Separating the author from the work

The third of my three panels at PhilCon was entitled “Separating the Author from the Work,” and it took place at 10 a.m. on Sunday, in Plaza V, up on the Mezzanine floor, which was not the largest venue in the house.  It was, however, full, which, given the day and the hour, points to. . .rather a lot of interest in this topic.

My co-panelists were Ian Randall Strock, Peter Prellwitz, Oz Drummond, and Muriel Hykes, our fearless moderator.

The panelists quickly found out why there was so much interest in this topic.

It was because the topic was So Broad.

Muriel, for instance, wanted to talk about authors/actors behaving badly, which is to say, people who don’t know when not to say something, people who, as one of the members of the audience put it, “need handlers.”

Oz wanted to talk about the whole Requires Hate scandal (if you, like me, are out of the loop on the scandal, details and what I’m assured is a balanced accounting may be had from Laura Mixon.  Here’s a link to the PDF file. )

Ian, who had done a similar panel at Arisia, and had been blindsided by the opinions of his fellow panelists, had come ready to address those views.

I wanted to talk about the misconceptions non-writers have about the writing process that apparently leads them to believe that everything a fiction author writes about faithfully reflect that author’s beliefs, and about the disgraceful behavior surrounding this year’s Hugo ballot (by which I do not mean the Sad Puppy Campaign, though I have and had certain philosophical problems with it, but do mean the crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who felt it was acceptable to publicly vilify their ballot-mates for “ruining” “their” ballot).

(I’m not leaving Peter out, but, if he came in with an agenda, it was not obvious to me.  His remarks during the course of our conversation led me to believe that he felt writers ought not to be interfered with in their work, or pre-emptively censored on Certain Topics; and that it was perfectly possible for Bad People to create Good Art.)

Members of audience wanted to talk about other things, still, including the alleged behavior Walter Breen, and the alleged involvement of Marian Zimmer Bradley, and All Of Sixties Fandom, in those behaviors; the need for warning labels on books; and the belief that an author’s culture and the prevailing beliefs and/or mores of the time are no excuse for said author to have had, and expressed in their fiction, what we now know to be Bad Thoughts.

No wonder the room was full, right?

I’m not going to recap the whole thing — for the very good reason that I can’t remember it all — but I am going to talk about a couple of things that interest  — and concern — me, as a writer, and as a reader.

One of those is this idea of warning labels on books so that readers don’t get “hurt” by the content of the books.  I am on record in several places (including at this panel) as believing that this as idiotic a notion as I ever heard.  Do we get warning labels in Real Life?  We do not.  Insofar as fiction is “practice” for Real Life, warning labels defuse the efficacy of the practice.

I also have some very real problems with the idea that we can be “hurt” — that we can take actual harm — from the people/situations/ideas we find in books.  Books have a wonderful safety program built into them.  Have you just read something that makes you uneasy?


Yes.  You can shut the book.  You can put it down.  You have the option of never picking it up again.  You have the option of going for a walk and thinking about The Thing That Upset You, coming to terms, and picking the book back up.  Real Life is not safe; ideas are not safe; the whole world does not necessarily agree with you (or with me), but books offer you that vital safety valve that Real Life never does — you can close the covers and take a breather.

The particular need for a warning label that came up in the panel was one of the Peter Wimsey novels, which has much to do with people who are Jewish.  The assertion from the audience member was that the book needed a warning label, because all the rest of the Wimsey books were perfectly enjoyable, these Bad Thoughts were particularly hurtful to the reader.

Needless to say, this assertion baffles me.  I can’t begin to count the number of ghastly, hateful, vicious, stupid, and just plain wrong portrayals of women that I’ve read in my reading career.  Did they “hurt” me?  Did I think the author was specifically and personally talking about me? No, I did not. Now, they may have hurt you, my readers, because I determined to get it right, when I started writing.  Of course, I also decided not to write men as testosterone-drunk thugs who only know how to screw and destroy, too, so that could just be me.

