Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reading bad authors

by Chasya

Moby Lives poses an interesting question in their delightfully titled post “When Your Favorite Writer is a Dirtball.” The quandary is pretty self-explanatory: whether to read books by your favorite authors even thought they have unsavory personal views and habits. I, for one, am in the camp that believes that if we limit ourselves this way there would be nothing to read, particularly when it comes to a lot of less contemporary work, written when it was perfectly acceptable—nay expected—to have sexist, racist and homophobic views. William Faulkner, for instance, was a sexist alcoholic, but that doesn’t make The Sound and the Fury any less brilliant in my humble opinion.

Do you agree or disagree, readers? Should we also perhaps be looking at this on a case by case basis?


  1. It's definitely a case-by-case basis for me. I don't tend to be too judgmental of writers of earlier eras, though their lifestyles often color their works for me.

    I'm more judgmental of modern writers. I pay for books, which means I'm supporting the author. If the author is a person I despise, the last thing in the world I'm going to do is give him money. Sorry, but that's tacit support of his views. If someone says or does something awful and the adoration and money continue to come, why oh why would he have ANY reason to reconsider his behavior or position?

    I'm equally judgmental of movie actors. I haven't watched a Mel Gibson movie in years, and probably never will again.

  2. I think it depends on what your personal values are and how firm you are on them. For example, I wouldn't want to support someone who was a hate-filled racist/extremist - because by purchasing their books, you are directly supporting them and their goals.

    I do the same for movies made by people who hold views I strongly disagree with.

    At the same time, however, I do not research each author I read to find out their views - in this case, ignorance may be bliss.

  3. I guess it would be case by case. but I don't really know that much about the personal lives of authors. but i agree with the others, I do boycott movies of directors/actors I don't agree with eg I wouldn't watch a polanski movie but then information about their personal lives/beliefs are plastered everywhere so I'm more aware of them.

  4. Melissa, I'm with you on the Mel Gibson thing.

  5. It poses an interesting quandary and I would have to say the answer difficult. For instance, I enjoyed the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales and thought I might enjoy the book, Gone to Texas, and The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales upon which the movie was based and written by Forrest Carter aka Esa Earl Carter. Enjoyed the books. Later discovered Forrest Carter, real name Asa Earl Carter was a bigot, racist, liar and just about any other kind of terrible person you can come up with. Example: He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he wrote the George Wallace speech that included the phrase: 'segragation today, segregation tomorrow, segragation forever'...though Wallace denied he ever knew Carter it is generally accepted Carter wrote the speech. Also, as Forrest Carter he wrote the best selling 'memoir' The Education of Little Tree purported to be his memories of growing up as an Indian youth educated by an Indian Shaman. Totally bogus. Never happened. It is now classified as a 'fictional memoir'...guess he pre-figured the more recently infamous James Frey's now semi-fictional (what a joke) memoir A Million Little Pieces. I will not read Frey and had I known beforehand I certainly would not have read the Josey Wales book. There are times when you simply need to draw a line in the sand. My life would not have been the poorer for not reading these guys. Will I ever read Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf? I doubt it. It would simply be too much for my soul to stomach.

  6. I've put down a novel in a book store because the back flap detailed other work the author had done on some political websites. The book had nothing to do with his politics... but still...

  7. It really depends. Someone above mentioned Mein Kampf. If I wanted to know more about how Hitler thought (perhaps if I was researching him), then I would read it, although I'm sure I would disagree with everything in it and probably be pretty offended.

    If I was reading for entertainment, then it would probably be a case-by-case decision depending on the bad trait and how much the author exhibited it. I don't generally do a lot of research into authors' personal lives or views, though, so they would probably have to make very large and well-covered statements for me to even notice they were horrible people. It's quite possible I'd be horrified to learn the true nature of some of my favorite writers, and if I really disagreed with whatever they did, I'd probably stop reading them just because I wouldn't be able to divorce them from the book.

    Of course, I wouldn't stop reading someone just because they have a different viewpoint on some issue or a different religion or political perspective. They'd have to have some very hateful or destructive tendencies for me to stop.

  8. Congrats on the 600 follower mark. I don't know why round numbers seem so festive, but they do.

    So many classic authors were awful people--like Faulkner. And L. Frank Baum once published a horrible racist tract. And OMG--look at Lord Byron. But I read them all. Maybe what makes reading them OK is they're dead? We can partly blame the culture that spawned them, and also know they're not making any money off the sale.

  9. "If they are valued for what is valuable about them, then all things are valuable. If they are despised for what is worthless about them, then all things are worthless." - Wen Tzu