In Favor of Warning Labels or Thank God I Stopped Wearing Mascara

He just got half-way through LOOKING FOR ALASKA.

There are stories that you know will be sad.  Before you’ve read the first chapter—the first page, even—you are well aware of the devastation lying within the pages.  Sad stories have a romantic draw to them.  An emotional resonance that reverberates through our bony fingers and deep into our meaty hearts.

These stories don’t need a warning label.  It would be considerate of the book’s author to include a pack of tissues, taped to the inside cover like a gentle rub of the back or an empathetic squeeze, but the reader already knows that they should NEVER read this book in public.  That they should only wrap themselves up in this story when they’re in the safety of their own home.  In a dark corner of the house or sprawled luxuriously across the couch while everyone else has gone out to race go-karts.

But there are sneaky stories.  Ones that lure you in with humor and voice and vivid imagery.  You bring your funny read with you to a café or the DMV or to Jiffy Lube.  Light reading.  Until the author suddenly rips out your heart.  Stomps on it.  Rolls it all over the filthy linoleum.  How could you let yourself read this in public?  Mascara smears down your puffy cheeks.  Throat is sore and eyes are prickling with heat. 

People stare.  Non-readers, most likely.  Readers understand.  They’ve been there themselves, and they mentally note the book title (unless you’re reading on a ebook reader) and put it in their Goodreads queue.

I’m convinced we need a rating system for public reading appropriateness.

:-):  This book is funny/uplifting.  You won’t be mocked for crying in public, but people might side-eye you for grinning or laughing too much.

:-o:  This is a page-turner.  You may read it in public, but only if you promise not to reschedule all of your appointments just to finish the whole thing.

:-/:  This book looks like a fluffy read, but it will destroy you.  This rating would be required for any novel that includes a dog or a horse.

:-(:  NEVER read this in the company of others.  This book may result in severe ugly-crying.   

Have you ever been caught in public with one of these sneaky books?  Should we petition for a rating system?  Or a warning label?

Share My Wisdom:


  1. Jennifer Pickrell says:

    I once made the mistake of bringing Marley and Me to read as I waited to be interviewed for a job. A lot of it is funny (the dog’s antics), but as I sat waiting, I got to a sad part and immediately had to slam the book closed so I wouldn’t be a snotty mess.

    • Crystal says:

      Ooohh… Marley and Me is one of those ones that needs the label. Books are always trying to lure you in with cute animal antics–and then the animal DIES. If you love a fictional dog at all, it will die by the end of the book.

  2. Rebecca B says:

    I totally agree. I have suffered total emotional meltdowns on the subway, elliptical trainers, planes, park benches, etc. because a book had an emotional wallop at the end. Which I love–I just don’t love walking around blubbering afterward!

    • Crystal says:

      I love those wallops, too! I adore authors who can make me cry…. I just wish there was more of a warning sometimes. But then I guess it wouldn’t be a wallop, then, huh?

  3. Kris Atkins says:

    I’ve definitely laughed out loud in public while reading books. And you’re right–I can totally tell who’s a reader by their reaction. Readers = smile knowingly, cuz they’re privy to the secret. Non-readers = look at your like your crazy. Butthey’rethecrazyonesdangit!!

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