Along with the warning labels was Ian’s description of the Arisia panel, in which his co-panelists apparently said that some books — by Robert Heinlein and HP Lovecraft, for instance — ought not to be read by right-thinking people.  Because the authors are contemptible.

Not the work of the authors.

The authors, themselves.

Which is pretty scary, all things considered.

One of the reasons I read — and write — science fiction is that, given that all fiction is practice for Real Life; science fiction is practice for the future.  In science fiction, we’ve created a safe place where we can lay out the moral dilemmas of the future, and let them unravel.  We can say, for instance, “OK, we want everybody to be SAFE?  Let’s look at (one way) having an utterly safe world might play out.”  We can do this — and things like this — because we’re telling a story.  We’re not preaching a sermon; we’re playing a game of Let’s Pretend.

I said as much, and Ian agreed that this was also why he read science fiction, but that, in his opinion, his co-panelists at Arisia wanted, not experimentation, not What-If, but validation  of their own belief system.  They didn’t want to entertain a variant viewpoint, and found variant viewpoints to be wrong, and unworthy of being read.

(Which begs the whole question of how do you know something’s unworthy of being read unless you read it, but I’ve already got ‘way too much on my plate, here, so we’ll leave that one for the moment.)

Around about here someone from the audience asked the question about “leakage.”  Which is to say, if the author, in their private life, habitually has Bad Thoughts, how do they insure that such thoughts do not leak over into their fiction?

Now, the true and sincere answer to this is — you probably can’t.  If you’ve built a world — like the Liaden Univese®, let’s say, that has its rules firmly in place — then your worldbuilding is going keep out a lot of leakage.  Most authors that I know try to tell a True Story, by which I mean a story that is in keeping with the characters and the world they’ve created.

But there’s another facet of this “leakage” that no one ever talks about.  Readers who want to complain about Bad Authors having Bad Thoughts and putting those Bad Thoughts into their fiction, are missing exactly half of the contract between the reader and the writer.

See, while every book has a writer, who comes complete with a past, and a society, and experiences, and thoughts, some bad, some good, some boring and venal. . .

While every book has a writer, every book also has a reader.

And every reader comes complete with a past, and a society, and thoughts, and experiences, and expectations.

I write a book; I hand it to you.  You read the book.

We have, between us, interacted with two different books, not only because our relationships to the work — creator and consumer — are different, but because we, as people, are different.

If there are Bad Things in your book, the writer may (may) not have put them there.

If there are Bad Things in your book, the author may have done that on purpose.  It may be an intellectual exercise.  It might not be, but here’s the key — just because someone has presented an idea, you are not forced to accept it. It will, yes, become part of your life’s experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Being able to think a wide range of thoughts can only be a good thing, right?

And, honestly, the same person — reader, writer, taxi cab driver — is, by virtue of being human, Perfectly Capable of having Bad Thoughts, Good Thoughts, Mediocre Thoughts, and Thoughts that Make No Sense.  Simultaneously.  This is why, in a perfect universe, we bounce ideas off of each other.

This is why, in a perfect universe, we read and write science fiction.

This is why we read books even if we suspect they may not be very good books, or if, perhaps, they may contain Bad Thoughts.  A bad book may, for instance, contain a single transcendent scene that alters the way you think about that thing that happened to you in sixth grade that makes it important to you and your life.

Human beings are complex; our thoughts and our hearts and our works are also complex.

That’s a feature, not a bug.


Time is the Simplest Thing, by Clifford Simak, appears to be available as an ebook (amazon ) and also as a used mmp.  If you’ve never read this, I suggest that you do so.  NOTE:  I have no idea what sort of person Clifford Simak was, what his politics may have been, or if he ever had a Bad Thought.  Certainly, however, given one of themes of this story, he Knew About Thoughts, and Tools, and Hearts, and Complexity.


21 thoughts on “Separating the author from the work”

  1. Well-put. I read to be entertained and occasionally forced to think. The best fiction makes me think a LOT. The value judgement is up to me as the reader. I may think the book is a Horrible Warning instead of a Good Example. Jonathan Swift’s MODEST PROPOSAL that the Irish turn cannibal is a classic Horrible Warning. I hated it. But it made me think.

