Topics/Discussion

Where Do I Draw the Line? / Reading Problematic Authors

Instead of Top Ten Tuesday today I am sharing with you a discussion post that goes somewhat hand in hand with the prompt for today’s TTT: Books on my TBR I avoid.

A good year maybe two I was browsing through bookstagram late at night when I couldn’t sleep, as one does. I stumbled on a photo with The Mist of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley in the picture. The caption alluded to the problematic behavior of the author that stopped them from continuing to read but they also weren’t able to unhaul the book, because a part of them wanted to finish it.

This is in no way meant to call this person out or anyone else for that matter. It just sparked the question in my head; ‘At what point does it end? What kind of problematic behaviour makes us turn away from an author? Unhaul? I’m not even talking about problematic things in a book but problematic behaviour of an author in real life. While I personally have unhauled my Zimmer Bradley book, it made me look at my shelves and wonder, where do I draw the line?

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had this post in my wordpress drafts for a while and it took me a long time to be able to finish writing this blog post.

A Line Drawn

In case you aren’t familiar with Marion Zimmer Bradley she wrote the Avalon series, the series she is most known for. She passed away in 1999. In 2014 her daugther accused her and her husband of sexual abuse and that she wasn’t the only victim. Yet her books were also seen as having a feminist outlook. Personally I can’t look away with sexual abuse, especially of children that young. That is certainly a line I draw.

Crossing the Line?

Yet I have Roald Dahl still on my shelves and am for sure planning to read them with my son. And yet there is this thing nibbling in the back of my mind if that is the right thing to do. You see Roald Dahl was antisemitic. He publicly expressed dislike of Jews. In fact he wasn’t a pleasant man at all. I didn’t realize this until a blog I followed mentioned it in a post two years ago. It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge amongst many of his readers. Or they choose to ignore it.

Other Examples

Orson Scott Card is a well known SF author, most well known for Ender’s Game. He is also well known for being a homophobe and a racist. I watched the movie a few years ago and I was very excited to start his series. Up until the point I read about him speaking on Obama. That was the end. I won’t even bother getting his books from the library.

Ari and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a fun contemporary book I read. And you all know me and contemporary. The author Benjamin Alire Sáenz is not that pleasant. When a reviewer called out a scene in his book he then contacted this 17 year old and told them how wrong they were. It smelled of harassment and especially with a minor, not cool.

Everyone loves Harrry Potter. Okay not everyone, but most of us do. Yet J.K. Rowling isn’t exactly squaky clean. The fact that she attempts to add diversity after the fact into harry potter, like Dumbledore is gay, is not a good look. If you get backlash on the lack of diversity just say you’ll do better the next time. She also follows transphobic twitter users. There is a lot of debate on what this means and not everyone believes that she is transphobic, as she also follows a transgender activist. Read up on it and make up your mind. I wish I could say I would never buy a piece of HP merchandise again, but Harry Potter has always been something that combined a lot of people in the bookish community.

Lastly I’d like to point you in the direction of Mackenzi Lee. This is an author I genuinely liked for a  while as a presence on twitter and I really enjoyed reading The Gentleman’s Guide. However recently a jacket copy of her 2020 book A Madness Blooms used the deadname of a trans mc and eluded to an F/F relationship. Her appology was not a good one. The book is being pushed back for now but it also showed that she had not been kind to the poc community in the last few years. At this point I am not going to buy or read any of her books. I do however still own a few of them and I am on the fence on unhauling them at the moment. Or rather I am on the fence on unhauling The Gentleman’s Guide specificially since I really, really loved these characters.

Holding On

So what makes me still keep Roald Dahl’s and J.K. Rowling’s books in comparison to the others?

I think the answer to that for me is simple. I have an emotional attachment to those books and stories. They mean something to me. I grew up with Roald Dahls books and Harry Potter created such a loving community of fans (for the most part). I am attached to them. Adding on to that is that the harry potter books are also partially my husband’s.

I am however not attached to the authors. At this point I still own a bind-up of Roald Dahl’s adult stories but I plan on unhauling those right along with some of Mackenzie Lee’s books. Yes I will still read Roald Dahl’s children stories with my son. But I will also make sure he never becomes a fan of Roald Dahl himself.

Last Thoughts to You on Recent Events 

At the end of June Angie Thomas, author of THUG, posted on instagram that she didn’t want to be tagged in reviews. This got a huge backlash from reviewers. She pulled back, said that it was just negative reviews. But the backlash didn’t stop and a lot of (white) reviewers started seeing her as problematic, going as far as to unhaul her books.

I have a lot of thoughts on this. All in support of Angie Thomas might I add.

If you decided to draw the line at a black author who doesn’t want to be tagged in reviews on twitter but still have other (white) problematic authors who have harrassed reviewers or are racists on your shelves, ask yourself why. I think that is most of all important. Don’t put your head in the sand. Nobody is telling you to go unhaul these books right now. All I ask and what a portion of the bookish community is asking, is that you consider why you keep them. To be aware. And ask yourself if you want to support an author doing certain things by buying their next book.

