The Effect of Our Books

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I think there are more readers who would say a book changed their lives than those who wouldn’t. There are constantly people on Twitter asking people what book got them into reading YA or what book had “x” effect on them in the long run. These tweets usually get a nice turnout of people talking about what book(s) helped or affected them and why and how.

This brings me to the question of if books do have such an effect on us, why it is when a book is called out as problematic, people ignore it, claim it isn’t that bad, or something to the like.

Books can change us for the better. I can’t speak for other people but I know books which have made me feel more comfortable in my own skin before, books which have given hope for my future and the like. And I know books have done things like this for other people. There have been more stories lately about people talking about how much a certain book meant for them.

If that’s that case why do people ignore it when a book is harmful? If a book can teach or give someone something positive, can’t it do the very same with something negative?

We’re all book people here and I understand that we want books to have a positive connotation attached to them. It’s hurtful when we find a book that betrays our trust and expectations but it still happens and we still need to acknowledge that it does happen.

If books can convince people to seek out help or be more comfortable with themselves it makes sense that it can do the opposite.

That a book can harm someone, make them feel less comfortable in their own skin, make them feel dirty and lesser. And if a reader doesn’t know to look out for these things then it could be happening inadvertently and even if they do know what to look out for that doesn’t stop that awful, heart wrenching, anger inducing feelings of horror, disgust, and betrayal when those awful things show up on the page.

If books can make us love ourselves more then they can make us hate ourselves more. There isn’t a way around it.

This is why getting representation in books and in them correctly is so important. Because, as I’ve said before, the target audience of YA is teens, if we’re seeing bad rep of ourselves and we’re seeing it constantly, it’s going to hurt us.

It could turn some off of reading, it could make reading harder for some, it could not have a blatantly obvious effect other than those who read it internalize what they’ve read in regards to themselves.

It’s also good to remember that a lot of things can be harmful without people meaning it to be harmful. Intent negates nothing if it hurts someone.

I can’t tell you all the number of incidents I’ve seen where someone says something aphobic and I nearly throw up because every damn time it throws me for a loop. I can’t tell you all (in this post *wink*) how much internalize bullshit I’ve already got going on without help from authors who didn’t necessarily mean to but still inserted some aphobic shit.

This kind of thing happens all the time with characters of different races, ethnicities, gender, sexualities, abilities, and the like. Misunderstanding or something else, leads to misrepresentation or just straight up awful and harmful representation (which could lead to the question of whether bad representation is actually representation at all?).

That shit hurts.

So, going back to the topic, why is this kind of thing more widely ignored? Like, that’s an actual question. Why do people who are so willing to talk about how much good books have done for them, how helpful books are, so blatantly willing to ignore it when books hurt people?

I guess it’s because they don’t want to believe it? I mean, I know how much it sucks when a favorite book, series, author pulls some crap. I understand the wanting to defend them, to guard them against what they’ve done to themselves but mostly others.

They don’t want to acknowledge that this thing meant to bring us so much joy has done the opposite.

We need this though. We need to know that books do harm as well as they do good and hold these books accountable. People say it all the time on Twitter.

Books can affect readers negatively as much as they can positively and if we’re going to get to a point where books can actually be a safe and comfortable thing for readers to indulge in we need to weed out all the harmful shit that can go into the books.

This means just listening when someone says something is harmful. This means authors need to listen more than ever and readers need to stop forming a human blockade around their fave when their fave does something wrong.

I can’t imagine any author sets out to write with it in their mind to harm someone.

I know some authors want to be “provocative” and “start a conversation” but a lot of the time that’s thrown around when it isn’t their place and they did harm in trying to do so. If you hurt someone while trying to start a discussion then you need to stop. If your discussion is at the cost of someone else’s existence then you need to stop.

If you’re a white writer and you want to start a conversation about racism, stop. Chose something else to discuss. There are plenty of other topics that we can approach without causing harm to a different group in the process.

Have you ever met the human species? We are a complex people, there is a never-ending list of topics we can explore and write about without exploiting someone else’s history and pain. That’s for someone who’s experienced it to do, not us.

Look, no, authors, don’t want to do harm people. They don’t mean to do all of the above but they do and therefore need to be held accountable.

It isn’t a bad thing to be called out on problematic bullshit. It’s a learning moment for authors, it’s a chance for them to become better writers and be more welcoming to a wider audience instead of isolating a whole bunch of people with one, unintended (or intended, I don’t know) comment in their book.

It’s like when someone calls someone out for being -phobic or -ist, it isn’t saying “fuck you, die now.” It’s more like “you’re ignorant, you (hopefully) didn’t know that, do better, stop isolating certain people”.

This hurts people when authors don’t acknowledge it or act like there’s nothing wrong and if the outcry isn’t large enough or the author is big enough, nothing is done to change it.

In that scenario, the end result is shit either way.

Thus the cycle continues.

These are the effects of our books. These are the things they do, what happens, what’s caused by reading by perpetuating certain ideas and thoughts.

Books will always bring light into lives, they’ll always be adventures to live, but they can also bring someone down. Just as we look at the good we have to look at the bad because most of the time they don’t exist without the other.

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3 thoughts on “The Effect of Our Books

  1. This post is lit! It’s so true that we can discuss things we enjoy in books but ignore the things that harm people. I don’t know if it’s me but I feel like people from the same marginalized group have each other’s back more than if they were from different groups. I understand this but people shouldn’t just be an ally for their own marginalization and I think this is part of the problem.

    I also have a question. People like what they like but if they like something that’s problematic does that make them problematic? And then what does make a book problematic? If one reviewer from that marginalization says that the story is problematic but other people from the same marginalization say that it’s not, what determines if it is? I’m genuinely interested in finding the answer to this question because ever since I got on Twitter it’s been like a battle between SJW’s and other people with me in between.

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    • My personal opinion: you can enjoy reading a problematic book while still acknowledging that other people might be hurt by it.

      Example: I just read a book that I really enjoyed, but I recognized that the storyline itself might be problematic for disabled readers. So in my review, I talked about why I think it’s problematic but acknowledged that I was privileged to be able to enjoy it.

      Bottom line, it’s a complicated issue. But I think the best thing we can do is listen to others when they say they’re hurt by something, and make sure to acknowledge that in discussing the book in the future.

      Like

      • I have the same opinion with everything you said it just becomes kind of scary (at least to me) to read a book that everyone says is problematic and then enjoy it only to be called racist, homophobic, etc.

        Like

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