|Damn, this homophobia sure gets
in the way of writing good stories.
Several news articles and blog posts I’ve read lately* have gotten me to thinking about how knowing about an author’s personal politics or past misdeeds (or actual crimes) can turn readers off of reading that author’s books–sometimes forever. Of course, ten minutes with a book of literary biographies can show your authors that believed in fairies (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), authors that believed they could communicate with spirits (Victor Hugo), authors that were anti-Semites (Ezra Pound), and authors that abandoned their wives (William Shakespeare).
There’s been a lot of noise about Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay marriage stance in the last couple of years. Chris Sprouse, an illustrator, quit rather than work with Card on a comic for DC because of Card’s politics and homophobia. But, I really liked reading Card’s novel Enchantment, and his Ender’s Game series is as popular as ever. While his opinions are repellent to me, I would re-read Enchantment. Jonah Lehrer’s plagiarism and fabrication bother me more, but I wasn’t really planning on reading his books anyway because the topics don’t interest me.
The writer of the hatchet job article linked below, David Sexton, had an interesting point about using book reviews as a platform to take down authors who needed it (for various reasons). While I like the article, I think, in the end, that books have to stand on their own and be fairly reviewed for their own merits. There are other places to excoriate authors. After all, we still read Shakespeare and Doyle and Pound and Hugo, because their books and plays and poems are so good that we can’t stay away no matter how repellent the authors’ attitudes and prejudices. I don’t think anyone would argue that that their behaviors are acceptable; I certainly won’t make that argument.
* “In praise of a literary tradition: the hatchet job,” by David Sexton
“Ugly Artists and Beautiful Art,” by my friend Deb.
“Update: Jonah Lehrer sold his new book,” by Daniel Engberger