When I get recommended a book, one of the first things I tend to do is add it to my TBR shelf on Goodreads. Usually, I won’t get around to looking at the summary or looking up reviews for it until much later, and sometimes, it slips my mind entirely, until that book is brought up in conversation again later, or until I decide to do my yearly Goodreads shelf-reorganizing. Or other times, I’ll simply be browsing Goodreads, or just going feeds on social media when I see books being recommended and promoted. More often than not, these recommendations come without trigger warnings.
What are trigger warnings?
Trigger warnings are statements at the start of a piece of media that alert the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material.
An example of trigger warnings in books that come to mind is The Henna Wars, which has “This book contains instances of racism, homophobia, bullying, and a character being outed.” printed on the inside. I’ve often also seen them simply listed as trigger warning: [ list of triggers ] or tw: [ list of triggers ] on reviews as well. You can view an example of trigger warnings on my One Last Stop review here.
In my short time on bookstagram specifically – and on Tumblr long before that – I’ve seen books like Nora Sakavic’s All for the Game (alternatively known as The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, and The King’s Men) posted, hyped about, and recommended again and again. In all honesty, I had read All for the Game simply because of peer pressure and curiosity, and I could never in good faith recommend it to anyone, simply because of the large amount of triggering material (among other reasons). I don’t think I’ve ever consumed any sort of media that is this triggering, and alarmingly enough, there usually aren’t a list of trigger warnings accompanying recommendations for it. I’ve included a masterpost of trigger warnings for All for the Game here, and am happy to answer any questions if people have any.
I constantly notice books being recommended without trigger warnings attached. There’s been some talk about trigger warnings being “spoilers”, but I heavily disagree. Trigger warnings are not spoilers. An example of this would be Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years — I had picked this romance book up without knowing anything about it, thinking it would be an interesting, fun read from the synopsis. The synopsis didn’t mention anything about how cancer and death played a large part in the book, nor did the publisher include any trigger warnings, and thus, I wasn’t prepared for either topic in such detail. If I had known about it, I would’ve probably read it at a different point in my life, or just avoided it entirely. There’s also no shame in DNFing a book because of triggering content (or any other reasons in general), but at that point my curiosity for how the book played out won over my own desire to keep myself safe.
Why is it important to include trigger warnings?
If you are recommending a book (or any other content) to someone, and especially if you have a platform, it’s your responsibility to let people know what they may be exposed to. When you recommend something without trigger warnings, you are genuinely putting someone in danger. Everyone has different experiences, and deserve to make an educated decision on whether or not a specific piece of media is something they can handle, whether that’s in the moment or later, when they’re in the right headspace for it.
Even if you don’t think that a certain trigger warning is major, or you’re pretty sure the person you’re recommending that specific book to isn’t triggered by that content, it’s still good information to pass along. It’s also just good practice to get in the habit of doing! Normalize including trigger warnings in all of your recommendations! It takes maybe an extra couple of minutes, if that — really, a quick google search does not take that long — and could have a huge impact on someone’s mental health. Also, who decided what trigger warnings are “major”, or what is “triggering” enough? What is triggering for one person might not be triggering for someone else. Like I said earlier, everyone has different experiences. Even if two people go through similar situations, they might process them differently, and be triggered by different things – or not at all. Just because you aren’t triggered by something doesn’t mean that other people won’t be. At this point, providing trigger warnings is simply basic human decency. It’s about empathy for other people, and their experiences.
I’ve also seen something about people getting stuck on not including every trigger warning, and so they decide not to list trigger warnings at all. Listing some trigger warnings is better than none. Obviously, it’s better to be as comprehensive as possible, and I would also recommend googling trigger warnings for books just to see if you’ve missed any as well. This might be a little trickier if the book you’re reviewing is an ARC, but most other times, I’ve come to find other reviewers who list trigger warnings in detail as well.
I’ve seen several authors add trigger warnings on Goodreads as a “review”, or to their websites, but sometimes even their trigger warning lists aren’t comprehensive. I also simply wish that sites like Goodreads, TheStorygraph, Edelweiss+, Netgalley, etc. included sections for trigger warnings to be submitted, and even more so that it’s common practice that publishers include trigger warnings when printing a book. People who are in the bookish community might look up authors websites, reviews, or the book on Goodreads prior to starting a book, but many readers might not, and so the best practice is to truly put trigger warnings in the book itself.
I’m incredibly thankful to those reviewers who include content/trigger warnings in their reviews, as well as sites such as http://booktriggerwarnings.com and http://triggerwarningdatabase.com. If you have any questions about trigger warnings, or if you ever want more detail about any books I’ve read or reviewed, please feel free to message me, whether that’s a comment here, or on any of my other socials, including Tumblr, where my anonymous ask feature is almost always turned on.