So You Want to Talk about Problematic Authors
I don't generally wade into the cyclical waters of book community discourse, but I do want to touch on the latest discussion of reading (and platforming) problematic authors, and how that ties into my more usual brand of discussing and recommending diverse books.
If you missed this discourse or you just aren't on booktok, have no fear, it's sure to come back up in a month or so, whether on the clock app or in another bookish social media community. To sum it up, some readers are upset that they can't discuss their favorite (problematic) authors.
Now I'm not here to censor anyone or tell others what they can read or where to spend their time or money. Most of us aren't. But there's a difference between what we choose to read and what we choose to platform, especially for those of us who have large followings. No one is monitoring people who hold onto copies of problematic books that got them into reading as a child, or because of nostalgia, or because they didn't have a lot of disposable income in their household and having an entire series in hardback was a big deal, or any other reason. But having the books and having them prominently displayed in the background of posts do not communicate the same message, and they do not have the same impact.
There's also the argument that we read plenty of problematic books from the past and that far enough in the future, some of the books we don't consider problematic now may change as a result of "the times." The fact that progress is good aside, authors who are long gone, many already in public domain even, are not profiting off of book sales and, more importantly, using those profits to continue to perpetuate harm. We can read a book from the past and critically engage with the problematic elements without giving that author a platform to say, "Well people are still buying my books and talking about them, so they must agree with me and my beliefs."
I don't think any of us need me to cite examples, and I don't know that there's much more for me to say about problematic authors specifically. I've already acknowledged how frequently readers repeat these discussions, and I'm not quite full of myself enough to think that I'm out here changing minds. But there are levels of harm done by different authors, and there are varying levels of harm that come with choosing to continue to give them a platform. Where we draw the lines of what we engage with is a personal choice, but that doesn't make those choices exempt from being questioned or critiqued.
But how does this relate back to my brand of recommending diverse books?
Part of the reason I rarely engage with this sort of discourse is because I don't want to give these authors any more of a platform, even through negativity and criticism. The amount of time and energy I have to put into social media is limited, and I would always rather use my platform to focus on authors who I think deserve more positivity. Calling out the use of slurs or harmful content in a book is important to draw attention to the issue and to warn readers who do not want to engage with that or might be triggered by reading it. In some cases, the authors even use the opportunity to learn, to fix the content, and to show readers in the process that they're a creator that can be trusted. We all make mistakes, and we all have things we don't even know that we don't know; it's how we respond once given the opportunity to learn that matters.
But when we spend weeks on weeks rehashing discussions about the authors who double down or ignore the harm, all we do is increase their support from people who want to support the status quo at the expense of marginalized identities and use bandwidth that could be used to uplift authors, readers, and creators from those marginalized communities instead.
Lastly (hopefully lol), there are no tropes written by the problematic faves that can't also be found in books written by diverse authors. Every day there are creators posting amazing lists featuring books with good representation of such a broad range of marginalized identities. Whether we mood read or have specific tropes we love, there is probably already a list out there with fantastic diverse recommendations, often from books that are underhyped and authors who will see so much more benefit from the extra reads than authors with million-reader fandoms.
Picking up and platforming a book by a small, marginalized indie author could be the difference between them being able to write and publish the next book or having to focus on other income avenues until they have another chance to get back to writing.
Anyway, that's all for now. If you don't already follow me on Instagram, that is where I share the majority of my book recs, and I am always happy to answer specific requests if I have a book that fits them! Comment your favorite diverse book or creator who posts diverse book recs <3