Ever since “triggered” was Google’s most searched word of 2016, trigger warnings have become a prevalent – yet often controversial – concept in American society. BookTriggerWarnings.com is a community wiki dedicated to helping readers feel safer, more prepared, and better informed about the books they read by alerting them to content that might offend or cause distress.
Book Trigger Warnings has compiled a list of trigger warnings for more than 6,000 books – including children’s books, young adult books, and beloved classics from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. These titles may have been celebrated as classic works of English literature for more than 150 years and enjoyed by generations of children as young as 8 years of age – but according to BookTriggerWarnings.com, readers should proceed with caution. Popular series including J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are also on the list.
The book titles are listed alphabetically on the site. If you want to check a specific title, you can type it in the search box. Book Trigger Warnings allows you to search for books that you are interested in to see if anyone has added trigger/content warnings, tropes, representation, or controversies about it. There is a separate list of books with author-provided trigger warnings. Users are also able to look for specific book trigger warnings to avoid encountering uncomfortable topics such as child abuse, suicide, and cancer – or offensive content related to sex, slavery, or torture.
Many of the triggers on BookTriggerWarnings.com are associated with leftist politics; i.e. homophobia, police brutality, racism, religious oppression, and gun violence. The site also includes trigger warnings for murder, adultery, alcoholism, blasphemy, bullying, lying, theft, necromancy, Bible burning, and Satan/the Devil.
Depending on your individual feelings, certain trigger warnings might actually interest you in reading a particular title. Either way, having this information should allow you to make a more informed decision on whether or not the book is for you. If you feel that anything is missing (or if the book isn’t listed), you can edit or add pages too! All you need is a username and password to begin making edits, but anyone can access the trigger warnings.
If you don’t believe in trigger warnings or think they will spoil a book for you, then you can skip checking the book’s page on BookTriggerWarnings.com and read whatever you wish. But you may want to consider adding to the wiki after reading a book, to help your fellow readers. Since Book Trigger Warnings is a wiki-based site, it relies heavily on community participation. Even though this site lists a lot of books, there are a lot more out there that aren’t on the list.
Not everyone agrees that book trigger warnings are necessary or helpful, especially when the triggers are just listed as keywords and not addressed within the context of the overall plot. Indeed, the idea of trigger warnings might seem silly or wrong to you.
Jenn Doll wrote in The Guardian…
Talk of trigger warnings reminds me of the young-adult classic The Giver, in which Lois Lowry depicts a society that seems utterly utopian, free of pain or anything hurtful or negative. But, the reader slowly realizes, that society is actually a dystopia, eradicated of the varied, often unpleasant emotions, memories and reactions that we as humans necessarily feel to things, whether those things be in art or life.
In The Giver, the main character finds there is something more important than a society that’s free from pain. It’s a society in which we feel. That, of course, is the intention of art itself: it’s not meant to shield us from pain so much as offer a vessel through which we can cope, grow and even move past tragedy. If we warn people with a flashing red light that inside great works of literature they are likely to find pain, we do a disservice to the conversations, and the healing, meant to come through the act of reading itself.
Trigger warnings are probably useless for most people. But imagine if you’re a victim of assault or a vicious dog attack and you’re still suffering PTSD because of it – it would be terrible to be subjected to the trauma all over again in a book you picked up innocently for your reading pleasure. Or maybe your grandparent recently passed away and you simply don’t want to read about death right now. There are endless possibilities as to why a reader might want to know of certain trigger warnings.
Maybe it’s time for books to get a rating system like the ESRB ratings that help consumers make informed choices about which video games to buy, or the MPAA ratings that help parents determine if a movie is acceptable for family viewing. Such labels can actually be helpful. Meanwhile, some fear that trigger warnings unnecessarily insulate students from the often harsh realities of life with which educated citizens need to engage. Others are concerned that trigger warnings are one small step away from book banning. Still others argue that it is impossible to anticipate all the topics that might be potentially offensive or triggering for students.
Can you imagine how many trigger warnings the Bible would get? If there has ever been a book that is designed to make you uncomfortable and challenge your way of thinking, it’s the Bible. It does not shy away from dark topics, and yet, historically speaking, how many believers have found comfort in its words? So we should not shy away from it or any of the other good books that do the same, because reading them is how we grow our minds. This is where trigger warnings, no matter their good intentions, let us down. They assume it is damaging to our emotional health to come into contact with powerful ideas that may disturb us or challenge our outlook on life.
And as we all find out the hard way, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning, even if it should.