Discussion

Can We Love a Book Written by a Bad Person?

Way back in January, I wrote a post about favourite books where I briefly touched on how the author of a book might impact our view on their work. The call to cancel problematic and controversial authors has been going strong for a long time now—to be point of there being lists with “authors to avoid”—but, can we not enjoy books that are written by bad people?

I want to start this post off by saying that I’m still not totally certain on how I feel about all of it despite taking me half a year to write this post in hopes that I would get some clarity on this issue. This is a very nuanced topic and I don’t expect to stumble upon a one-fits-all answer for it.

Personally, I don’t like problematic authors lists or not reading someone’s work because someone else deemed them controversial. I believe that we as readers should have enough critical thinking skills to judge for ourselves whether to read or not to read a particular book. I also don’t believe it is logical to expect that our views will align with the authors we read, whether we know so or not. J.K. Rowling—and I’m using her as an example because I think everyone knows about her and her views—is a very loud transphobe, but it’s naïve to think that other authors aren’t just as bad and simply better at not plastering their twisted views everywhere. That being said, every one of us have our own limits and as such it’s a pretty personal choice whether we decide to read someone’s work or not. I, personally, no longer have any wish to read any of Rowling’s books, but someone else might not mind despite having different views. My main issue with this is that I don’t believe we need to give these authors more exposure. Like, sure, you can love a problematic author, but there’s no need to shout out and promote their books.

There is also something to be said by how we’ll openly love books written by bad people who lived long ago versus how we’ll interact with new books by problematic authors. The distance between the work we’re reading and present day does definitely affect how we think of an author and their views. If we’re reading something from, say, the 40s, it is expected that we’ll find sexist, racist, and homophobic remarks among many others and mostly, we won’t be fazed. However, if those same remarks appear in something published in the present, we’ll be baffled.

All of this ramble to say that I think this isn’t a black and white discussion. Every single one of us have a different level of comfort in what we’re willing to read, and that’s okay. But I also believe that having “authors to avoid” lists and such is counterproductive. Reading these authors is not evil per se, but perhaps we shouldn’t give them as much promotion. My views on this topic are subject to change but, for now, this little rant is what I think.

What do you think about this topic? Do you personally make use of the type of lists I talked about? Do you agree or disagree with what I said?

See you next time, Maria

14 thoughts on “Can We Love a Book Written by a Bad Person?

  1. Hmm, interesting post. Unless they produce a memoir, I would read a “bad” person’s book. I challenge anyone to define that “bad”. Did Rowling kill someone, starve her children to death? Led wars on other nations? Rowling is transphobe and people will not buy her books and YET millions and millions still worship Winston Churchill and he has a monument in front of the Parliament in London though he starved to death millions and millions of Indian people and committed other unimaginable atrocities. Rowling voiced her opinion, probably a very wrong opinion and damaging opinion, but it is an opinion. In the face of this world-wide hypocrisy, I would rather cherish my memory of Harry Potter without reading any of Rowling’s crazy tweets.

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    1. I think it has to do with the fact that she is a present-day living person. Churchill’s atrocities, despite being fairly recent, are in the past (despite repercussions still existing to this day). Also, I do like Harry Potter, but I cannot help the feeling I now get attached to it. After all, this is a very personal matter! Thank you for commenting 💕

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        1. I was thinking less “it’s in the past” and more that specific kinds of thinking (homophobia and racism for instance) were widely spread at the time the books in question were written, but I didn’t word too well in my comment 😅 Churchill was your example and I used him in place of an author but really, it’s a completely different kind of worms. I do agree that we, unfortunately, do not seem to learn from the past though.

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  2. I basically have nothing to add, Maria – you put everything so well! I also think that outright canceling authors or shaming other people for reading their books is counter-productive, but sometimes, it does make me feel a bit iffy to support certain people when I know they’re using their influence to promote views I find harmful…

    That’s one of the reasons I feel so conflicted on how to act regarding Harry Potter, actually 😅 It’s still my favorite series ever and I’m constantly rereading those books, but I just don’t feel as comfortable showing that enthusiasm outwardly anymore. Like, there’s this super neat Hogwarts Subject Tag someone tagged me in years ago, but then J.K. Rowling started going crazy on Twitter about a month later and I never ended up doing the tag because of it… And I also have a bunch of Harry Potter themed clothing (courtesy of my siblings and friends 😁), but I don’t wear that out in public anymore because I don’t want to risk being associated with J.K. Rowling’s opinions.

    And, if “problematic” authors are less famous and I’m in danger of actually promoting them by buying/borrowing their books and featuring them on my blog, I’ll probably think twice about whether I really want to read those books…

    On the whole, though, I see absolutely nothing wrong with reading stuff by people I don’t agree with. I’m actually pretty sure that everyone out there has different stance than I do on something or other, so I’m not going to let that limit me if I really want to read something!

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    1. I’m glad you think I made sense, I wasn’t so sure 😂

      There are many sides and layers to this conversation, so I find that there isn’t an easy solution. I too get that iffy feeling, but I don’t think cancel trains or anything of the sort is the answer. I believe that critical thinking is actually the key to solve this equation and that it’s something we must do individually!

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  3. I agree with a lot of what you say. I’m also immediately put off by those lists of problematic authors because sometimes authors are put on those lists for the tiniest offenses and readers who use them will adhere to them almost religiously. I’m more in favor of people making their own opinion and using those critical thinking skills.

    I’m not sure I agree with your point about not giving the authors exposure, though. I understand the argument and in principle, I would agree, but I think it translates to telling readers that they need to hide what they like. And that’s not healthy for anyone to do because there will be a constant worry about what and who we’re “allowed” to talk about. I think it feeds into this toxicity that seems to be an inevitable part of the bookish community. And sure, if a big news site suddenly made a “10 Reasons You Need to Read a Book by J.K. Rowling”, I would also feel weird, but if we’re talking about people in the bookish community “promoting” books to other people in the bookish community by mentioning a book because they read it, I would again rather trust people’s critical thinking skills. We’re not forcing anyone to read a book too just by talking about it.

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    1. That’s a great point, Line! I was thinking more in terms of promotion exclusively. I would never tell someone not to share what they’ve read because the author is problematic. I do appreciate when people mention that aspect in their reviews or wrap-ups though (if they’re aware, because there is simply no way to know about every single “problematic” author).

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      1. I’m glad that’s what you meant! I just felt the need to say it because I don’t feel that other people saying that are as considerate as you. People (and even publishers) would also consider it promotion to have a book mentioned on a blogger/bookTuber/bookstagrammer’s platform.

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  4. This is such an interesting topic and one I’ve thought about a lot myself. You’re absolutely right that it’s not a black and white issue.

    Bigots exist everywhere and it would be naive to believe that doesn’t exist in every book we read to some extent. Every author brings their biases and views to what they right just as readers being theirs. But as you rightfully stated, reading a book from an author doesn’t mean that we inherently agree with their values.

    I don’t conduct a background check on that author before reading their books to ensure they’re squeaky clean. It’s unnecessary and it’s also not a requirement to do that in any other aspect of life. People aren’t expected to know the exact source of everything they engage with or purchase to ensure that source is morally sound. That’s an impossible task (and unfortunately, corruption is so ingrained in everything that it’s mostly inescapable). So I don’t see why books should be held to a different standard.

    Having said that, I do avoid giving money to modern authors that I know go against my values such as JKR. I also make an effort to remain critically minded when engaging with different books and authors that may be “problematic” as you mentioned. I think that in most cases that’s the best/most we can do as readers.

    Great post, Maria. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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