. And many times, dancing on into a website or wandering into a discussion thread there is no warning whatsoever of what you might find. A book, I'll argue here, is quite a different matter.

Now, before you go hating on California college students, please do be aware that UC is not the first or only university to be proposing these TRIGGER WARNINGS on books. Rutgers, University of Michigan, George Washington University, and Oberlin College are but a few of the other institutions of higher learning in America that have proposed this very thing.

But let's take a closer look here, just to see what it is we are dealing with. Clearly the proposal has good intentions. Someone, somewhere is concerned that the content in these books might cause another human being distress. Caring is a good thing. Most of the time. What they are proposing, however, is that each TRIGGER WARNING to be placed on a book be specific to that book. For example: 
"The examination of suicidal tendencies in Mrs Dalloway may trigger painful memories for students suffering from self-harm."
The question here seems to be: how far is too far? In a world where a Google search is only a few keystrokes away, is it too much to ask that American readers take a few proactive steps to protect themselves?

Or is it society's responsibility to protect them from the evilness that lurks within the pages of a book? People recovering from the trauma of violence or addiction or disease need all the support they can get -- I'd like to think I'm a pretty big cheerleader, if only because we all face demons to various degrees throughout our lives and need to be supportive of one another. There does come a point, however, where we have to be proactive in our own recovery and not expect the rest of the world to hold our hands every step of the way. 

And let's be honest, if we are going to place TRIGGER WARNINGS on disturbing print material, the very first one should really be slapped on this blog. I can be downright offensive sometimes. Pffffft.


  1. I am all for trigger warnings. Myself, I like "this book will bore the $$#%& out of you" and "this book will have your eyes rolling halfway out of your head" and "this book will make you wonder how far you can throw it." Oh, and for Gabaldon, "This book will have the same sex fetishes expressed by EVERY character." Yes, trigger warnings.

  2. I need a trigger warning for my MOUTH. Doing a little self-analysis, I'm pretty good and running my mouth and upsetting someone unknowingly. I actually LOL'd at this idea. Not that I'm insensitive to people who have had traumatic things happen to them, because I'm not. I'll go out of my way to support someone who is going through a hard time. But really, this is just too much. Why not to forcibly lock this poor person up in a closet forever because they might hear something on TV, or listen to the radio, or see an ad on the Internet? I'm not a psychiatrist, but I do know that perhaps reading about such a thing, after it has happened to you personally, might actually HELP. From my perspective though, a trigger warning would just be a symbol that I'm going to have to read that book.

  3. Ahahaha! I love Jill and Sandy's comments. I saw this article and thought it was ridiculous. While I appreciate those people who have delicate issues, they need to take the initiative and read reviews and discuss books with those who could warn them off. Had there been a trigger warning on Less Than Zero, I still would have read it and I still would have been pissed off by it. Even if a trigger warning could have stopped me from reading that book, I don't want to live in a world where I'm bubble wrapped against things that might disturb me.

  4. I am laughing hysterically over here in CALIFORNIA.

    Putting warnings on books just makes me want to read it more.

  5. Not quite sure how I feel about this. I think I come down on the side of Literate Housewife on this issue. And isn't part of any recovery learning to face what you're recovering from. I don't know.

    So, when are you posting your Trigger Warning here at Reader's Respite? LOL It sounds like many of us, including me, need a special roll of tape with it printed on it so we can put it over our mouths. ;)

  6. Did you see the movie "The Silver Linings Playbook"? He had a terrible reaction to "A Farewell to Arms"! Best part of the movie.

  7. I sympathize with the students and what they're trying to do, but agree that the idea is well-intentioned but silly. Anyone in college should be aware that disturbing topics may come up in any art form, and if there are subjects that people want to avoid, then they can do their own due diligence without relying on having labels that would amount to spoilers slapped on every book cover! ;)


Fire away!