The Problem With “Problematic” | The Book Community’s Perpetual Witch Hunt

Welcome back to another post in which I use my cancel-proof irrelevance to dive into another example of well-intentioned-things-gone-off-the-rails in the book community.

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When I was little, I used to play a game in my head whenever I was bored. This is how it worked: I would pick two random, unrelated things, and then challenge myself to connect them in some logical daisy-chain. For example, if the two things were “tablets” and “backpacks,” I might come up with, “they both could be used at school.” If I picked “pencil” and “door” I could say, “they both are inside my house.”

Fairly quickly, I realized that it wasn’t ever very hard to link any set of two things in some way. Some effective catch-alls included “they’re both on Earth,” “they both exist in this current universe” or even, “I thought of both of them just now to use in this game.”

It wasn’t that fun to play after that.

So, why am I bringing up my weird childhood habits? Well, I think the a similar thing is happening in the book world with regard to “problematic” content— at least regarding the lengths to which people go to in order to label something “problematic.”

Welcome back to another post in which I use my cancel-proof irrelevance to dive into another example of well-intentioned-things-gone-off-the-rails in the book community. The blogosphere is pretty chill, but I used to stumble upon a ton of this stuff when I was on bookstagram and I still see it on Twitter fairly often, perpetually bringing me closer to deleting my account and never venturing onto the Internet again.

Today I’ll be focusing on the book community’s eagerness to dismiss books and authors as “problematic”often based on subjectivity, hypersensitivity, perpetual reaching and little evidence.

1) If You Want To Be Outraged, You’ll Find A Reason

There’s a reason I opened my post with that little anecdote: it’s not very difficult to find something “problematic” when you’re out looking for it.

And why would you be out looking for it? Well, because social media rewards people for being loud and
“virtuous”, for pointing out problematic content and for being the spokesperson.
This is one of the reasons cancel culture is such a problem. People have an incentive to cancel authors. It gives you social clout. It gets you tons of likes and retweets. It gets people commenting and asking you for moral advice. It makes you a virtuous authority.

Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Now that the whole controversy surrounding her has made its way into the mainstream sphere, I’m sure we all know that she’s become a bit of a pariah in some parts of the book community. (Perhaps “pariah” is a bit of an understatement)

It’s now cool to hate on Rowling. (I even saw a post from someone talking about how she wrote a book in which J.K. Rowling dies, to much support from Twitter. Perfectly sane behavior, right?)

Anyway, it’s recently become a more common thing for people to talk about how problematic Harry Potter is. Apparently it’s racist, sexist, fatphobic, and of course, transphobic. I’ve talked about this in another post, but it seems like these accusations exploded after Rowling got canceled. Some universities are now even putting trigger warnings in front of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Trigger Warnings Database site has five times more triggers listed for the first Harry Potter book than for books with extended torture scenes.

So why did Harry Potter go from being canceled by the religious right to twenty years later being canceled by the woke left? Because, you see, now that we KNOW Rowling’s transphobic and evil in every conceivable way, we can see all of the biases in her work that we couldn’t see before! It’s totally not confirmation bias gone haywire. Bigot!

To be fair, criticisms of Harry Potter existed long before all of the controversies, and I have only anecdotal evidence to say that this scrutiny has increased after Rowling’s “cancellation.” Additionally, it’s not a bad thing to be critical of a book series, especially one subject to so much blind praise as Harry Potter is. Regardless, though some of them are valid, many of the criticisms of Harry Potter that I have read require quite a bit of reaching to find offensive. (And this seems to be the case often with Book Twitter’s targets of the day)

This is not to say that there aren’t books that are racist or bigoted. There are. (Heart of Darkness immediately comes to mind)

But I’ve noticed a lot of people reaching a bit to call something offensive when many people would say that it’s not, and even more disturbingly, sometimes their reasoning is “I know this person is bad, because they said something I don’t like, and now that I know this, I see all the problematic things with their books that I didn’t notice before but they are still obviously offensive!” This is clearly not always the case, but I think the trap of reasoning is easy to fall into.

