Good Books, Bad Writers

3 Aug

I read Ender’s Game a few days ago. It was an undeniably compelling book in almost every way. It had three child geniuses (one evil, one kind, and one named Ender – a six year old boy with a little bit of both. And who doesn’t love child geniuses?).  It had a space station with a Battle School for Earth’s best children, all training to one day defeat the alien “Buggers.” It had gravity-free practice battles, painted with a meticulous amount of detail and beautifully choreographed strategy. It was awesome.

Time and time again Orson Scott Card delighted me with yet another scene in which little Ender proves once again that he is simply smarter than everyone else. I couldn’t take my eyes off the page as I watched the adults deliberately make Ender’s life as brutal as possible, in order to cultivate a perfect fleet commander. They engineer a constant war between his compassionate and violent sides. They manipulate him into literally destroying other children, almost – but not quite – to his own breaking point. It’s a fascinating exercise in what people can be made to do, with some major ethical themes along the way. And the fighting was pretty cool, too.

My only problem? The author. I’d love to say unreservedly, “you’ve got to read this book!” (Although I guess I pretty much just did.) I’d love to go out and get more of the books from this series, of which there are plenty. But after looking into the life of Orson Scott Card, I just feel icky about putting money into his pocket.

I don’t agree with Card’s general politics, but that in itself wouldn’t usually be enough to turn me off an author, especially if they didn’t make their political convictions a centrepiece of their public persona. No, it’s his raging homophobia that really does the trick. He’s gone out of his way to loudly state, whether through his membership in the “National Organization for Marriage”, or through his own articles, that he’s not only against same sex marriage, but actually advocates for the criminalization of homosexual activities. He goes so far as to equate homosexuality to “deviant behaviour” in this painfully cringey (but fascinating) interview with Donna Minkowitz.

Eesh. I have this terribly naive habit of wanting to identify with writers when I love their books. That’s obviously not going to happen here, but when the disconnect is so severe, can I even support their books in an indirect way? I got Ender’s Game from the library. Is that a decent way around this moral conundrum? Let me know what you think, because I’m genuinely stumped. Do you feel the same way about any talented writers?

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11 Responses to “Good Books, Bad Writers”

  1. savidgereads August 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Hmmmm not on for The Green Carnation Prize then hahaha. Not that he would even qualify.

    I know that Daphers Du Maurier could be a bit prickly by some reports but that couldn’t put me off her. However I met A.S Byatt (with Evie actually) and she wasnt the nicest which put me off her more than her books and their smug cleverness in them have ha ha.

    I know Maugham was meant to be horrid to his wife, or was it Waugh again… wouldn’t put me off. Is that bad?

    • Lija August 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

      I think I’m much more forgiving of “bad” authors when they’re already dead! I can get over authors not being nice. It’s just that this in particular feels like I’d be funding something specific that I absolutely disagree with.

  2. Nick August 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    If it’s any consolation, Card only had one good book in him — the rest are lame.

    • farmlanebooks August 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

      It is good to know that you enjoyed this book :-)

      I don’t tend to know much about authors and most of the time I’m not interested in their lives – I simply want to be entertained by their books. I’m not going to be put off reading something because the author is evil – I actually think it is important that we read about what goes through the head of mad people!

      • Lija August 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

        @Nick Actually, that does make me feel better. Problem solved!

        @farmlanebooks Yes, I’m glad we both finally got it off our lists! Again, I think I could do take the “just enjoy the entertainment” approach if he wasn’t still alive. Usually, though, I’d agree with that attitude.

  3. David H August 3, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    It’s a long time since I read Ender’s Game; I honestly don’t know what I’d think of it now — and I can’t say I’ve any desire to re-read it.

    This is a tough call. I firmly believe in separating the work and the author, but it’s not easy in a case like this. I can’t say anything like this has ever happened to me; most of the writers I’ve met in person, at least, have been fantastic people.

    • Lija August 3, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

      I probably won’t have to deal with this problem again anytime soon. Most of the time if I think an author is a jerk, I content myself with complaining about them and reading their most offensive interviews on the internet for fun.

  4. nikky August 4, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    And this is why I avoid Bret Easton Ellis like the plague. I don’t agree with most of what he says and I don’t wish to feed his ego further by buying his books.

    I’m sure there are other authors I have this with too, but he’s my pet peeve…

    • Lija August 5, 2010 at 9:10 am #

      Hah, I haven’t been in that situation with him yet, because I’ve never read anything by him. This whole issue is making me newly grateful for the library.

  5. anothercookiecrumbles August 5, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Like you, I really enjoyed this book, and wanted to read the rest of the series. Then, I was told that the rest of the series is rubbish compared to Ender’s Game, and that put me off reading the remaining five books (I think?).

    Evil author, good book = bad conundrum! It’s kind-of similar to music artistes I guess, and how some of them just deserve to be imprisoned and not let out. R. Kelly for example – I actually did get rid of all the music I had by him (which wasn’t much to begin with), but I felt like it would be wrong to so much as pay a person like that any kind of importance.

    I guess, Orson Scott Card, on the other hand, isn’t evil in the true sense of the word. I don’t agree with what he’s doing. I don’t share his thoughts, and I do think the world would be a better place without people having such strong thoughts about something, which, essentially doesn’t affect them at all!!! I mean, why the hell does he care if someone down the road is homosexual – it’s not like all of them are making unsolicited advances at him! But – I don’t think this would put me off reading his books… unless he was an axe murderer or something else…. maybe I’m being a hypocrite?

    • Lija August 5, 2010 at 9:13 am #

      Well, I wouldn’t want to use the word “evil,” but I disagree with what he’s said so strongly that I feel there’s an immediate connection between paying him and paying for him to spread his hateful message further.

      I’m glad to hear another person saying the other books are crap, though! Maybe the key is to go out and look for similar books by someone else. I’m sure there’s no shortage.

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