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Is It Okay To Like Problematic Books? | A Discussion Post

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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.

Good? Good.

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?

Happy Sunday,

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11 thoughts on “Is It Okay To Like Problematic Books? | A Discussion Post

  1. In my opinion it’s okay to ‘like’ a book even if it is blatantly problematic. We cannot help liking what we like, and the reasons we like the book may have got nothing to do with it being problematic. For example, we may like it for the writing, plot etc. Of course, we can criticize it, and if required stop supporting it, but that does not stop us from liking the book.
    Also, I believe problematic characters=/= problematic book. Great post, anyway.

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    1. That is a good point. I should have been a bit more clear in the post. The way I was using it, “liking” a book means “supporting” it. I may enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books, but I don’t want to support them for multiple reasons.
      And yes, problematic characters doesn’t equal a problematic book. We as writers aren’t our characters.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you – I think it’s okay to like problematic things (I mean, you could probably find problems with all popular culture), but I think it’s definitely important to acknowledge those so we can learn from them. I’m the biggest Potterhead out, but I’ve frequently criticised J K Rowling for some of her shortcomings in terms of representation. Twitter occasionally becomes very toxic in these kinds of debates, so I appreciate your eloquent thoughts here ❤

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    1. Exactly. It’s perfectly fine to like problematic things, as long as they aren’t brushed under the rug.
      Twitter is very…interesting. You can have some super mature, intelligent conversations and then their are the times were it’s people flinging insults at everyone who disagrees with them.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I mean, there are books I know are problematic but I still very much enjoy, but at the same time, I understand why they’re problematic and I will mention that they’re problematic when I talk about the book.

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  3. Oh yes I definitely agree. *nods* There are a lot of problematic books out there and I honestly think a big reason for that is a lot of authors don’t KNOW they’re writing problems. I’m not trying to say that as an excuse though. Like I have written problematic elements into my books before (I die a little thinking about it) and I’m so glad I can now fix that and do better before there’s potential for the world to see my writing. Buuuuut that does make me realise that I think a lot of authors do things like this on accident. Or they draw from history. History is very problematic, obviously, and I think we’ve learned about it in school and stuff so it’s ingrained in to us for a “ooh let’s write about two races who hate each other….and let’s seperate them by colour”. Doesn’t make it right. It’s really sad. But I kind of understand why these books keep coming out.
    However another thing that I think we bookworms need to remember is…just because an author writes it doesn’t meant they agree with it!! Villains are going to do evil things and authors will include badness in their books because that’s realistic. The trick, of course, is to have these elements fought against and rebuffed.
    I still plan to read Carve the Mark (and the Continent actually) but cautiously and while listening to POC reviewers who know better than me.

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    1. There are just some things people won’t realize are problematic until someone points them out. Some of them may be a bit more obvious to others.
      And yeah, I think that’s part of it, to. It’s got a specific name…I want to say ingrained racism, but I’m not 100% positive.
      I knew the whole Carve the Mark thing, obviously, but what’s Continent? I haven’t heard of it.

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  4. this is too funny because I just posted about this subject the other day (with almost the exact same title)! I didn’t come to any conclusions in my post, rather tried to explore the issue and allow people to come to their own conclusions because I honestly think its a tricky issue that’s very emotionally charged.

    I like your take on the issue, though, and I think you’re right in that I think I have always tried to view thinks in a very case-by-case, objective manner and investigate just how offensive something was. I also think the authors intention matters in that authors who made an ignorant mistake are more likely to be open to learning from the situation and correcting the issue, however, authors who are *truly* racist/homophobic/ableist/etc. wont care at all. I’m ok supporting someone who made an ignorant mistake but is willing to learn. but if you’re not? don’t expect to squeeze any money from my wallet! and all of the other points you made I 100% agree with!

    if you’d like to check out my more in depth opinion on the topic, you can check out my post at: https://thebookkeeperssecrets.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/lila-wonders-can-you-like-a-book-that-you-also-find-problematic/

    thanks for giving me more perspective on the topic 🙂

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    1. Great minds clearly think alike!

      And I agree about the authors thing; an author with completely innocent intentions, who might not even realize that the whatever they did was problematic are most likely going to be way more open to hearing reads opinions on why things are problematic than an author who knew it was racist/sexist/homophobic/ablist/ect.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really love Eleanor and Park, which has a lot of problematic material around Park being half Korean. I totally didn’t see it when reading the book, and when it was pointed out, I was defensive at first. But I took some time to process what people were saying, and to remind myself that with micro-aggressions and institutionalized racism, impact matters more than intent. Rowell most likely meant to address racism, not contribute to it, but as white women, both of us have to listen to those who noticed problems in the material.

    But I still like the book.

    I have even more struggles with Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, “Ghosts.” It’s come under a lot of fire for cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. Yet the kids who are most eager to get their hands on it in my classroom are the Latino kids. But maybe that’s because a) they don’t know until they’ve read it what isn’t going to work, or b) they aren’t “woke” enough yet to recognize that not all representation is good.

    Super interesting topic. There is always a lot to think about with this!

    Like

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