    Knowing how badly behaved the writer is/was makes me uneasy but does not detract from the story.

  2. Here’s my problem with separating the writer and the book. I Do not want to support, in any way, pedophiles, rapists or abusers. If I read a book by, for example, Bill Cosby, I am supporting a man who attempted to rape, or did rape, about 20 teenage girls and women. (Yes, I believe them, and no, I don’t think it is odd that they didn’t come forward before this. I was date raped in 1986 and I didn’t go to the police or come forward for probably the same reason many of these women didn’t. Because no one will believe you, because they will judge you if they do believe you, and will blame you, the victim, for the crime, and revile and humiliate you). Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog” was passed around in my junior high school when I was in 7th grade. It concerns boys hunting girls down like animals and raping them. There were several rapes at my junior high because of boys reading this novella. Would they have done their evil deeds without having read a Boy and His Dog? I don’t think so, because they found the book to be a kind of training for how to accomplish rape. Does a book like that bring great things into the world of discourse? Not really.

  3. A Boy and His Dog concerns a boy and his telepathic, self-serving dog, who are wandering a post-apocalyptic world. Vic, the boy, and Blood, the dog, have a symbiotic relationship — i.e. neither can survive without the other. Vic is a teenage boy and so sex is naturally on his mind. So is food, because there isn’t much. With Blood’s help, Vic finds a girl whom he can love, but must kill her so that Blood can survive.

    It’s not my favorite Ellison, mostly because it reminds me of the joke: My grandmother went to the market to buy two chickens. When she got them home, she realized that one of the chickens was very poorly. She therefore did what any grandmother would do: she killed the well chicken to make soup for the sick one.

    However. What we have here is the idea that Certain Books with Bad Ideas in them ought to be banned, or hidden, or not published because someone, somewhere might use the excuse that they read about these Bad Ideas in a book as an excuse to do Bad Things.

    I reject this, utterly.

    I also reject the notion that “bad people” cannot make good art.

    And I wonder — who will we get to decide which books will bring great things to the world of discourse? Which books will save someone’s life? What if it’s the same book?

    Ultimately, people are responsible for their own actions.

  4. I hate what Bill Cosby is accused of doing.
    However, I loved his comedy. I memorized all of his albums back in the 60s and 70s.
    I can dislike him personally and abhor what he has done (if in fact he is guilty), but that doesn’t make his comedy any less funny. Should I feel guilty for laughing at it back then?
    Also – I don’t want warning labels on books. That seems ridiculous. Who is to decide what thoughts are “wrong”? It’s scary to think where this could go.

  5. Wow. Lots and lots of thoughts bouncing around.
    I’d be a BAD MAN if all the bad things I read effected me in bad ways
    I think John ringo wrote a piece a while back on “I am not my characters”
    Heinlein was such a bad man I can’t read him? What did he do, I thought he was a good guy?
    I’ve not read A Boy and His Dog (though I’ve read a lot of Harlan, who has written some very good BAD things) I have seen the movie though not in a few years and as I recall the boy gets raped not the girl, though things do not end well for her.
    I’m willing to be the thought police for anyone who thinks they need one but I am not willing to let anyone else be that for me (to the extent I can control this in a modern world)
    There’s an effectively infinite number of books you can read, if you don’t like one don’t read it. Life doesn’t have a required reading list.
    I wish I’d been at this talk and a good bar after.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

  6. I agree with all you have said. As a librarian and a liberal I think books should NOT have warning labels. That is censorship. If you don’t like the story, put it down. I could not read Salman Rushdie’s book. Quit at the first chapter. No matter how great it supposedly was I could not read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Again quit half way through. Not because they were bad, they just did not interest me. There are lots of authors whose politics and personal interests do not interest me, but I love their books. They are Not their characters, plots, etc. If there are sections that begin to bother me, I either skim through, or shut the book until I calm down–then finish it. School boys copying “A boy and a dog” should have been punished, not for reading, for copying it. Just as any youngster copying “Lord of the Flies” should. Again, I love Bill Cosby’s humor, especially around the time of the “alleged” rapes (or attempted rapes). I believe them because he had such a reputation, they would have been slapped down and not believed. Rich, cocky (used deliberately), famous young men can get away with a lot….see today’s football players on campuses all over the country. That does not mean he was not and still is a funny comedian. Reading is for entertainment, information, and dreaming….no labels required.

