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Life, Law & Libros

Discussion: Boycotting Books

11 comments
I recently read a post debating whether to purchase books written by authors with whose views or actions you disagree. Both the post and comments were really interesting; the majority seemed to agree that poor behavior as an "author" was justification for avoiding a book (or at least not purchasing it); but there were mixed sentiments regarding authors' personal views and beliefs, particularly if an author was known to use some of his/her earnings to support causes with which you disagree.
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I understand not supporting authors who behave unprofessionally or treat their readers badly. It's a job. Do cruddy work or behave disrespectfully toward your buyers, and you'll probably get fired. Boycotting an author because of personal views or beliefs is a little more complicated. It's been weighing on my mind, and I needed to write this post to gather my thoughts. It's a hard question: is it okay to boycott books based on the author's personal beliefs?

I recognize that we're all free to read (or not read) whatever we want based on whatever criteria, including an author's actions/beliefs. The fact that we have that freedom is great. At the same time, I want to be careful. Obviously, if I know a book to have "trigger content" that will result in a less enjoyable reading experience, I probably won't spend money on it. However, if an author believes (random example) the sky is green and cats are aliens, but none of this appears in his/her books, why not? I like the book and happen to disagree with the author on unrelated subjects.

I realize it doesn't always seem that simple, especially when the issues in play are ones to which we have strong emotional responses. To that end, knowing as little about an author as possible can be a good thing. Ignorance is bliss and all that. If I'm aware an author says or does something I don't support, it can make me sad and affect the way I view the author.

At the same time, what if this author were a friend? I have friends with whom I strongly disagree on politics, spirituality, food, books, etc. But when we hang out, we find common ground and have fun.
Hypothetical Situation:
Let's say I'm a die hard Communist. I frequently hang out with my friend, Joe, who is a die hard monarchist. We both love bowling and action films and tacos, so we bowl, watch movies and eat tacos all the time. For my birthday, I ask for money. Joe is aware that I will probably donate some of my birthday money to a Communist organization, with which he vehemently disagrees. But he gives me money for my birthday anyway because it's not about what I do with the money once I have it and it's mine. It's about giving a friend a birthday gift because he enjoys spending time together and having fun.
I know that's not a great analogy, and it's rarely that simple, especially when authors' views often appear in their books. I get not buying a product you know you won't enjoy. I also get not wanting your money to go to causes or programs you don't agree with. But if a book can be that piece of common ground that brings people together, is it better to try stories we may wind up liking, or cut out everyone who thinks and believes differently than us?

Is it good or okay or whatever to judge and boycott authors based on their personal beliefs? Is it more like "boycotting" or "blacklisting"? Can the art be appreciated separate and apart from the artist? Have we lost the art of agreeing to disagree? I don't have a clear, one-size-fits-all answer, and I'm still mulling over the finer details of these and other questions. In the end, books are products, like chips or soda, and we're free to buy and read, or not, as we choose. But, for me, I want to make sure I think carefully before I make the decision to freeze an author out.

I don't want to dictate what anyone should or shouldn't buy. I just want to share some of my thoughts on the issue and ask for yours. What do you guys think? Is this something that has come up for you due to author behavior or beliefs? There are consumers who boycott products of companies for various reasons. Should authors be treated like corporations in that respect, lauded or condemned for their personal views (regardless of whether those views appear in their work)?

11 comments :

  1. I am pretty hypocritical on this. For one, I don't do extensive research on every author so have no doubt financed a few people I'd rather not. For the most part I do separate art from artist but I have some exceptions. For example I will never financially support Orson Scott Card. His views are horrible, but for me the line is that I know he puts his money into groups that actively support legislation I find to be the lowest depths of humanity. He can hold his stupid views if he wants, but I don't want my money going to support groups that actively work on those stupid views behalf.

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    1. I remember seeing Card's name pop up in the comments on that post I read. I don't know much about his views except that a lot of people were angry. But this sounds like one of those situations that has my brain thinking overtime. Where do we draw the line in separating books from their authors and those authors' personal views/finances? Does the nature of being an author (especially in today's digital world) make it impossible to separate the professional and the personal? Or is the melding of the two more an indication of a cultural shift in society?

