Again, yes, like every discussion post I do lately, I’m starting this off with a disclaimer that this is my opinion, and I understand that everyone has their own, and it may not correspond with mine, especially on a touchy subject, but please no flinging of insults in the comments.
I’m going to start this off by saying that in the last few weeks a couple of books have come under fire for A) containing a racist trope, and B) for containing a racist image. I’ll get to book B in a minute, and for right now focus on book A.
The book in question is Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. It’s been a very highly anticipated book, and in a publicity campain, a number of bloggers and booktubers have been sent an ARC. It’s around this time that it came forward that Carve the Mark has the traditional “good” and “bad” societies. The problem? The “good” society is full of light skinned, straight-haired, blue-eyed people, while the “bad” society is full of dark skinned, curly-haired, dark-eyed people. You can see the problem here.
Once a book reviewer pointed this out on Twitter, the expected happened. Basically, everything from mature discussion to major backlash. And, there are a couple of people who have come forward and said that they really enjoyed the book, but understand that it contains a very problematic trope.
Which raises the question; is it okay to like, or even love, a problematic book?
Well, yes, and no.
I’m going to go into the yes portion of it first.
It’s very, very difficult to find a book that’s not problematic. Throne of Glass has a distinct lack of POC, and those in it tend to be killed off quickly and brutally. Female love interests are killed off to advance male’s plot lines. A disabled, well-loved character doesn’t appear in the most recent book. The Mortal Instruments contains romantization of incest, the implication that adopted siblings aren’t real siblings, as well as girls hating girls for just being pretty. I mean, even Harry Potter is somewhat problematic. A man who is horrible to his students gets treated like a hero because he had an obsessive, non-requited love for a female character. The fact that love potions, which have been shown in canon as a possible date-rape drug, is sold in joke stores. The way that Lavender Brown, a girly-girl who isn’t afraid to show her emotions, is described as “crazy”.
And those are only three examples. And all are well-loved books, and all have their good points, just as they have their bad points. I mean, no could deny the fact that Throne of Glass has some pretty badass girls, and is one of the few non-sexist epic fantasies out there. The Mortal Instruments has a pretty diverse cast. And, well, Harry Potter’s good points outweigh the bad points so much it’s almost ridiculous.
I’m getting slightly off topic, especially because the answer is pretty simple. I believe that yes, it’s okay to like or even love problematic books, as long as you understand that they are and why they’re problematic. Because, yes, most authors, especially white, privileged authors aren’t going to catch all the problematic things, the same way a boy isn’t going to catch why a seemingly harmless thing he just said (ex: you throw like a girl!) is sexist.
But you do have to make a choice. Do you let it slide, or do you point it out? That’s somewhat of a difficult question. I think that yes, you should point it out, but you don’t have to go and create a massive conversation about it if that feels uncomfortable to you. Mention it in your review. If someone asks you what you think about that particular book, tell them and include that piece of it. Don’t just brush it under the rug. And if you feel comfortable doing it, contact the author. And by contacting an author, I don’t mean storming in with an army behind you and yelling your fury from the rooftops. I mean saying “hey, I noticed such-and-such in your novel, and it makes me feel angry/uncomfortable/sad/ect, can you tell me why you included it?”
And, 9 times out of 10, authors don’t even realize why a certain trope is harmful. Which is where education comes into play, but that’s another topic for another time. And, another thing to realize is that this novel had to go through many, many hands before it ends up in yours, which also leads to the thought that the publishing industry has a diversity problem, but, again, another topic for another time.
And all of this leads into book B, and when it’s not okay to like a problematic.
For those of you that didn’t hear about it, a couple of weeks ago a book came under fire. It was called Bad Little Children’s Books, a book full of covers of parodies of children’s books. And it happens to be full of blatantly racist covers. The one that first caused this book to be noticed, is one where a Muslim girl holds a ticking present, and is offering it to a white boy. But this is only one example.
Both the author and publisher released statements, and the author decided to pull the book from publication, but his statement, as was the publisher’s, was mostly full of reasons why the book wasn’t racist and how it was a parody/comedy and therefor meant to be offensive. Again, a whole other problem (I don’t believe that attempting to offend someone is comedy. I believe it’s attempting to offend someone).
I’m getting off track again, but this is when it’s not okay to like a problematic book. It’s a book that you read, and there’s no way that you can overlook how it’s racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, ect. There’s literally no way. It was put in the book, and it was meant to be racist, or sexist, ableist, or homophobic.
To cap this off, remember, when you read, you support. You support the author, the publisher, yes, but you also support the ideas within the book. Even when borrowing a book from a library, you’re supporting them in some way.
I don’t expect everyone to catch every problematic thing in a book. No one will. So it’s up to you to decide what books you’ll support, and what books you won’t. A book I might consider fine to support someone else might consider not okay at all, and vise versa.
Now, if you’re writing a book, consider checking out Writing with Color. It’s a great resource, and even if you’re not currently in the soul-destroying process of plotting, it’s a great way to learn.
And so, blogglings, what are your thoughts on all of this? Do our opinions match or differ in any way? Is there a problematic book you enjoy? Did you ever read and enjoy a book, only to have someone later point out it was problematic?