I’ve had this discussion idea in my head for a while now, and I wanted to share my opinion on it, so here we go! I feel like this is such an interesting and complex subject matter, and first of all, I will feel better if I shared my thoughts on it, and secondly, I am genuinely interested in your opinion too.
When it’s an already deceased author
I think it’s easier and harder at once when it comes to authors who are already dead. It’s easier because you can think that they said problematic things because it was the norm in the era they lived in. But also harder because they don’t have a chance to come clean. I think sometimes you can give them the benefit of the doubt, as you will never know what they would have been if they lived in our current days. But also, on the other hand, some people lived in their times and weren’t sexist, racist, etc. So, really, it’s a tough quandary. Personally, once I find out that a classic author said problematic stuff outside of their books, I wouldn’t want to read anything from them. Take Roald Dahl, for instance. I recently read that he was really anti-semitic (you can read about it and other problems with him HERE). I loved Matilda as a kid, but I could never reread it or read anything else from him knowing this. Another example is Agatha Christie. She is one of my favourite authors, but was she a saint? No. She said racist things in her books, but I feel like that’s one of the cases when she did it because of the time she lived in. I won’t look past it, I’ll always mention it in my reviews, but I can read her books.
When it’s a contemporary author
I feel like there could be three separate “groups” when we talk about problematic authors: the one who said a few problematic things in their book(s), the one who actively harms marginalised groups with their hate speech (take Rowling for example), and the one who actually caused physical or emotional harm to another human being. I think in the first scenario, I can give that author the benefit of the doubt, the chance to grow. We are all humans, we all make mistakes, say things we later regret. But we should apologise, and learn from that mistake, and never repeat it. But then, some authors say the same harmful stuff over and over again and refuse to listen to criticism. In that case, I have no problem cancelling them (personally). And the last one shouldn’t even be a question. I would never support an author who physically or mentally abused someone.
On cancel culture and personal responsibility
As I said, I do believe that most authors are redeemable, and that’s why it’s important to give everyone a chance to make up for their mistakes. If we cancel everyone on their first slip, then they will never learn from that. It’s helpful to point out problematic things because that’s how they will be able to change. I don’t believe in policing other readers about their choices. Everyone can decide if they are able to enjoy a book from a problematic author and no one should forbid others from reading a certain work.
As a book blogger and bookstagrammer, I feel, it’s my personal responsibility to never recommend a book by a problematic author. Obviously, as I can’t know everything, I might make mistakes too, there’s always room for learning. For example, it was recently brought to my attention on Instagram, that Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple is anti-semitic. I was saddened to read this information (you can read one of the articles HERE), as I found that novel to be so important and powerful. I can’t go back in time, but I can decide not to recommend it ever again.
What are your thoughts on this hard topic? Feel free to discuss it in the comments!