When Good Books Happen to Bad Authors

So I’ve found myself pondering a kind of ethical dilemma when it comes to book reviewing, and thought it would be interesting to see other people’s thoughts on the matter.

good books bad authors

And that is, as the title suggests, the quandary I find myself in when I read a good book by a questionable author.

Now, in academic writing and professional reviewing settings, you’re required to separate the person who created the material from the material itself, and review only the latter regardless of whether the author is a raging racist/homophobe/sexist/questionable in other ways. And that does make sense. You’re there to critically examine the work. There’s no room for personal feelings on the matter. In fact, it’s probably a matter of pride to some people, the extent to which you can remove yourself from the equation when reviewing something.

BUT. And here comes the rub. If I find a book enjoyable, I write a positive review and spread the word. And this will encourage other people to buy or borrow the book. And this in turn will generate revenue for the author. And I don’t want to support or provide a platform to people like Kathleen Hale, who literally stalked a reviewer, or the many authors like Kiera Cass, who can’t take a negative review, or Orson Scott Card, who is a raging homophobe.

Spending money on something specific says “I support what you do, and what you stand for.” And in these instances, I very firmly do not.

(As an aside: Look at the people who hate-read 50 Shades, for example – whether buying or taking out from the library, it still boosted the book’s popularity and revenue for an author who very clearly has no idea what constitutes a healthy relationship.)

The obvious solution, for me at least, is to avoid authors I find problematic. But that in itself has its problems. What kind of reviewer does that make me? I’m not a professional – it’s my blog, and I can review what and how I like, but I’m certainly going to be missing out on some good books because of a personal stance or sheer stubbornness.

And for me, there is no easy solution. I’m not going to advocate piracy to sate my curiosity – duh – because that harms everyone in the publishing industry. So the options are:

  1. Don’t read the book
  2. Read book. Support author. Be pissed that I supported said author. Review book anyway, based solely on book’s merits.
  3. As above, but add disclaimer in review re: heinous behavior
  4. Question whether above review constitutes ‘attacking’ author
  5. Endless questioning re: my ethical dilemma

So, over to you. Thoughts? Do you read the book? Do you not? Do you separate personal feelings from the literary merit of the book? What if you find out after the fact that the author is a racist/sexist/homophobic/any-other-adjective-here ass? What does it say about us that/if we continue to support problematic authors?

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17 thoughts on “When Good Books Happen to Bad Authors

  1. This was a really interesting post! It’s always hard to try and figure out what the right decision is when dealing with authors who have been/are problematic but are putting out good books. A lot of times if I’ve read and enjoyed the author in the past I try and separate the story from the author. If the author isn’t enforcing their problematic decisions and views through the stories, I’ll still read and enjoy them. Often, however, if there’s an author that I haven’t read before who turns out to be problematic, I’ll just not pick up one of their books in the future. I don’t know, it’s hard to decide. Great post, thought-provoking post! 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree, it is hard to decide, and I guess each of us just have to come to a choice that works for us. I’m similar to you in that if there’s an author I haven’t yet read, then I’ll usually just straight-up avoid them.

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  2. Very interesting post. I must admit I never thought about it and perhaps I’m not as informed as I could be about the authors I read. But it is a dilemma. If the writing is truly exceptional, then I think I’d read the book, but not talk about it. I do think that authors should at least behave, if not shape/reshape their character in such a way as it behooves a public person and especially those who may influence young minds, like MG&YA authors. But I suppose people are far from perfect, and writers are but people, right? Excellent post.

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  3. I share your sentiments, Hannah. Like you, I’ve flagged those authors you’ve mentioned for bad behaviours, and therefore, would not buy whatever wares they’re hocking. Right now, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything because frankly, the books of the first two authors you’ve mentioned were not the kind of thing I like to read. I also have a not-so great relationship with Sci-Fi so chances of reading that homophobe’s books is very unlikely. The thing is, as much as I don’t want to support authors with questionable behaviours, I try to separate the person that they are from their work. Unless their work is the reflection of their personality. Like, say if Orson Scott Card started writing a book that blatantly propagates LGBT hate. I know it will be a problem, but I don’t think I’m there yet. For now, let’s just say I’m not gonna go out of my way to buy their books.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Joy. It’s a difficult situation, and I guess I find myself doing a mix of both – sometimes avoiding completely, and other times trying to separate the author from their work. Most of the time though, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on too much.

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  4. I actually choose not to read the books if I find the author very problematic, since there’s so many other books in this world. I’m not easily offended, so if they’ve done something huge enough to impact my decision to purchase their books, they’re not worth it.

    It’s the flipside that I have more issues with handling. When the author is super lovely and you’re all chummy on twitter… then you realised you didn’t like their books! That’s so awkward, I hate it when it happens since I love them and don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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    1. Thanks for your input! It’s really interesting to see what people think about this topic. I totally agree with you though – it’s always awkward when you encounter a book you don’t like by an author you’re friendly with on social media. Eeek!

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  5. This is a great post, and with a lot of authors behaving badly unfortunately, it is a real struggle to decide what to do. It’s always disappointing when something like this happens especially when you’re looking forward to said book, but with the amount of books that I have yet still to go through, I don’t think I’m missing out on a lot by avoiding these books!

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  6. What a great topic! I’ve thought about this issue, but your post made me consider whether I have a policy, or should have one. I guess my opinions are complicated. I mean, I don’t have time to research every author and hey, that’s kind of creepy. And then where do you draw the line? What if vegans stopped reading books by meat eaters? Or if people stopped reading books by authors who had different political or religious beliefs? And does that mean I should choose books by how “nice” the author is? On the one hand I’d like to just consider a book as a separate entity.
    But of course there’s the other side, which is that I have a limited amount of time and book buying money, and why would I want to support authors who have complete contempt for book bloggers or who are just generally unpleasant on social media? I’ve definitely put books on the rock bottom of the TBR when I see stuff like that.
    Again, great post and thanks for getting me thinking!
    Jen @ YA Romantics

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  7. I think the only author I won’t read is Orson Scott Card and that is because of the many interviews he’s given where he espouses bigoted beliefs. I try, though, not to judge a person based on the books they write. I might not agree with the relationship in FSoG, but I am not in a position to say that the author thinks that every relationship looks like that one or should look like that one because I don’t know her. So, I guess I feel that this is a bit of a tricky subject. It’s one thing to avoid an author because of things they say in interviews or personal feelings that they make known publicly, but I feel uncomfortable with the idea of assuming that because an author writes it, that must mean that they are that person.

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    1. Oh yes, definitely yes to your last point. The author is in no way representative of what they write. EL James was perhaps a bad example to use. (Although it would be interesting to see her respond to that criticism, just in terms of how she understands and justifies it.)

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  8. Darn it. I just wrote a long reply and lost it all! In a nutshell, I disagree that buying an author’s book supports all they stand for. We only see the side of authors they portray on social media. There are many more facets we don’t see, and it’s possible they have views we don’t share.

    Another option could be reading the book and not reviewing it or drawing attention to it any other way. That way, if it feels personal to you, you wouldn’t be misconstrued as supporting the author’s views.

    Interesting topic! 🙂

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  9. This is something I struggle with when it comes to Cassandra Clare.I love her work but hate all the rumors and drama surrounding it especially since I’ve never seen her come out and talk about it. I want to read her books because they seem great but there’s so many allegations of plagiarism

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    1. Ha yes, CC is quite a controversial figure in the YA world! And it is so hard to separate the bad press from an author, especially if the controversy is around an issue you wouldn’t normally support. It’s a bit of a tricky situation all round.

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