Lately there’s been this discussion about whether or not we should separate the artist from their art when we find out something not so awesome about them. We see this with R Kelly, Orson Scott Card and Woody Allen who’ve done or said some terrible things. However, can we still enjoy their art outside of that?
(Orson Scott Card: Author of Ender’s Game)
Kit Steinkellner wrote a piece on Book Riot yesterday that discussed exactly that and she said she would personally stop reading books by authors who she found out to be “monsters”. I don’t think I own any books by questionable authors but I’m sure at some point I’ve read an author who’s not that great beyond the words on the page. I do know that art is a very personal experience and parts of who the author is gets imprinted on it. Is it fair for someone to decline to read a book of yours because you molested a young girl? Absolutely. I do think it’s a personal choice as Steinkellner pointed out because book censorship is never a good idea. Everyone has the right to express their ideas and knowledge just as other people have the right to access them. It’s up to you to decide what you’ll get from the experience and I think prefacing or checking out the author’s bio is a great idea if you do end up reading their work.
I’ve personally gone back and forth on this issue internally because some of these authors have written books that touched on really interesting ideas and issues on society that could be used as great teachable material. I also think it would be harder to let go of a book I’ve read and loved but, in the case of Ender’s Game, I’m more likely to drop an author if I haven’t read their book(s). What struck me about Steinkellner’s piece and separated her arguments from others was when she mentioned the White Male Authors of the book world.
How can I say an “uneasy yes” to all these authors? And why do I feel this insidious pressure to say yes? Is it because we’ve elevated these authors, all men, all white, to a legendary, almost-god-like status?
– Kit Steinkellner “No, I Won’t Read Your Book if I Think You’re a Monster”
I’m not saying that others who aren’t white men aren’t problematic but I do think we would be faster to demonize them rather than those who’ve be classified as the greats or must reads and who happen to be white men. If there’s one thing that I hope people who’ve been reading this blog have noticed, it’s that I am not a fan of the “universal pedestal”. It irks me to no end when I hear people say that Shakespeare is the greatest writer that ever lived and if you don’t enjoy or read his works then you’re nuts. Art is subjective. I don’t care if Shakespeare inspired works of fiction and other mediums centuries later, it doesn’t mean I have to or will enjoy his plays. I don’t care if Jane Austen is the best damn romance writer ever. She’s just not my cup of tea. There’s this pressure to bow at the greatness of a book and/or author that, when we find out they’re essentially an asshole, we’re suddenly unsure of what to do. Again, I’m not saying women, minorities etc can’t be assholes but I also don’t think we’d give them as much slack.
I say this: if you’re unsure on whether or not to drop an author due to their problematic beliefs/actions, then please let that conflict be based on the book and the author. Don’t ever feel pressured by the supposed “classics” (in terms of being deemed “the greats” versus their publication age) and the “must read thus must love”.
This is an interesting topic and I think it’s one that requires more discussion. What do you think? Should you drop a book because the author is problematic?
A. A. Omer