How To Enjoy a Book If You Disagree With the Author's Beliefs
Can you still enjoy a book if you disagree with the author’s personal beliefs? In recent years, author Orson Scott Card has made it clear that he’s against same-sex marriage. He also wrote Ender’s Game, one of the most popular sci-fi novels of all time, and the book will be an epic action movie this fall. If you support gay marriage, can you still enjoy Ender’s Game? Can you separate the work from its author? Yep! And here’s how.
First, remember that authors, artists, singers, bakers, hair stylists, boat makers...they’re all human. While it’s nice to imagine your favorite author as some sort of perfect creature who is correct about every aspect of life, that’s sadly not true. He or she is just a person, and people are never right all the time. And you will never agree on everything. Never. So the first thing to do is knock the author off his pedestal and realize he’s just some guy.
Second, you can still enjoy the author’s previous work, but in a different way. If you support same-sex marriage, you might be hesitant to buy a copy of Ender’s Game and you won't be rushing out to buy his latest work. That’s great. Use your wallet to send a message. But if you decide to read a borrowed copy of Ender's Game, and you support same-sex marriage, don’t feel guilty. Feel intellectual and philosophical!
Most people read the book as simple escapist fantasy. You're reading it with a whole new level of insight. You know the author has strong political opinions. How does this change the story? Can you spot any hidden subtext in the work? How has the author's belief altered your opinion of his work? Did you hate it? Did you enjoy it? These thoughtful questions can only be answered if you read the book. You will come away with so many things to say about fiction and authors and modern society. You're going to sound like a brilliant (but still hip and awesome) college professor! Talking about it and thinking about the book on an intellectual level will remove all feelings of guilt. When someone brings up the topic of "author’s beliefs vs. their work" you will be an expert and will be ready with an answer! Your brain is going to so big!
Third, trust your brain. If you have a strong opinion, it won’t be rocked by the ramblings of anyone, even if the rambler wrote a pretty good story once. Your brain knows what’s right and wrong. Remember: Your brain is better than anyone else’s, because you grew it all by yourself!
Fourth, consider this: Do you know the political beliefs of everyone you interact with? Is the woman who sold you a cheeseburger a Republican? Who did your shoe salesman vote for in 2002? Does your busboy support tougher gun laws? Card is sharing his feeling about same-sex marriage because he foolishly thinks everyone cares what he thinks. (This happens with a lot of famous people.) But why should you care what Card thinks about government? He’s a writer, not a president. I don’t ask my barber to fill a cavity, and I don’t want my sci-fi authors making public policy. When famous people spout off about social issues, it’s a wonderful time to tune out. Life is too short to care about the opinions of millionaires.
Fifth, focus on what you enjoyed from the book. After reading Ender’s Game, the zero-gravity combat room stuck in my mind for years and years. I love the idea of that room where students float around and play games of intense laser tag. In these scenes, I don’t remember any mention of religion or real-world politics. If I like the idea of zero-gravity chambers, it certainly doesn’t mean I’m against same-sex marriage. I just like zero-gravity chambers.
If you still have trouble separating an author from their beliefs, imagine if the tables were turned...
Let’s say you love the work and ideas of a politician. The politician announces that she’s written a sci-fi epic about a planet made of worms. Because you like her as a politician, does that mean her worm book will be great? Nope. And what if you read that worm book and hate it? Does that change your feelings towards her as a politician? It shouldn’t. She’s still the same politician that you supported. She just happens to be a hack writer.
If you disagree with Orson Scott Card, you can still think he's a good writer; you just might think of him as a hack politician, awful human being, or just a jerky loud mouth.
Put another way: Mel Gibson's Braveheart is a hell of a movie. If Gibson ran for mayor, I wouldn't vote for him because he's an angry anti-Semitic lunatic, but if Braveheart is on TV, I'll probably end up watching the whole thing. And I'm okay with that. My brain figured it all out.
Use your brain! You’re smart and your brain can do a lot of great things, like math and/or imagine how long a baby giraffe’s neck would grow in a zero-gravity chamber. (That’s what my brain is doing now...and most nights before bed.) Your brain will guide you. It can pick out what's good and what isn't...like fingers picking off the awful olives from a slice of pizza. Think for yourself, and you will be fine.
Now let’s all sit back and watch the comments section eat itself.