  7. I find I can be more lenient with older books as far as outdated ideas, prejudice, and leakage situations go. The lit major in me enjoys reading from the historical angle and if I removed all of the questionable historical figures/authors from my education there would be very little remaining to read.

    I can be much less forgiving with current authors. If something is particularly sexist…I don’t have time for that even if they claim it follows the rules of their particular ‘verse. Sexist Universe is the one I live in already. I can read a newspaper or poke my head out the door for that. There are some famous fantasy series that I just can’t be bothered with because of those choices. And like you said — if I don’t like it I can shut the book. And sometimes donate a stack of new books to the library to appease my “don’t ever throw out a book” rule.

    I have to admit if an author is known for tweeting sexist things or whatnot I will suspect leakage. It’s hard not to start looking over your shoulder as a reader once you’re tipped off to something “off” about an author. Normally I try to not learn that much about the person writing to avoid those conflicts (…I say as I write on an author’s blog…). But sometimes an author quite famously donates to a hate group and I have to take a good hard look at the situation and decide that I cannot give him money by buying his books because I know where part of it goes.

  8. I only know what is true for me. I only know what I think is good or bad. I do not know what is Truth or Good & Bad for anyone else. I do not need warning labels. I do not want censorship. I do not tell other people what to do or think.

    The author or artist is not their work. I create art to provoke thought or reaction but I don’t intend to control. If you don’t like a painting don’t look at it. If you don’t like a book don’t read it. If you don’t like an author or artist then don’t support them by buying their work. But DON’T tell me what I can or cannot look at or read or think.

  9. I agree with you. I don’t think books should come with warning labels for another reason–related to “fiction is practice for life.” One of the skills you need in life is the gut sense that you need to get the heck out of a situation right this instant. (It may not be a situation that’s bad for everyone, but it may be bad for you.) You can hone that intuition in fiction…I have backed out of books like a cat backing out of a sticky puddle, shaking my mental paws and finding a way to wash them off without licking them.

    Can books actually hurt? Some people yes. I am one of those people for a few things, but that’s how I acquired a life-sense that has probably saved me considerable grief. But books more often cause me discomfort of the healthy sort. The “Maybe you don’t know as much as you think you do” sort, and since they’re books I can, as you say, take a break from them, go think for awhile, and then decide if I want to explore that whatever-it-was some more. There are books I choose not to read. At my age, I have no spare time to spend on books that bore me. Even a little. Learning is not always comfortable. Being led to see another’s very different viewpoint is not always comfortable (!!!!); when the doors to a new landscape are thrown open, that first gust of wind may be too cold or too hot or smell really peculiar.

    But would I want books that showed me only what I know already, that soothed me constantly with “You’re right, you’re right, you’re perfectly right, yes, yes, dear, and here’s a sugarplum?” No. Books were my way out of a narrow, limited circumstance when I was young, books showed me new places, people, things, ideas…some I liked and some I didn’t, but that’s Real Life. There are things I personally want to change in Real Life–impacts I want to have (probably won’t have, but want to) but I don’t want to be protected from the stuff I want to change–I want to be up to my elbows changing it.

    There’s more but I may write a post about it on one of my sites.

  10. Related to the Writer/Reader contract, one of my favorites in school was responding to the question of “What was the author trying to say?”

    Gads. As I am not the author I can only guess what they were thinking/wanting to say. High odds my answer was clearly nowhere close to the author’s intent. As this was before the Internet, there were no handy web pages explicitly discussing the author, and especially not Web blogs where we could actually easily chat or communicate with authors where they share their thoughts to their readers.

