Appropriate Reading Material

This post was something I contributed to a discussion on Matt Haig’s profile on Facebook, prompted by the debate triggered by an interview with Patrick Ness and GP Taylor (who was most likely being contentious for the sake of it). The issue was what should or shouldn’t be considered appropriate for teenagers, whether we should label books, or whether we should regulate content at all.
I think the problem with judging the level of content in young adult books lies in the way children’s in general books are sold. As writers, we all self-censor a bit, knowing we have to get past editors and publishing staff, before we market to parents, teachers and librarians, all of whom may be progressive, but are still wary of content (particularly for young kids in primary schools). The publishing industry does not market directly to teenagers in any meaningful way, so it always has to get past adults (and it’s always a bit out of touch). And the bar has been set by default at just above the most reactionary adult anywhere in that chain. Counter-intuitive, really, considering you have to learn how to read before you can access the content, unlike with films and games. The whole should-we-or-shouldn’t-we argument will go round in circles until publishers focus more on selling directly to teenagers rather than to schools and libraries, and we start doing what kids demand, rather than what we think they can stand.
As for age banding on books, we had this argument a few years ago. Most people don’t want it. I don’t think anything has changed on that front.