      Also, curious moment: I know you said you wouldn't financially support Card, but would you still, say, borrow his books from the library to read?

      Thanks for commenting! :)

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  2. For me, it's a matter of: does the author use their profession - their writing - as a platform to push their personal agendas on the their readers? If an author does that, then I have an extremely hard time supporting them by giving them my money. But authors who do this often end up sacrificing a good story for agenda-pushing, and I wouldn't want to buy the book anyway due to weak characters and plot. It's an issue that, for me, can often solve itself. But like you, I also a lot of times take the "ignorance is bliss" approach. I don't want to know the author's personal beliefs/opinions because it shouldn't matter when it comes to appreciating their books. But if I know, it unfortunately will.

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    1. My writing profs always said to write a story first and worry about enhancing its "themes" later because it would sound like heavy-handed soapboxing if you consciously tried to write a particular theme or message. I think there's definitely some truth to that. I think you're right: if an author is very deliberate about injecting his/her personal views into stories, it will probably be evident in either the storytelling or the content- which would affect my purchasing decision without knowing anything about the author personally.

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  3. I don't tend to know much about even my favorite authors. There are maybe 2-3 that I actually know things about. And it's usually because I don't want to find out something that would upset me enough to make me not want to keep reading their books.

    Bad behavior would make me stop reading books by that author, depending on how bad and what exactly they did. Differences in our beliefs, not so much. Again, depending on what they do. Believing that maybe, the sky is sky-blue-pink say, I'd be like 'okay really?' and go on with my life and reading their books. But being an obnoxious hate-monger and telling people they're going to hell and chasing down people in the street screaming at the tops of their lungs about it or something if they don't believe that the sky is sky-blue-pink might turn me off reading any more of their stuff. *grins*

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    1. So it sounds like a really strong negative association, particularly one involving not just a belief but accompanying action, is enough to deter you from buying an author's work, regardless of whether that belief appears in the writing. Which is why it can be great not delving into the personal lives of authors, right? ;)

      Thanks for commenting! :)

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  4. Personally I try to stay away from the personal views of authors because for that very reason I don't want it to change what I would possibly read if I were already interested in it. The few times I haven't been able to avoid the drama it has effected my desire to read the book. So knowing this about myself I try not to put myself in that situation. But that doesn't always work either because I LIKE following authors on social media. But usually I don't start following them til after I've read and enjoyed their book so hey usually at that point I'm not effected. Especially considering I'm already really choosey lately about which series I continue to move forth on.

    I do however tend to stay away from books that I think based on descriptions and reviews sound like they get soap boxy about certain topics just because. I can't stand when a book is used as a soap box for any issue whether its politics, religion, race, sex etc - it's just not why I'm reading a book.

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    1. I think you're right. Reading the book first makes it easier to dissociate the authors from their work if you learn something down the road. If you already know the point of conflict doesn't appear in the writing, it's easier to agree to disagree and not think about it.

      Soap boxing generally doesn't result in a fun reading experience. I tend to weed out the soap boxy books too based on the content's likelihood to fail to entertain.

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  5. I had to think about this one for awhile. I can't say what I think is 'right' but it is how I interact with the entertainment industry. I really just don't pay attention to the person 'behind the curtain' (sorry, Oz). WIth Hollywood actors, I don't think I would like pretty much any of them in real life, but I love their character in the TV show/movie. So I would much rather leave it that way. I don't try to get to know them irl, because once I do it ruins that 'image' (which is fake I know but I love it so much more than the real thing). Plainly, it ruins my enjoyment factor.
    So I think the same with authors. I don't try to get to know them too well, and I always avoid all the drama. Because once I know that person is soapboxing about something I don't agree with, it taints their work. Once I know, I can't unknow.
    And of course this all depends on what they are soapboxing about. If it is something I think is 'minor', I do try and separate the author from the work.
    ....yup! Hope some of that makes sense!

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    1. I love the Oz comparison, Alyssa! I definitely see your point. It can be difficult to dissociate an author from his/her work, especially if the issue in question is a "major" one for you. Thanks for commenting!

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