On Reading Authors You Dislike

book-review-5

So I thought today would be a good day for another discussion post. It’s been a while and it’s nice to get a little discourse going now and then!

A while ago, there was come controversy about Joseph Boyden lying about his Native identity and about the way he treats the people he bases his characters on.

Considering The Orenda has been on my ‘to read’ list for ages and I had just gotten a copy, I was really dismayed when I came across that information. For ages I agonized over whether or not it was okay for me to read that book – or any of Boyden’s work. Reading it seemed almost like I was indifferent or in agreement with his gross behaviour.

I dithered over it, but it really got me thinking about other authors whom I’ve disagreed with regarding personal views or actions in the past.

Orson Scott Card is a well-documented homophobe. William Golding was an attempted rapist and messed with boys by pitting them against each other and observing the results. Many authors are or have been unsavoury characters: plagiarists, thieves, murderers, racists, rapists, misogynists – not to mention those that are more well known for their heinous actions than their writing. Hitler, anyone?

So what’s a bibliophile to do?

As someone who loves reading for both pleasure and knowledge, could I be content avoiding books by unpleasant individuals knowing that any insights I may glean from their work may be lost to me?

Definitely not.

Still, in some cases I have no desire to show my support for reprehensible authors even if I’m curious about their work. So I generally don’t buy their books. This means they don’t have my financial support. I’ll take out a copy from the library. While this does ensure that the book in question will remain in circulation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I find that I absolutely have to have a copy, to write in or to re-read, I’ll get it from a second-hand store. That way I’m supporting local business and the author still doesn’t get my financial backing.

The benefits of reading work by authors I disagree with are plentiful. I tend to view their work through a more critical lens if I know about their personal views before diving in. It’s also helpful to be informed of the context in which any work is written, and that certainly includes the author’s beliefs and character, along with the time period, political climate, and place in which they lived. Right there is research that I wouldn’t have otherwise undertaken.

If the work is fiction, I can see how their views influenced the plot, characters, or setting. In non-fiction there is much less deductive power necessary to examine the thoughts of the author.

Still, reading things written from perspectives differing from my own is always a learning experience. You gain so much more to think about than you would reading something by someone who agrees with you on an ethical or rational level. It encourages you to form counter-arguments, debate skills (if you discuss it with others, or take notes), and will possibly help inform you in your interactions with other literature in the future.

I’ll continue to read books by authors of questionable morals in the future, and would be interested to know what you think of the subject. Do you read or buy books written by authors that you disagree with? Do you find any merit in them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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