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.
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:
- Don’t read the book
- Read book. Support author. Be pissed that I supported said author. Review book anyway, based solely on book’s merits.
- As above, but add disclaimer in review re: heinous behavior
- Question whether above review constitutes ‘attacking’ author
- 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?