    Whatever my answer was, generally was based on my interpretation of the story and meaning. Which of course is based on my upbringing, societal markers, what else I was reading at the time, etc etc. AND, there was always a correct answer that the teacher was looking for (which was again probably based off their political leaning?, society, school instruction, upbringing, etc!!) So you learned to look for and identify what the teacher was looking for… not necessarily what you thought the author was thinking when they wrote the story.

    Regarding leakage…
    There are numerous authors that, even when they have multiple different stories or even universes their characters play in, constantly bring certain elements into most of their books (be it the conclusion that the educational system is totally flawed and always causes any of those author’s stories to end it societal failure, or that horses and Aunts constantly show up, or Cats for that matter!) There are elements of an author that of course do leak into their stories… it has to be easier and more enjoyable to write about things that interest you and what you want to write about, so it makes sense that aspects of what an author likes, believes, etc will show up.

    Regarding understanding that the author is not their characters…

    John Ringo, as was brought up earlier, is a good example. Sure, his Paladin of Shadows series (Ghost, Kildar, etc) can be viewed as having offensive content (Mr. Ringo acknowledges this and I believe he wrote the story because he was stuck with a severe Writers block from the perspective that his storytelling muse would not let him write anything else he needed to write until Ghost was put to paper (or at least computer)… which has turned into a successful series for him/Baen.)

    One of my favorites is the liking of movie stars, etc based on the characters they play in the movies. Sure, just like leakage, there are some actors/actresses who’s personality seems to show up in every movie they are in – so, perhaps a certain degree we can understand what they are like to a certain perspective. But, I cringe when I hear someone say about an actor “oh, so and so is such a nice person”. No, if you are basing your judgement on who they are from their characters, you have no idea who they actually are! (they may be such a nice person in reality, but movies, are not generally, reality).

    Incidentally, I challenge you to ‘know’ Gary Oldman based off the characters he plays. I am always amused that I can be watching movie and suddenly realize halfway through it that Gary Oldman totally involved as a character…

    … and yes, if there is a book I do not like, I generally will stop reading it. (I can turn off the TV too). But I can do this with books easily as I do have favorite authors that I have stuffed into my bookshelf, computer, and e-book reader. It is an expensive habit, as I like to own the books since I not only read new, but I also I re-read often. A sample of current favorites… David Weber, Lee & Miller, Ringo, Tanya Huff, Tad Williams, David Brin, Iain Banks, Tom Clancy, Frank Herbert, Eric Flint, Timothy Zhan, Eric Van Lustbader, Elizabeth Moon, Stephen Coonts, James Clavell, Diana Gabaldon, Stephen Hunter, etc etc etc.

    Enough of my rambling. Perhaps back to continuing to re-read Theo and the ramifications of getting kicked out of Anlingdin.

    To our intrepid authors, keep writing, we’ll keep reading.
    – Jacques

  11. Yes! Just as I can be entertained by a film whose director, writer(s) and actors live lives I must disparage, I can read a book to find out how someone has arrived at their obviously, to me, wrong-headed opinions. Or perhaps that book will make a crack in my own system through which new understanding might appear! It’s one of the frightening possibilities we live with, those of us who do not allow Authorities to sanitize the world for us. These are words of wisdom that you have uttered, Sharon.
    I’ll keep MZB’s books on my shelf, although I was horrified to hear about her life, because she did not bake poisoned cakes for us: she wrote, and we the readers can consume and judge for ourselves what is good, and what is not.

  12. I’ve probably read through a dozen articles and their comments on warning labels for books. In every single one of them I’ve noticed how very quickly the “suggested warnings” spiral out of control in these discussions. They almost immediately turn into a list of everyone’s squicks and how their personal buttons need to be respected. How do you even begin to have a sensible conversation when people can’t distinguish between “This book has a graphic torture scene” and “No one told me the hero had a pet snake. I don’t like snakes and shouldn’t have to read about them.” If you can’t even have a sensible conversation how could you ever imagine you’d get a sensible system?

