I remember the first time I read The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. I was young—still in grammar school—and so the ugliness in it went over my head. It was just a hilarious, rollicking romp through Regency London. I didn’t notice the antisemitism, xenophobia and worship of a privileged and narrow social class.
The Grand Sophy is still a favorite of mine. So are lots of Heyer’s books. But now I read them with my eyes wide open.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is another problematic read. Deeply, disturbingly problematic. I think I was in fifth grade when I first tackled it, and even then I recognized the brutal and rampant racism. I kept reading regardless—and I still come back to the book—because the story of one woman’s rebellion against the strictures of her society and her fight to keep her family from starving (plus the price she paid for both) is just that compelling.
In general, I don’t have a problem spending my money on books with built-in prejudices—I decided that too many literary classics would be off limits if I did. Same thing goes for authors with prejudices, even if their books don’t reflect those views. (Hell, I’ve even joked in my synagogue about how I keep a list of my favorite antisemitic writers.)
But what about a problematic author who—unlike Heyer and Mitchell—is very much alive and current? Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay opinions and politics are well documented. I don’t know how much his prejudices have tainted his books; I don’t recall any homophobia in Ender’s Game. (But friends have advised me that it does show up in other works. The link above mentions them.) I’ve also learned a thing or two from his thoughts on writing. I’ve read, however, that he donates to groups that work against gay rights. For me, that’s a deal breaker. I don’t want to give him money to use against the LGBTQ community.
By the same token, I wonder if I would have kept buying P.D. James’s mysteries if I knew her voting record against gay and lesbian rights. Maybe? I don’t know if she was giving money to anti-gay causes. As it is, I’m just disappointed, because she seemed to write sympathetic gay characters. (There’s also one Adam Dalgliesh book of hers—Original Sin—that some reviewers on Amazon found implicitly antisemitic. I haven’t judged it for myself yet. I skipped that one out of cowardice.)
All that said, I try to remember that my own writing is far from perfect! I accept myself now as an aromantic lesbian, but I’m sure I’d be embarrassed to look back and read the stuff I wrote as a young woman still coming to terms with homosexuality. And even today, I struggle to make my writing more representative of the different races, religions and cultures that are all around me.
Anyway, that’s how I’ve been handling problematic books and authors. How do you feel about them? I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences—and not to judge you! This is a personal decision every reader makes. I don’t think there’s one right answer when it comes to dealing with (or ignoring) an author’s prejudices.