I once started writing a satirical post in which I analyzed Fahrenheit 451 in the most woke way possible, looking for ways that it could be construed as offensive, and made a list of all the reasons it should be banned. I didn’t post that post (maybe I will one day), but after writing it I Googled “Fahrenheit 451 problematic” and lo and behold, I found an article describing why the book should be canceled for many of the same reasons I came up with as a joke.

I truly believe that, much like it’s not ever very hard to link two objects in your mind as a bored child on a long car trip, you can really find something “problematic” in anything.

It’s started to become difficult to tell satire from reality in some of these problematic-book cases, and that’s where I think maybe we’ve gone too far.

And it’s going to create a “boy who cried wolf” phenomenon. The more people get outraged over petty things in books they find to be offensive through this sort of convoluted chain of inferences and jumping to conclusions, the less seriously people will take it if something actually is offensive.

The more people get outraged over petty things in books they find to be offensive through this sort of convoluted chain of inferences and jumping to conclusions, the less seriously people will take it if something actually is offensive.

2) The Inevitable Subjectivity of Offense

There’s also the problem of subjectivity. Whether or not someone is offended by something is extremely subjective.

Is it offensive if a character uses the word “crazy” in a book? Should To Kill A Mockingbird be declared racist because Atticus Finch is white? Is Rita Skeeter a transphobic caricature? Does not providing trigger warnings for their books make an author problematic? Should we cancel a book whose premise is about everyone but cis women disappearing, because it “perpetuates the gender binary”? Should we cancel Casey McQuiston for putting a satirical quip about Israel-Palestine in their book? Is Animal Farm sexist because it has few female characters (despite being a historical allegory of a time and place in which only men were in power)?

In my opinion, the answer to each of these questions is a definite no. However, these are all things I have seen sanctimoniously debated online.

Everyone has different life experiences and outlooks, and will become angry for different perceived slights. Some people are way more sensitive than others and everyone has a different perspective that will influence how they perceive a statement, joke, or character in a book.

The answer is not to cater to the most outraged. Just because one person is offended doesn’t mean that the book is now irredeemably problematic and the author must repent and issue a formal apology (which will subsequently be rejected by the Twitter mob anyway because they cannot be forgiven for such a Horrible Mistake)

I think the “if some people are offended, everyone should be” approach is one of the most damaging parts of this trend.

On the stated rules of the Tumblr blog “your fave is problematic”– one of the dark recesses of the Internet in which “problematic” books are categorized– one scenario outlines what to do if you’re a member of a marginalized group and don’t think that something they have called problematic is actually problematic: “If you don’t find something offensive, but much of the group you’re a part of does, that is something you should take up with them because we do not have the power to say “this is not offensive” when so many think it is.”

This is exactly the problem. You are placing the burden of proof on the wrong person. Calling a book and by extension its author racist or sexist or transphobic or homophobic or any of the other various -ists and -phobics is a serious accusation. And the burden of proof must be on the accuser, not the accused.

Imagine if you were accused of murder, but instead of asking the prosecution to prove that you murdered someone, you were instead asked to prove you DIDN’T murder someone, and then you were informed that because a bunch of people think you’re a murderer, you are.

3) The Conflation of Speech with Violence and the Inability to Ignore Mildly Offensive Things

What’s the saying again? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… are literally killing people!

Words are not violence and I will die on this hill. I’m really sick of people online talking about how reading or distributing x book is “violent.”

The conflation of “offensive to me” and “violent” with regards to speech is a very disturbing trend, especially since violent speech is one of the only exceptions to the first amendment.

The conflation of “offensive to me” and “violent” with regards to speech is a very disturbing trend, especially since violent speech is one of the only exceptions to the first amendment.

“Violent” speech would be something like: I am going to kill youUnless it is a threat, unless it is advocating for use of physical force against a person or group, it is not violent.

An offensive book is not violent. A book you disagree with is not violent. A book cannot be violent.

People also have this idea that you cannot read anything that has flaws.