And this. Is a an author setting boundaries to her social media life more problematic to you than racism, albeism and antisemitism? Why is that? Please ask yourself the hard questions. That is the only way we can start moving forward as a community.

38 thoughts on “Where Do I Draw the Line? / Reading Problematic Authors

  1. Great article. I wholeheartedly agree. What Angie Thomas went through should never have happened. Thankfully, more positive than negative energy went her way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, this is such a fantastic post, Annemieke! It’s well thought out and poses important questions to consider. I honestly had no idea about these authors, especially Roald Dahl, and that makes me feel so conflicted since I have a strong attachment to the stories and what they gave me when I was growing up. This has definitely made me consider how I know very little about most of the authors whose books I read!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an interesting discussion and one that has crossed my mind recently when I’ve heard talk about certain authors. There’s one in particular I think about a lot whenever I look at my shelves and all I know now is, I don’t want to support them. I’ll still re-read the books I have from said author as I do like them, but I won’t be going out of my way to purchase and read any new releases.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. From what I know she has subtweeted reviewers for not liking her book because she thinks her books are so good. And she put in her mouth about the whole authors like incest couplings in game of thrones too.

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      2. It started with Wicked Saints and her bullying reviewers who left negative reviews (she seeks them out on GR though.. she says it out right on Twitter that she read something on GR and then say something to belittle it) and then a rant on twitter about how teens arent on twitter and well not much hasn’t changed with the ARCs dropping for RG.

        That’s the short version. You can scroll through GR under WS or RG to find it or her own Twitter time line.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I apparently reacted on bloglovin’ haha. But it’s a difficult topic, I feel like in some cases it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of thing. What I’ve seen from the Mackenzie lee thing was that she was criticised for her story set in the past, a time people looked differently at this kind of things. But maybe something else happened I’m not a big Twitter follower as there is always so much drama. The whole poc topic is a hard one, some authors force them into their books now and they don’t do anything for the story other than that they are there. So I’m all for it if it fits the story. I also believe that people attacking books as they do on Twitter that were written a while ago should give it a rest. Times were different and that means views were diffrent. I agree with the whole J.K Rowling thing but I also think she gets a lot of backlash years after the books were published. I think you sometimes have to separate the book from the private lives of the author. Thinking about Roal Dahl here, his books touched many children’s lifes, do they all agree with his views? Of course not but it would be sad if we lost al those stories wouldn’t it? But after reading your article I won’t be reading the Avalon books either, that just gives me a bad taste. Again it’s a hard topic, but you wrote a wonderful article

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ik ga even in het NL antwoorden (sorry). Zelf sta ik hier eerlijk gezegd niet bij stil. Ik kan perfect het boek/verhaal los van de auteur zien, tenzij ik er zelf een persoonlijke aanvaring mee gehad heb tijdens een signeersessie bijvoorbeeld. Ik begrijp echter wel waarom mensen bepaalde boeken hierdoor links laten liggen maar zelf ben ik er mij niet zo bewust van. Ik ga bijvoorbeeld in de lokale boekhandel niet eerst het leven van de auteur gaan onderspitten om te kijken of hij zijn leven wel correct leidt. Misschien leef ik dan met oogkleppen of is dat hypocriet, geen idee, maar zelf ben ik er niet zo mee bezig (voorlopig). Wel een goed artikel en iets om over na te denken!!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. If you’re going to judge what literature to keep or to buy based upon your opinions of an authors personal life, you can probably throw most of your library out of the window. Tolstoy was an irredeemable aristocratic snob, Ludwig Dodson was a pedophile, James Joyce a schizophrenic,, Mark Twain has been accused of racism, etc…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And that is totally valid if someone wants to do that. People are allowed to decide who to support and who to spend their money on. If someone is a shitty human being I don’t nessecarily want to give them money no matter how good their book is.

        Also you mention only classics. What about modern day authors? Shouldn’t we hold them up to some responsibility to show that their behaviour is unacceptable?

        At least there is certainly nothing wrong with thinking about this and making up your own mind. Nobody should be judged for that, even if that leaves their library empty.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Then the US citizens better throw out their constitution, because most of its authors were slave-keepers. My point is; it doesn’t matter who wrote it, but what they were writing should be the criteria. And I couldn’t care less if some moral crusaders would disagree and end up as illiterates because of their empty libraries.

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  6. Mooi geschreven artikel! Ik sta persoonlijk niet stil hierbij en zie het boek los van de auteur. Aan de andere kant je support wel iemand die iets heeft gedaan waar je niet achter staat.. interessant iets om over na te denken! Bedankt hiervoor!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Annemieke! This is such an important topic and there aren’t any clear answers that fit every single person. In the end, I think finding that line is a personal choice, as I don’t want to censor people. That doesn’t mean we can’t question people on their choices, though. “Is a an author setting boundaries to her social media life more problematic to you than racism, albeism and antisemitism?” is exactly the right question to be asking!

    I didn’t know about Roald Dahl or Benjamin Alire Sáenz, but now that I do, I don’t plan to read any more of their books. I understand why you don’t want to give up Dahl. I feel the same way as you about sentimentality and JKR. It’s hard when emotions and childhood memories get involved. But I try to be mindful when I’m reading Harry Potter or the Cormoran Strike series and acknowledge what could be better and what’s not okay.

