Judging a book by its author
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that there are a lot of controversial authors writing YA novels. Recently, it seems as though a new author to blacklist is revealed every day. It makes it impossible for me to find the energy to pick up their books, because I know that my feelings about the author will impact upon how I read their novel.
But is this fair?
On the one hand, no. If you haven’t read a book, it’s impossible to have an informed opinion of it. The author’s harmful behaviour might be absent from the story. They might write the most realistic characters/setting/plot that you’ve ever encountered. Their book might become your favourite novel of all time.
On the other hand, a story is something created in the mind. If your mind is a place of hatred and bigotry, it’s likely that will express itself in your story in some way, shape or form, no matter how subtly. If you disagree with the opinions an author spouts on social media, it’s likely that you’ll disagree with any morals or ethics featured in their novel.
An author should understand the importance of editing. If that means that they cut their most candid thoughts out of their social media feed, that’s one of the perils of being in the public eye. Social media should not be used as a dumping ground for disgusting diatribes, and anyone who uses it in such a way should not be placing themselves in a position where they can be seen as role models for a younger generation.
Writers should also understand – and respect – the importance of reviews (and the reviewers who write them). It’s true that a review could make or break a book but, as long as the comments made are based on evidence rather than bias, that’s a risk you take by releasing your story into the world. I don’t believe that authors should never read reviews. If they contain constructive criticism and steps to take to improve, they can be valuable for a writers development. However, I do believe that authors should never respond to bad reviews.
A good example of what not to do comes in the form of Taryn Bashford. Bashford, author of The Harper Effect, threatened a reviewer with legal action because she awarded her book a mere two stars. Her review justified why she could only give the book two stars, but Bashford still thought it was appropriate to make slanderous comments in the attempt to discredit her opinion. That backfired, with a large amount of one star reviews flooding in on Goodreads due to her behaviour.
But Bashford is far from the only YA author to come under fire.
Where do I start?
With Michael Grant, who not only implied autistic children were a burden but also responded to a review? (Two black marks against you, Grant).
Or Tommy Wallach and his insensitive jokes about suicide? (YA Interrobang wrote an in-depth article on that debacle).
Or Scott Bergstorm and the #MorallyComplicatedYA storm? (The Daily Dot wrote a great piece on this).
Or Claire Hennessy – the inspiration behind this post – who went on a one-minute-long rating spree, marking diverse novels as one star reads without leaving even a sentence to explain why?
In fairness to Hennessy, she rated the above novels two days ago… It could be a case of review to come, but how rapidly she rated the books makes me doubt that.
As I said earlier, you can’t truly have an informed opinion of a book without reading it yourself. That’s why I’d never rate a book without reading it, no matter how much I disagreed with the behaviour of its author.
However, that doesn’t stop me from judging the books. I have a huge TBR pile, and if an author gives me an excuse to throw their book in an unhaul stack, I’m going to take it. There’s no point in wasting your time reading something that will fill you with rage and irritation, which your preconceived notions will already convince you to be biased against.
This is the reason I’ll probably never read a book by Grant or Wallach (I say probably – pigs might fly!) and will likely be avoiding Hennessy’s novels in the future. It’s a shame, because I adored Nothing Tastes as Good… But I don’t want to support any authors who seem to forget that they have a job which relies on their reputation whenever they log in to social media. It’s easy enough to set up a personal, private account for these things: you don’t have to mix business and pleasure.
How do you feel about problematic authors? Do you give their books a go, or do you automatically blacklist them? Leave your comments down below: I’m interested to get some more thoughts on this topic.
Following the revelations of the past weekend, it would be remiss of me to not edit this post and include a link to this article which was featured on School Library Journal. If you scroll down to the comments, you can see names such as James Dashner, Sherman Alexie and Jay Asher being outed as sexual harassers – behaviour which is far more problematic than the instances I’ve referenced above.
If there was a grey area as to whether it’s acceptable to judge a book by its author, that uncertainty has now been erased. Do not support abusers. Believe victims.
I’d like to thank all of the brave people who are stepping forward and raising their voices, regardless of the backlash that they may receive. Hopefully the publishing industry will listen and take steps to make the YA community a safer place, because authors writing for young people must be held accountable for this kind of atrocious behaviour.