  13. “Responding to the question of “What was the author trying to say?” Actually Jacques you’re likely being too hard on teachers for this one. What they are really doing is trying to get students to really think about what they are reading, at least themes as well as plot. This isn’t easy as students hate open-ended questions, they much prefer quick answers so they can go back to texting their friends. As long as the students can back up their responses with examples from the text, the teacher is generally satisfied. Paying lipservice to a teacher’s sacred cows can usually be avoided by a really, really, well thought out alternate view. I once did a major paper that was basically “Why I hate romantic poetry” for an early 19th C. romantic poetry course, knowing full-well the chance I was taking. I got away with it because I wrote a damn good paper.
    Actually come to think about it, Byron et al. are very good illustrations of the separation of the author from the work. They all wrote very sensitive, emotional and romantic verse yet in historical hindsight seem to have been insensitive louts and general a**holes in life.

  14. I think that people forget one important word in this discussion. These works are fiction, and that means it is not real. The stories are made up, yes with the influences that each author has had in there lives, but it is still fiction. But even if we were talking about non-fiction, there are still “bad thoughts” in those stories. If you look to stories that came from world war II and the holocaust, there are many ” bad thoughts” described therein. But it is what you take from these “bad thoughts” that matters. If you look at something and you say this really bad, then maybe it will open your eyes to be able to perceive it, if it does happen in your real world. As a teacher I have read stories about child predators. Those are some “very bad” stories, but from that I became more aware of signs that my students may be giving. That is a good thing from a bad thought. If something I read helps me prevent something bad from happening, then I am very glad to have read it even if it is “bad”.

  15. To me, reading — about things I want to experience, things I don’t, things I didn’t know could be experienced — is for safely doing what I will never do. I just finished LeGuin’s “The Telling” today. Will I ever travel across forever to a place and time that exists only in a gifted person’s imagination? Yes, thank goodness, I did just now. Will I jump over a cliff (spoiler alert was due, I guess) because someone in the book does? Not unless what I read reverberates so deeply that I feel it as a validation never before felt — in which case I brought something to the book that combines with something in me. To blame the book, or the author, is to pretend books are read in a bubble outside life.
    We are all flawed. My relevant flaw, here, is that I am unable to imagine things that take me out of my own life. As a teen/young adult, finding authors who did saved my life. I read Harlan Ellison avidly; the pain and horror he spread with a pallet knife somehow helped. Now, middle aged, I cannot read him, as I cannot re-read Stephen Donaldson. I hope they reach others who need them now — or even those who read them from an entirely space. Time spent reading about something reprehensible is at least time not spent DOING it.
    Authors, comics, people who step out of the crowd to give us something other than our own existence to ponder, are probably less “normal” than we are. I suspect that Bill Cosby had an early life most of us many of us would have caved under, and he apparently has not been a wonderful adult. Which does not excuse him, nor make his actions less appalling. It maybe, just maybe, makes his comedy routines brave and his life tragic.
    I read book blurbs. Many talk about wonderful writing on a topic I can’t bear to read about, so I don’t. I don’t think we need further labeling, and if wandering unwarned into things we can’t quite handle is going to happen, the written
    word is a lovely controllable way to do it. Write on, please!

  16. Thank you for the post, and for the interesting comments it has gathered.

    Did I like Bill Cosby’s humor in the past? Yes. I still do some bits in my head now and then. Did he do Bad Things? Sounds like he did, and that’s on him, and some consequences have yet to develop. I hope it’s helpful to the women involved to finally speak up and try to deal with the past; it’s difficult to know what will compensate them now, but they deserve something.

    There are a couple of authors whose work I will not buy, because I won’t support their past or current actions or beliefs. There are some authors whose work I won’t buy because I didn’t like what they wrote and don’t recommend it to others. I have a fairly low level of tolerance for some things, and I choose not to read about them. But that’s because I can choose not to buy or borrow the book; if I don’t like one I’m reading, as others have said, all I have to do is Close the Book.

    I don’t want labels to warn me about books; I usually find out about Bad Things in reviews or online discussions with people who have read the book.