I once saw a Reddit post from someone complaining that he could not read classic sci-fi because of all the sexism. I am female and I read classic sci-fi fairly often. There is a ton of sexism. However, I am not so fragile that I cannot simply ignore it. For me, the overall merit of the books generally trumps any annoyance I may have over misogynistic comments or characters. I am confident in my abilities as a woman and to me, a line in a book published 50 years ago poses no existential threat to feminism.

3) The Power of Groupthink and Gullible People

If you peruse the comments of posts trying to cancel an author, the comments will be full of people saying things like, “wow, thank you for educating me, I had no idea” or “I had no idea this author was racist/transphobic/whatever. I won’t buy their books anymore.” or something along those lines.

Twitter is also rife with posts like “is this author problematic?” or “I just found out this author is problematic, now I feel horrible for buying their book.”

Many people jump on the cancel bandwagon without even reading the source material.

These people are clearly empathetic and well-meaning. Of course they don’t want to support someone hateful or alienate any marginalized group by reading something that’s been declared “harmful” to that group. Twitter said this is racist! How could I continue to read it without being complacent in racism?

I think that a lot of the time, people just want to do the right thing, and the problem is that we have created this culture where it’s promoted that in order to show that you are doing the right thing and “educate” others on topical issues, you must listen to whoever is claiming a book is offensive and spread the word to avoid said book unquestioningly.

Internet culture is also extremely quick to condemn anyone who does not conform to this. You can’t question anything. For a community of people who love reading, it’s disturbing how much some people lack critical thinking.

However, we need to remember that it’s not bad to read something in its entirety and evaluate for yourself whether or not it is “problematic.” If you do that and conclude that it is indeed offensive, then you’re well within your rights to share that with others.

However, I believe it is very, dare I say, problematic, to jump to conclusions and accuse someone of racism or some other form of bigotry when you have not even read the book yourself.

4) Character vs. Author Beliefs and Books as Moralistic Tools

Sometimes, people conflate an author’s beliefs with that of a character.

For example, the subreddit r/menwritingwomen is a forum where people poke fun at awkward/creepy/misogynistic depictions of women in books. This subreddit is very funny. If you were in doubt about how often Stephen King unnecessarily compares things to boobs, one minute on there will enlighten you. However, from time to time, someone will share an excerpt that is from the perspective of a (perhaps unlikable) character, and the comments will still be full of comments like “ugh, I can’t believe [insert author] would write this.”

But characters aren’t authors. Authors write bad people into their books all the time. Oftentimes this is for the purpose of theme.

I also constantly see items on trigger warning lists that include qualifiers, i.e. “homophobia (challenged),” implying that the homophobia perpetuated a character in the book is not problematic simply because it was challenged in the narrative. This rubs me the wrong way because it’s not the purpose of literature to didactically educate readers on every social issue. Most of us know homophobia is wrong.

Literature is supposed to reflect the world, not paint everything with an idealistic brush. The world isn’t populated by perfectly politically-correct spokespeople who moralize loudly about every offensive situation. Authors should be able to trust their audience to comprehend when a character is doing something wrong without having to explicitly state this.

Literature is supposed to reflect the world, not paint everything with an idealistic brush. The world isn’t populated by perfectly politically-correct spokespeople who moralize loudly about every offensive situation. Authors should be able to trust their audience to comprehend when a character is doing something wrong without having to explicitly state this.

The Problem With “Problematic” in the Book Community

Overall, I have quite an issue with the book community’s hyper-vigilance with regard to “problematic” content.

It greatly exasperates me, and seems to simply pour fuel on the cancel culture fire that rages on YA Twitter maybe once a month. Luckily I’ve kind of moved away from this side of Twitter, but it pops up on my timeline still… a little too often.

So, what do you think? Do you believe the book community is too quick to label things problematic? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

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41 comments on “The Problem With “Problematic” | The Book Community’s Perpetual Witch Hunt”

  1. I really wish people would read the books and think for themselves. Or at least be clear and make statements like, “I haven’t read the book, but I am not planning to because I hear it was racist” instead of saying, “The book is racist,” implying they read the book and came to that conclusion.