    One thing I think it’s important to remember is that there’s a difference between privately reading a book and actively reviewing and promoting it. If you want to read Dahl’s stories to your son, that’s totally valid. If you want to keep The Gentleman’s Guide, that’s also valid. It’s very different than recommending those authors to everyone you know or using your social media platforms to promote them. That, for me at least, is crossing a line, and it’s something I want to make sure I avoid.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this post! It’s crazy to me that people could be so horrid to Angie Thomas – every reviewer has a right to not like a book, but I would never tag an author in a negative review. Hell, I don’t even tag them in positive reviews because my reviews are for fellow readers!

    You’ve made such a good point here. I refuse to read Orson Scott Card, yet I still think about Roald Dahl so fondly. Definitely food for thought! I’m so torn about Mackenzi Lee. Personally I hate “cancel culture” and authors are people who can make mistakes – plus I doubt she was the one who wrote the blurb for her new book and misgendered the protagonist – BUT I agree her apology wasn’t really an apology, and that was a shame. We’re all allowed to make mistakes, but I wasn’t keen on the way she handled it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ooh, interesting post. I’ve been thinking about writing a similar one recently but tbh I don’t want to have to deal with potential comments from others…

    As a marginalized person, I have an almost zero tolerance policy on problematic authors and have either removed their books from my TBR or straight up gotten rid of owned copies of their books. Mackenzi Lee was a big one for me that went straight off my TBR, same with Justina Ireland. George RR Martin’s books are in the process of being gotten rid of, etc. The only ones I’ve struggled with is Aristotle and Dante bc the actual book itself was a huge influence on me and means a lot to me but I very, very deeply condemn his behaviour towards particular book bloggers and Harry Potter. The line I drew with HP is that I kept my copies of the books but I don’t engage with JK Rowling in anyway, I no longer support her work and don’t talk about the HP series in any way that endorses the books or her work.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I didn’t know about so many of these issues with authors. I’m Jewish and am now questioning my love of Roald Dahl.
    I’ve stopped watching comedians and I’ve stopped listening to artists who do unsavory things, I’ve never considered the same of authors. I’ve got a lot to think on.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is an interesting discussion. For me, I usually detach myself from the author when reading a book so I’m still okay to read books from problematic authors – I want to read Mein Kampf, for example, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’m a Hitler fan! I think if we all chose to ignore books, films, and other products from problematic authors then we’d end up not being able to enjoy anything as it’s probably more difficult to find creators that are 100% squeaky clean. My one thing I stand by though is that, if I know a creator is problematic, then I may still enjoy their product but I won’t contribute financially to them in any way – I’ll borrow the item from someone else, or buy second-hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ik ben meestal totaal niet op de hoogte van dit soort zaken en viel dan ook helemaal uit de lucht toen ik door een tweet van Marieke Nijkamp ontdekte dat Roald Dahl tegen Joden was. Als kind heb ik zijn boeken heel graag gelezen en ik herlees ze nog steeds uit nostalgische redenen maar ik merk wel dat die kennis er nu een schaduw overheen werpt. Mocht ik zoiets vooraf weten dan zou ik inderdaad kunnen beslissen om een boek niet te kopen. Maar meestal hoor of lees ik het dus pas veel later. Van J.K.Rowling wist ik trouwens ook alleen maar dat er ondertussen mee gelachen wordt dat ze haar personages na de klacht van een gebrek aan diversiteit meer diverser maakt en dat er nu grapjes worden gemaakt over hoe ver ze dat wil doortrekken maar dat van wie ze al dan niet volgt wist ik dan weer niet.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am so glad you posted this. I only very recently found out about Marion Zimmer Bradley and wrote some notes on a potential post about this same subject. But I honestly couldn’t think how to approach it. The books we love are so personal to us, and these issues are also very personal, and there has to be a weighing up of these things – something we each have to do for ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ooooh, I love this post! It’s such an incredibly important discussion to have, but also incredibly divisive because everyone falls on different sides of the argument.

    For me, personally, I separate an author from their work. If I like their work, I’ll read it. I’ll encourage others to read it. I let the work speak for itself. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean I won’t call out the creator for their problematic issues. I’m perfectly capable and comfy separating the two, and I know a lot of people don’t want to or won’t do that, and that’s cool.

    Your reasoning totally makes sense to me, though. it’s hard to separate your emotional attachment to the work sometimes when it’s so strong, because some of these things are transformative. And honestly, no author is perfect, and there’s going to be a lot of things, especially from older authors, that we deem they did wrong in their time.

    I hadn’t heard about the Angie Thomas thing, though. That’s kind of silly to me. First, reviews are for readers, and in my mind, it’s GOOD that she’s making this distinction by not needing to insert herself in the reviewer community. Second, this is just good mental health. If she’s in a good place with her work and doesn’t want input, either positive or negative, then that’s GREAT. Writing is hard. Imposter syndrome is real. Knowing where her limits are is brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

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