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By: Ed Southern

I’m not going to lie: As an author, part of me would love to see my books slapped with a 5, the highest, most restrictive rating in the plan put forward by Moms for Liberty-Mecklenburg.*

I can’t think of a better way to get young readers searching out and devouring what I write.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Moms for Liberty are calling to curtail liberty by establishing a “review committee and rating system” to help parents decide “whether their child should have access to the book.”

They propose that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools “establish a book review committee that includes parents, teachers, librarians and administrators. The committee would review challenged books and make a decision that applies to all CMS schools’ libraries and classrooms.

“The committee would also assign a universal book content rating. For example, books with a ‘1’ rating, the lowest, contain no profanity, no reference to sexual activities and are appropriate for all audiences. Books with a ‘5’ rating, the highest, make explicit references to ‘aberrant’ sexual activities. Books with a rating of 3-5 are restricted, and parents must opt into the system that allows their child to access those books.”

It’s about “protecting students from psychological damage,” their chairwoman says.

Thank goodness someone finally recognizes that the true threat of psychological damage comes not from the frequent school shootings or economic tumult or widening inequity or the ongoing pandemic, but from the written depiction of humans having sex.

Thanks goodness that we can make the NC Literary Hall of Fame seem cool and edgy to the youths. Almost every author enshrined would see at least one of their books restricted.

Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a definite 5. Lee Smith’s Oral History has a sex scene that’s hardly explicit but is adulterous, so that’s a 5. Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits? Hoo, boy, is that a 4 at the very least. I don’t remember any raunch in Clyde Edgerton’s Raney, but it is about a nice Southern Baptist marrying one of those popish Episcopalians (from Atlanta!), so let’s call it a 2 to be on the safe side.

Thank goodness that this proposed rating system focuses on profanity and human sexuality—as if teenagers have no real-life experience of either—and apparently ignores depictions of violence, no matter how gruesome. Children don’t need to be protected from, say, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which psychologically damaged me as a 35-year-old man.


Enough sarcasm (thank goodness).  Any such rating system is bound to fail, if not to work counter to its stated goals: Just ask anyone who grew up in the ‘80s in a house with Cinemax.

Any such rating system encourages parents to be less involved in what their children are reading and learning. They’ll settle for quick glances at a book’s rating and off-hand decisions, rather than actual engagement with the books their children are drawn to.

Any such rating system enshrines a very particular sense of right and wrong, an exclusionary and dishonest morality that’s far more concerned with power and control than with justice or love.

Any such rating system makes scapegoats of teachers and librarians, and teaches young people not to trust those committed to educating them.

Any such rating system misses the whole point of reading.