    I will never get over how one person accused BLOOD HEIR of inaccuracy about Black slavery in America, git a bunch of people who has given it positive reviews to retract them, and pushed the author into cancelling the book (though she published later). The book is NOT ABOUT Black slavery in America. It is about modern day slavery in other countries. But this outraged reviewer apparently did not even know other types of slavery existed and continue to exist and assumed it was about enslaving Blacks in the US and her ignorant opinion took off and people just agreed with her till the book was cancelled. Wild.

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    1. Oh my gosh yes the blood heir thing happened before I was on the bookternet but I read about it and was absolutely horrified. I really think the book community is just… way out of control at this point. There is actually a podcast episode from the BBC called “the purity spiral” about cancel culture in isolated internet communities and they specifically talk about YA Twitter and knitting Instagram. It’s a good listen. What really upsets me is that this stuff actually affects publishing

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      1. I feel so bad for the author. I can’t imagine what it did to her mental health, and since she was the one who pulled the book, I assume there was some discussion of her paying back her advance which was likely quite large (before she ultimately decided to published the book anyway). And when the book WAS published, it was basically untalked about. There was no marketing. After the novel had been originally hyped as one of the biggest of the year and this was set to make the author’s career and probably earn a lot of money. This reviewer very likely ruined the author financially because she made terrible claims about the book that are objectively untrue, and I don’t think she ever even apologized or admitted she was completely wrong and that she was the one at fault for apparently having no idea modern-day slavery is a thing and assuming any fictional work including slavery must be inspired by America in the 1800s.

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      2. It’s completely ridiculous. And ironic too, as the entire drive behind the YA twitter outrage machine is giving a voice to underrepresented groups, but they cancelled an author who was writing about her own background growing up in China and the trafficking problems in Asia, which maybe they would know about if they bothered to learn anything about the world outside the US– and why would you assume that her book was written in the context of US history anyway? It’s so ignorant but they think they are so worldly and knowledgeable and are the moral authority on what you’re allowed to write about. And the fact that the “oppression is blind to skin color” line was criticized for “color blindness” which is “racist”… I’m not even going to go into that. Ugh. And the fact that Amelie Wen Zhao issued a geniune apology to them… all the self righteous comments under her apology make me sick

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      1. It was particularly interesting because the ARC had some really glowing endorsements and everyone was loving it, including some other well-known others, and then one blogger said the ARC was offensive and everyone just . . . changed their minds. Authors apologized for having recommended it and retracted their reviews and groveled saying how wrong they had been to say it was a good book.

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  2. It’s really nice to see someone standing up against this kind of thing, I definitely agree people are too quick to judge media as problematic, especially when they haven’t even read/watched/listened to the thing in the first place!

    I used to worry a lot about posting about certain topics in case people thought of me as offensive, but as you pointed out, some people will find a way to make themselves offended, no matter what you say! I guess in the end we just have to try and write whatever is true to ourselves no matter what the reaction will be, but it’s definitely disheartening to think that it might impact our ability to get published! : )

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, a year ago I would not have ever even considered posting this article for fear of people getting mad at me as well but eventually I decided whatever I think this is wrong and ridiculous and I’m going to talk about it. The more people who decide to speak openly the less toxic the environment will get, I’m hoping

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  3. I completely agree with this post, you’ve worded everything so well! Honestly this is one of the main reasons I avoid the book community outside of the blogosphere. It’s definitely not perfect here but these topics are not nearly as prevalent as on other platforms.

    People are so quick to become offended about literally anything and they blow things completely out of proportion. I don’t understand how people have the time and energy to become so upset about things as small as a throwaway line in a book. I think the best example of this was the whole debate about the Israel-Palaestine comment in Red, White, and Royal Blue. I’ve never read the book, so I don’t have a real opinion on this, but from what I saw, it was just one satirical line and the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but people got extremely mad anyway.

    I agree with you that people are very quick to deem book “offensive.” It takes one person who says that and all of a sudden everyone else does too, even when they haven’t read it, which drives me insane. How can you have an opinion about something you haven’t read? Even if you’ve seen a few quotes, they’ve been taken out of context, so you have no means of actually knowing what it was about.

