Columns, Opinion

World of Literati: Under the right circumstances, we can and should separate work from writer

As readers or consumers of any piece of entertainment, we will at some point come across authors whose opinions we might not agree with. For example, Orson Scott Card — the novelist who wrote “Ender’s Game” — has made extremely offensive, racist and homophobic comments in the past.

When authors or creators behave in a problematic manner, a question arises of what to do with their work. Are we still allowed to enjoy their books? And if we do, what does it say about us?

Separating the author from their product is tricky. We can claim that liking a book is not analogous to liking or praising its author, but then what do we do about the authors we revere for their excellent work? Should we decline to praise them, too, under the logic that liking a book is different from liking the author?

Not necessarily. An author is not their book, but they are an extension of it. Who the author is as a person usually leaks onto the pages, and to some extent shapes the themes and messages that come across to the reader.

If we read a book and learn that the author actively gives to charity or supports good causes, the book feels “better” to us. However, if we find out the author ostracizes a certain group of people, the book is taken with a grain of salt.

The separation of author from novel will vary case by case. When an author is accused of a serious crime, such as sexual assault or violence, we should not separate them from their work. Any literary merit their book may have cannot possibly compare to the pain of the victims, and in cases like these, the author deserves no credit or compensation.

When it comes to an author having controversial or offensive opinions, separation between novel and novelist can be employed so long as there is transparency. For instance, if “Ender’s Game” is being read for a book club, the discussion leader should make it clear that Orson Scott Card has made hurtful remarks in the past.

This isn’t to dissuade people from reading the book, or even to make them read it with a biased perspective. Rather, it encourages people to properly address the controversy surrounding the author so that problematic comments do not go disregarded. After this conversation, readers can still go on to focus on the content of the book.  

Even if one considers a book to be an extension of its author, there is still a difference between the author’s opinions and the narrator’s opinions. The narrator is not always a mouthpiece for the author to insert themselves. The author’s personal opinions may not always match the narrator’s, and vice versa.

There can still be value in a book despite its author’s hurtful statements in real life. For example, “Ender’s Game” has a 4.3 out of 5 rating on Goodreads based on tens of thousands of reviews. People still enjoyed this book and learned from it, despite Card’s problematic sentiments.

The reason a work can be separated from writers who share offensive or hurtful statements is because the book may not necessarily be the tool the author used to share that sentiment. The only way to truly know if a book is hurtful is to read it and view it separately from its author.   




One Comment

  1. OSC isn’t really a problematic author. What is his big sin? To be against gay marriage? You can object to that. But calling a mainstream position hatefull, when it comes to moral values seems over the top. Can we please get back to adressing arguments and not destroy peoples lives because of some political disagreement or having different moral judgements?