  17. I think warning labels on books are just stupid, although I can think of some great tongue-in-cheek warning labels for some stinkers I’ve read over the years.

    As far as the Bad People, Bad Things, and Bad Thoughts element, I’m somewhere in the middle.

    The Bill Cosby factor sort of illustrates that. It’s all well and good on an intellectual level to separate Bill Cosby the Alleged Rapist from his work. But if I crank up an old Cosby show rerun, I’m going to have a hard time watching Cliff Huxtable the Doting Sitcom Dad without also seeing Bill Cosby the Alleged Rapist. Cosby’s status as an (alleged) Bad Person colors my perception of his artistic works.

    Bad Thoughts is also complex. If (in my assessment) an author has put, say, misogynistic themes into his book, why should I continue reading it? And why shouldn’t I tell other readers (possibly via a review) that I think the misogynistic themes spoil the book, especially if I thought they were disturbing?

    I don’t think this is some Orwellian Bad Thoughts policing. I think it’s just literary criticism.

  18. Bad Thoughts is also complex. If (in my assessment) an author has put, say, misogynistic themes into his book, why should I continue reading it? And why shouldn’t I tell other readers (possibly via a review) that I think the misogynistic themes spoil the book, especially if I thought they were disturbing? I don’t think this is some Orwellian Bad Thoughts policing. I think it’s just literary criticism.

    It’s literary criticism after you’ve read the book and formed this opinion (understanding, of course, that this may just be your opinion, based on your background and so-called “leakage,” as discussed elsewhere).

    Where it becomes Something Other than literary criticism is when people say, in a pre-emptive sort of way: “This Author has Bad Thoughts, and we therefore should Read Nothing he writes.”

    Because Bad People can make Good Art; because people change, and because — this is key: THE AUTHOR IS NOT THEIR WORK.

    Am I a member of Clan Korval? No, I’m not. Not even — especially not even — your favorite character of Clan Korval. Yes, I am their author, and that’s a complicated relationship, but we are each ourselves.

    This seems to be. . .difficult. . .for people who aren’t readers to grasp, and God She Knows, attempting to explain it sounds like babbling lunacy. If I say, There are These People Who Live in My Head — that’s true. It’s also kind of weird and creepy, and borderline schizophrenic sounding, and people tend to either not listen to, or to discount, things that make them feel uncomfortable. It’s easier to believe something else that makes more sense, or seems more logical, but that doesn’t happen to be true.

  19. I’m still not sure I see the distinction here, Sharon.

    Is there a difference between me saying to my friends, “Don’t read Author X because his books feature misogyny,” versus “Don’t read Author X because he is a bloody awful writer. He is a bloody awful writer because several of his books feature misogynistic themes.”

    I’m thinking in particular of a couple fantasy series I read some time ago. In one of the series, I read the first book (which I shall not name) and came away disliking both book and author because of the book’s rampant sexism. I refused to read any more of the books (though I tried to read the second book), and advised friends and such to stay away from his books. Another series didactically hammered away at a particular political philosophy. I disagree with both hamhanded didacticism and the political philosophy, so I put the books down … and, again, when discussing such books with friends, averred that the author’s politics were ludicrous and their intrusion into the book harmed it.

    Is this somehow pursuing Bad Thoughts?

  20. In your examples above, you’ve read Author X’s work and found it wanting in some way. That’s fair game, as far as I’m concerned.

    Where we start getting off the track is when we enter the territory of, “Author X is/was a Bad Person and therefore no one ought to read their work.”

    This is condemnation of the work without a sample ever having been taken, and I personally think (1) it’s dirty pool, not the least because I’m now having to take Some Self-Proclaimed Good Person’s word about Author X’s Bad Personhood, and (2) being a Bad Person doesn’t necessarily mean that you will produce Bad Art. These are two separate problems. Certainly, it’s possible that Author X, a Bad Person, will produce Bad Art. It’s also possible that Author A, whom everyone adores as a Good Person, will produce Bad Art. It is, in my experience, Far Easier to produce Bad Art than Good Art.

    But we really oughtn’t to judge the work without reading it first.

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