    I think that part of the need to have things such as racism or homophobia “challenged” stems from YA, where, most of the time, there is a clear right and wrong. It’s (I would hope) fairly obvious to everyone that these things are wrong, but usually that’s explicitly stated in YA, so I think when people read adult novels and it’s not clearly condemned, it can be surprising and people interpret it the wrong way.

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    1. Yeah it’s one of the reasons why I left bookstagram actually, I was too disgusted by the incidents that I witnessed when I was on there, including the RW&RB thing, the Owlcrate thing, JK Rowling tweet #231239219732, etc…. Twitter can be just as annoying but I like it more as a platform in general and the side of book twitter I’m on right now is relatively more reasonable. The blogosphere is much better as a whole. I’m probably going to write another post on cancel culture specifically, which obviously ties in very closely to this post

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      1. basically Owlcrate is this reading box subscription service and I think in 2020 they had stopped selling Harry Potter merch, then in August they announced that they were going to start selling HP mugs again, and bookstagram FLIPPED OUT about it because apparently HP mugs are “actively harming” people and Owlcrate isn’t allowed to sell what they want, anyway, then the Owlcrate owner sent out an apology a couple days later after all the harassment saying they were deeply sorry or whatever and weren’t going to sell them anymore. I was really really put off by this, first because I personally think a small business (whose entire ethos is based around HP, btw) selling a HP mug is fine, and second because the straight up bullying I was seeing them direct towards this small business owner. It was enough to intimidate her into capitulating anyway. And then they all were downright gleeful at her apology

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      2. Got it…thanks for the explanation! I think I very vaguely remember seeing something about this but it had almost quieted down by the time I joined the bookish community on Twitter.

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  4. I agree with everything you said in this post. I really wish people would read the books and make decisions based on their experience with it and not based on what everyone else says about it. I also believe that you can separate the books from the author. Just because I read the book doesn’t mean I agree with the author or have the same beliefs as the author etc.

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  5. I agree with so much of this. Thank you for writing about this and voicing what I’m sure a lot of us are thinking but haven’t said out loud for a variety of reasons (e.g., time to pull thoughts together, fear of cancel culture, etc.). More and more I find I get annoyed at how people use outrage to appear virtuous; this applies to the book community and beyond. More often than not I don’t feel comfortable jumping on the bandwagon/groupthink of sharing the “virtuous” post because I don’t fully comprehend the issue, how it started, etc., nor do I have the time to research every little thing that might be deemed offensive. I’ve seen stuff about JKR, Brandon Sanderson, Jay Kristoff, Jennifer L. Armentrout…I just can’t. I feel we’re definitely swinging to one side of the pendulum and it’ll be nice when balance comes back into play. Right now people are so afraid of being on the canceled side of cancel culture that groupthink dominates. And I think this also ties in with maybe people being overly sensitive and thinking the world should cater to every potential trigger (I’m being hyperbolic here), which is entirely unreasonable, which you’ve written about as well.

    What’s on my radar right now is THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS. Overall, readers seem to like it. But there is a smaller faction that doesn’t appreciate that it flouts/makes fun of Title IX (I think that’s the right one?). So I’ve decided to read it for myself, once I get to the top of the holds list, see what I think about it. But we can’t always do this with every book that someone deems problematic.
    http://www.aliteraryescape.com/

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    1. Thank you! Yes I used to be very much not wanting to bring up these things because I thought that people would get mad at me but eventually I was like screw it I can’t stand this so I will talk about it.
      I haven’t read the love hypothesis and I’ve seen different opinions about it
      I usually try to research or read the book myself if twitter is saying it’s problematic, I’m also just contrarian so when I see people bashing something for a petty reason I automatically want to defend it or read it myself as an instinct lol
      You are right it is extremely exhausting and I can’t imagine being one of those people who is always finding something offensive in every book they read, I can’t imagine that it makes someone optimistic to be always harassing people online and talking about how they were harmed by a tiny line in a book

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  6. It’s when I read stuff like this that I am even more glad I am not on Twitter 🤣 Because I 100% agree with everything you said here, Emily!

