Author opinions

Posted October 3, 2016 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

This discussion post was somewhat inspired by Chuck Wendig’s rant about the idea that writers and creative types should keep their political opinions to themselves. It’s Chuck Wendig, so, uh, expect profanity. I know that from the reader side of things, people often don’t want to know what the opinions of authors they like are — who wants to think about the fact that the man who wrote Ender’s Game is a homophobic, racist asshat?

But the thing is, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t interact with authors on twitter, get excited about them interacting with us and RTing silly pictures of cats, and then get annoyed because they’ve expressed an opinion on Brexit or the US elections. If we want them to be humans we can interact with, then we’ve gotta accept that they have opinions too — and also, of course, that they will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and otherwise be flawed humans like the rest of us. We’ve got to accept that they live in the same world as us, and that by giving them an audience we’re also giving them a voice. It’s not a voice we have to listen to, but it is a voice they can use, if they so choose.

As for where I stand on whether I’ll read books by people I disagree with, it’s complex. I don’t want Orson Scott Card to profit by me, for example. But I do accept that authors are going to make mistakes and say things I find less than palatable — I’m thinking, for example, of Elizabeth Bear’s involvement in the fandom discussions called Racefail ’09, or Robin Hobb’s rant about the medicating of mental illnesses. In the end, for me, it’s a matter of degree, and also heavily ruled by gut feeling, and tempered by whether the person seems to have learned from or changed since a given meltdown or argument or horribly expressed opinion. I’ve bought Bear’s books, and I will probably buy more of Hobb’s in future (though goodness knows I’m behind on reading her series). I can’t foresee myself buying Card’s books, though. And I’m on the fence about Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

This is getting away from the point, and I’ve covered it before in my post about Liking Problematic Things. The thing is, I would never contest that people have the right to decide that someone’s politics preclude supporting them financially (by buying their books or tie-in merchandise, or whatever). Likewise, I wouldn’t contest that you have the right to say you like something anyway, and you’re not going to make your escapism a political act by buying or not buying particular books based on the authors’ views. Or any part of the spectrum between those two.

The thing now is that people are saying authors shouldn’t express their opinions. They’re interested only in their art and they don’t want to know what they think of feminism or gay marriage. Well, okay, that’s totally fine — so just read their work, and don’t follow them on social media. If someone turns out to be unpleasant as a person on social media, unfollow them and keep reading their books, or never pick up another again, it’s up to you. (Me? I don’t follow Nnedi Okorafor or Ekaterina Sedia anymore, for various reasons; I still read their books.)

But it’s surely not revolutionary to point out that authors are people, who have to live in the same world as us. If they have any influence, any platform, it’s what we give them by being interested in their lives outside the pages of their books. Of course they’re going to use that to get across their opinions — and it’s our responsibility to opt out if we’re not interested.

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6 responses to “Author opinions

  1. Totally agree that authors are regular folks like everyone else who are free to express their views, and I respect those who decide to do so. But I am also one of those readers who prefers not to know. I wish I could say I am a superhuman who can completely separate the person from the art without letting any existing bias (whether positive or negative) affect me, but I am not and cannot. When I read a book, ideally I want to judge the work based purely on its own merits, but as we all know that is really hard to do when even the tiniest tidbit can have the potential to influence perception. That’s why I don’t follow a lot of the more politically outspoken authors on Twitter, social media etc. Whether I agree with their views or not, I am reviewing their books and not who they are, and as long as an author keeps pumping out good stories that I enjoy (and aren’t deliberately using their books as a mouthpiece to preach, etc), I will keep reading. You are right in that we can’t have it both ways, so I choose to keep the fun part of reading while opting out of knowing the opinion side of things.

    • Exactly; if it’s something you’d rather keep separate, following the authors is probably not a good idea. Yet there’re people who complain “get back to writing and stop having opinions on politics!” Whaaa.

  2. I think it’s entirely odd that people don’t want authors to express opinions! What do they think BOOKS are?!? Books are opinions!! Just because it’s tied up in a neat story, doesn’t mean the author isn’t talking about social issues there too, so it makes sense that they should be allowed to talk about them online as well. *nods* I totally agree with you saying “and it’s our responsibility to opt out if we’re not interested.” <— Yes. *nods*

    • Yes, that too! So many books are motivated by the author’s beliefs… if they weren’t, they’d be pretty boring. People write about things they’re interested in and care about, obviously!

  3. I sometimes follow authors BECAUSE they express opinions outside their writing, it’s natural that they want to do so. Some authors are more present on social media and while it’s not all related to their writing, it’s certainly important. The problem with authors is that their name = their brand, so they can’t really disassociate their work from their personal stuff, unless they use a pen name.

    That said, I’ve unfollowed authors if their tweets were bothering me – though I’ve yet to find a case where I enjoyed a book and the author was a complete a**hole. But I don’t always follow authors online – I only search out those that really wowed me with their writing. So I might have inadvertently bought books from nasty people – wow, that’s a weird thought.

    But then books are products if you think about it – I’ve probably watched movies made by nasty people, eaten bread made by nasty people … you get my point. 🙂

    Great discussion!
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    • Yes, indeed! Sometimes, the opinions are more interesting than the books, or lead me to the books, or just enrich the books because they add a layer of understanding.

      It isn’t a nice thought, but I try not to worry about anything I’ve done unknowingly. I’ve bought some authors’ books I might not support now, but I didn’t know that at the time. (Looking at you, Orson Scott Card.)

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