Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sometimes It's Important to Take a Stand

The Booking Through Thursday question (Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse - a biography has made you love an author more?) has continued to stir up a controversy that I helped to begin, however inadvertently, with a comment about why I will no longer buy books by Orson Scott Card on Maw Books Blog. If I had been thinking at all, I probably wouldn't have left the initial comment, because I didn't realize that the blog author is a Mormon, as Card is. But now that I have spoken without thinking, I find myself in the position of having to take a stand, and I'll do it without any more apology to Natasha, who seems to be a lovely person, because I don't think that all Mormons spread hate of homosexuals any more than I believe all Roman Catholics are from big families or all Muslims are terrorists.

As I've said in several places (Hey, Lady, Watcha Readin'? for example), I'm usually not aware of an author's views, and it wouldn't make any difference to my enjoyment of their fiction if I were. But I do have issues I feel strongly about, and I think anyone who has a public forum, however small, is obligated to speak out about issues they see as wrong, lest they perpetuate that wrongness by failing to object. The most horrifying examples of perpetuating evil by failing to speak out against it are the Germans who managed not to notice the concentration camps in their country, and the slaveowners who thought it was enough not to mistreat their own slaves, while the neighbors' slaves were suffering untold (literally) agonies. A more recent example of the dangers of thinking that the "live and let live" philosophy is enough is Matthew Shepard's 1998 murder (see my post on that here).

I can't imagine being "put off an author's books after reading a biography of them." Not reading is never the answer! But financially supporting an author I disagree with so vehemently--and who is so public in his support of what I consider evil--is not something I want anyone to do. Even though his books are wonderful. Read them, but get them from the library.


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I think it's really funny that the BTT question was what it was because I don't even know the person who submitted it, nor do I think they are aware of me. Coincidence? Like I mentioned earlier, I don't mind your comment at all and take no offense at it. Trust me, I've been Mormon long enough to know when to not let things bother me. I just thought it was food for thought. And I must admit that I have enjoyed seeing everybody's thought process on the issue. We have everything from "yes, I'll read anything, no matter what" to "no, I won't support that."

I do agree that if we are in a position to take a stand in something we believe in, then we should do it. That was the idea behind my Darfur campaign that I ran back in October. How can we sit idly by when we can speak out on an issue? I appreciate your willingness to speak out on that which you hold so dear to you.

Jeanne said...

Natasha, thanks. Some of the comments that say "no, I won't support that" seem to me to edge perilously close to censorship, if only of the self, so they bother me. But that's a topic for another day!

Anonymous said...

I believe it's way more important to take a stand than to let things slide without saying a word. Many years ago I attended a book event in Hong Kong in which a Japanese author was featured. While I admired the author's writing style and the charming stories he had to tell both on pages and in real person, I made my voice known that I didn't agree with his view on the Nanking Massacre during WW2. I said I'm extremely disturbed and disgruntled at his going along with the Japanese government's soft denial and making light of the stats. Does it affect how I like his works? Not really, I still find myself reading some of his stories (published on a Japanese paper in Hong Kong).

Literary Feline said...

I read your comment on Natasha's site and found myself nodding in agreement. I do think that it is important to take a stand on those issues we feel are wrong.

I remember having a conversation with a woman online a couple of years ago where she said she did not think anyone had the right to say foot binding or female genital mutilation was wrong because we weren't apart of the cultures that practiced that. They had their reasons and so it was, therefore, okay, she argued.

She later talked about a book she read about a woman being burned alive for having premarital sex. She blamed the woman, saying that the woman knew there would be severe consequences--it was a part of her culture and who are we to judge what is right or wrong about another culture?

Your example about what happened in World War II says it all.

But as you said, just because I disagree or think an author is wrong in their beliefs, does not necessarily mean I will not read his book. Thank goodness for libraries.

Jeanne said...

Matt, with a historical example like yours, it's even more important to read his works, isn't it? Sometimes you have to read in order to publicly disagree.

Literary Feline: Really good examples. I once discussed the female genital mutilation example with a class, and despite the fact that there were women in the class from Somalia and Ghana, we agreed that some cultures have bad customs. That is, after all, the reason Carthage was razed and the earth salted.

Jeanne said...

W.H. Auden says this:

Only in rites
can we renounce our oddities
and be truly entired.

Not that all rites
should be equally fonded:
some are abominable.

Anonymous said...

I always find it ironic that a Mormon would somehow argue that marriage is only one state or condition.

Joe said...

There are two reasons that I think your comments here don't meet the criterion of "censorship."

1) Censorship is inherently about power inequity. A government can censor; a library or school can censor. An employer can censor employees. Theoretically, a big enough media company might be able to censor a viewpoint (although in a capitalist system, I'm not sure of that). But, on a semantic level, I'm not sure I believe in "censorship, if only of the self."

2) Second, the goal of censorship is to quash an idea - or the person who holds it. You're clearly not doing that with Card's books - and frankly, I don't think you're doing it with his ideas on the family. If anything, you want to fight Card's ideas in public, not behind the scenes like a censor.

It seems perfectly reasonable to me to choose who you associate with, economically as well as socially. That's one of the consequences of "speak(ing) out about issues they see as wrong." One imagines Card is unlikely to buy the hardcover "Collected Necromancy Never Pays"...

Jeanne said...

Joe, you're right. Censorship is the wrong word for people who decide they don't want to know about something. The people who were talking about that in Natasha's comments were saying things like "I only read books I know are 'clean.'"

Yeah, I'll read Card, but I doubt he'd read me--and there are a lot of reasons for that besides point of view!