So last week I talked about a connection with an author maybe influencing a reader to be more favourable to their work than they might have been. This week I want to look at the other side, when something an author does, or says makes people decide they won’t even read that author’s books any more.
Yes, the boycott. When an author throws a wobbler and gets into a public row with a reviewer, many people on the argument thread will say something to the effect of “well this behaviour just convinces me never to buy any of your books.” Possibly that’s just posturing, since they might never have bought any of that person’s books anyway. But it’s also a slightly odd position to my mind. The author acting foolishly doesn’t really tell you anything about the quality of the book. Some very great authors were pains in the arse on a continual basis, not just in one thread about a review, so should their books be boycotted forever? Everyone is entitled to be a pain in the arse if they want to be. Is throwing a strop about a review something worthy of punishment beyond what they’ll be subject to by the pointing and laughing that goes on during these incidents?
What if it’s about something other than just throwing their toys out of the pram over a review? What if the author has publically expressed views that a reader is very much opposed to. For me it kind of depends how extreme those views are. If they’re mainstream views which happen to be opposite to my own, I’m not that bothered. I can’t dictate what people think. And if I would only read books written by people whose beliefs match exactly with mine I’d never read anything at all.
But more extreme views will have an effect on me, because they’ll cast a shadow over the book, even if those views and beliefs are never obviously reflected in the book. What about when the writer is long dead? Plenty of people in the past had views we’d consider abhorrent now. Should I refuse to read a book by someone who owned slaves for example? Or do I just accept that this was perfectly normal in that time?
There’s another level, too when the author contributes money to a cause I’m very much opposed to. Again, it depends on how mainstream we’re talking. Just being a donor to say the Conservative Party isn’t going to bother me much. Being a donor to the British National Party; whole other matter! That’s when I’d start to balk about buying their books, even if I like the books, since I wouldn’t want my money going to such a cause.
I think a boycott only really means something if I would almost certainly have bought more of that writer’s books anyway, so I’m depriving myself of pleasure on a point of principle. And is it them permissible under the terms of a boycott to buy the books second hand or borrow them, to get to read them without giving the author any royalties? And what about books by that author I already own? Should I get rid of them so I can’t read them again? And how? Donate them? Throw them out?
I can’t say I’m a big boycotter. I’ll more likely stop buying someone’s work because I don’t like it any more – like anything made by George Lucas since The Phantom Menace. But other than in extreme cases, or when the author is known to contribute to causes I find really objectionable, I’m of the opinion that people are entitled to think what they want. As long as they don’t start preaching those ideas at me, I’m not going to lose sleep over it.