There’s been a lot of discussion within the book blogging community lately about judging and pre-judging problematic books.
I’m not going to go specifically into that today, (you should read this, though), largely because I don’t think my voice is relevant in that conversation, but I do want to talk about a trend that I have noticed because of it.
It’s not uncommon, when you find a book you love, to form a certain appreciation for it’s author. I’m not just talking about the acknowledgement of their talent here, I’m talking about forming a level of gratitude for them because they wrote a book that meant a lot to you. It’s understandable; after all, reading a book is an investment of your time, energy, and emotion, and you never know what you’re going to get from it, so when a book turns out to blow your mind, there’s an invisible bond created between reader and author.
You form attachments to authors you love, and you nurture that attachment through buying more of their books, until you reach the point where they become an auto-buy author: one who’s books you always pre-order and read on the first day of publication, because you just know their books are meant for readers like you.
And, surely this is one of the best things about being a reader? Finding a new author you love, and knowing that there are going to be (hopefully) many more times in the future where you will spend hours revelling in the writing that you love so much.
It’s a wonderful feeling.
Except herein lies the problem, because what I’ve learnt from the aforementioned discussions, is that it’s very easy to become blinded by this faith in an author; to fail to acknowledge the issues a book has, because, in your mind, this author could do no wrong; to miss it’s problems, because you already convinced yourself before you even picked the book up that you were going to love it. After all, how could the same author who wrote that book you fell in love, that book which spoke to you, also write a book that’s problematic?
I count myself in this as well, by the way, because I know I’ve been guilty of doing this. Hell, I’m reading a book right now which I know I would be judging a lot more harshly if it wasn’t written by an author I grew up with.
We all do it.
The problem comes when we don’t acknowledge it. When we ignore what other people are telling us, because it feels like they’re not only attacking an author we love, but attacking us. It feels personal, but it’s vital we overcome that.
Being critical of the things we love is just as important as being critical of the things we hate, perhaps even more so, because if an author writes a problematic book and we, their stalwart readers, don’t question it, they are going to do it again, and again, and again.
“…but I still enjoyed it, I didn’t notice anything problematic, why should I be critical of something I didn’t even notice?”
And that, right there, is exactly why you should.
We live in an unequal world, that’s a fact (an actual fact, not an ‘alternative’ one), and that inequality is so ingrained in our society that often those of us unaffected by it don’t even see it. In these situations, our voice doesn’t matter, it is the voices of those that aren’t being treated equally, the voices which the book you’ve read doesn’t treat equally, that matter. If someone with that voice tells you it’s problematic, you listen, and you learn, and you don’t help to promote the voices that silence theirs.
“…but it’s just fiction. It’s not real life. It can’t be problematic if it’s just fictional.”
A short history lesson.
In 1915, a film came out called The Birth of a Nation. In it there were depictions of Ku Klux Klan members burning crosses. Up until this point, the real-life KKK never burned crosses. After this film came out, they started burning crosses.
My point is, films, television, books, are incredibly influential. The fact the majority of them are fiction means nothing. In fact, psychologically speaking, if you create something that triggers an emotional connection with the consumer, they are more likely to agree with it’s views, whether it’s fictional or not.
We live in a very divided world right now, and, without sounding too much like a fortune cookie quote, it’s so important we allow everyone’s voices to be heard. So when, and I say when because it will happen, someone raises concerns about a book by your favourite author, listen to them, learn from them, and allow yourself to be critical of the things you love.