Why I am Still Reading Problematic Books

April 12, 2017     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Books, Books I've Read, Currently Reading, Personal, Random Thoughts, Reading

I have been blogging about books since about 2010 under various handles. I have seen the evolution of the blogging community, and myself along with it. The latest level of evolution is that book bloggers are becoming more aware of problematic books. Which is awesome. It is very important to be aware of problematic books and practices. All you have to do is look, and you will find reviews of books by POC reviewers, LGBTQ+ reviewers, and reviewers from other marginalized groups that will highlight why a book is problematic.

But, I personally feel that just because a book is problematic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. As such, I am going to continue to read problematic books. I can hear some of you getting angry with me from behind your screens, so let me explain.

For those of you who don’t know me from social media, or who have never seen a picture of me, I am white. As such, racism is something that I am constantly trying to educate myself about. When I feel like a book is racist, I know it has to be super blatant. I want to be better educated about microaggressions and the more subtle signs of a racist book.

Currently, I have armed myself with critical reviews of Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, and I am reading it. Until recently (the last year or so), I wasn’t aware of tropes like the dark skinned aggressor and the white savior. And now that I know they are a real and harmful thing, I want to know how to recognize them for myself, without having to have someone else point it out.

This isn’t about disbelieving marginalized people when they say a book is problematic, it is about not having to rely on marginalized people putting themselves in danger to educate everyone else.

So, while I am no expert in the field, these are the steps I am taking to be a good ally, while striving to educate myself.

  • Find, read, and keep handy critical reviews of identified problematic books. Prioritize reviews by marginalized people.
  • Do not support the problematic book financially. I will never recommend pirating a book. This is not an excuse for piracy. There are a lot of ways to get a book without supporting the author. You can buy it second-hand. You can borrow it from someone who has it. Worst case scenario, borrow it from the library. (Yes, authors still get benefits from a book being borrowed from the library, but nowhere near those they get for high opening week sales.)
  • Review the book. Especially if it is coming from a place like NetGalley. It is important to add voices to the fight against problematic books.
  • Read objectively. This isn’t reading for pleasure, but reading for education.
  • Find a replacement. Find a book to take the place of the problematic book. Promote that book. Review that book. Support that book. Blast that book forever. If possible, make sure that book is by a marginalized author.
  • Be sure to support the emotional labor already put into calling these books out.

If you don’t feel like you can learn from problematic books, don’t read them. If you think this is me giving “permission” to read problematic books and disregard the feelings of marginalized people, you need to reread my post. A few times, for good measure. We, as allies, need to step up and do our part, and I think this is a part of that task.

So, in 2017, while I aim to read more underrepresented authors, I am also going to still read problematic books.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on problematic books. Comment below, but note that if things aren’t kept civil, I will be closing comments.

Stay bookish, lovelies!

3 responses to “Why I am Still Reading Problematic Books

Talk bookish to me!