    Especially the thing about people jumping on the bandwagon and bleating out how controversial something is when they haven’t even read a book blows my mind. Like, sure, if you trust someone’s opinion and don’t think a book is for you after what they’ve said about it, then don’t read it. But you also shouldn’t go around presenting other people’s opinions as your own without making that transparent! For example, when Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark came out a few years ago, the release flopped completely because everyone started repeating what one ARC reader had said – that the book was horribly racist because one group of people, seen as barbaric in the eyes of another because they had this ritual where they carved marks into their skin, were allegedly portrayed as dark-skinned and “the non-Barbarian” people as white. Having read Carve the Mark myself, I saw absolutely no evidence of this – characters skin-color was distributed pretty evenly across both groups, although the MC from one of them happened to be Black – and it turned out that most people who had also read the book agreed with me, including people of color. But those voices drowned beneath the sea of outrage from those who hadn’t read the book… (Not that I think Carve the Mark was a masterpiece, mind you, but I don’t for a minute think it was racist! 🙄)

    And also, the complaints when characters say something horrible boggle my mind! I mean, come on people, you’ve got a brain! Even if no one contests what those characters say, a novel is not a spiritual guide telling you how you should act yourself! Like you said, literature is supposed to reflect the world, and I can’t imagine anything more boring than reading a book where everyone is either perfect or where the author explains to me word for word why the villain is not a good person. I can see that for myself, thanks! 🙈

    But anyway, amazing discussion as always!

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  7. I find many of the conversations on Book Twitter and so forth troubling because they typically prohibit any sort of discourse about the subject. That is, daring to say anything that is not total agreement that a book or an author is undoubtedly problematic (regardless of whether one have actually read the book or know anything about the topic at hand) is seen as a sign that an individual is also problematic (and presumably should also be cancelled). Many of these conversations turn very ugly! There is a push that anyone who says anything problematic must not only be punished by public backlash on social media, but must also lose their career and reputation. There is also a sense that no redemption can ever be found. Once a person is determined to be problematic, they are always problematic–even if they apologize, or change. That’s very bleak! I would like to think that we live in a world where people can change.

    And yet, we have seen very often how Twitter mobs have accused authors of things that are not factually true. I, too, often see the conflation of characters with authors, as if an author who lets a character be anything but perfect is somehow writing a self-portrait. And, yes, there have been accusations about books by people who never read the book and have no idea what it actually says. And they have been wrong. But just the accusation is enough to destroy careers. Its particularly difficult for debut authors who have no reputation to fall back on. And, honestly, I wish publishers would stop catering to a few loud people on Twitter who have not read the book. Trust the public. Release the book. If it is truly that bad, it will get bad reviews and it will not sell. We do not need a handful of Twitter users telling everyone else what they are safely allowed to read.

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    1. Yes. I’m going to write a whole other post on cancel culture specifically because of the huge effect it has had on authors. It’s pretty ridiculous. And now there is the whole sensitivity readers thing, which sounds nice on the surface but I fear will turn into a pre-emptive cancel-proofing of books, which could cause this climate to continue self-perpetuating.

      “Trust the public. Release the book. If it is truly that bad, it will get bad reviews and it will not sell. We do not need a handful of Twitter users telling everyone else what they are safely allowed to read.”
      100%– the free market can take care of offensive books. If it’s really that offensive it’s going to get bad reviews and not many people are going to be interested in buying it. But I think the issue is that these particular twitter people believe that the problematic content they point out is so subtle and hidden that people won’t know unless they tell them, or they think people have too much privilege to see problematic content that isn’t affecting them, or the general public is too problematic to care, idk. It’s usually popular books they smear the most as problematic.

      I really feel that the book community has a free speech problem in general. I have several more posts on this conglomerate of topics to write haha

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      1. I haven’t seen any controversy about sensitivity readers lately. I know a few years ago it became divisive because people were demanding them–but they didn’t realize that sensitivity readers were already common in publishing. The issue seemed to be that the sensitivity readers were acting in a consulting kind of role–like they would say something like, “Oh you can’t have the characters eat that on that day because it’s a holy day,” or, “Actually, the doctrine says this,” or, “We would use this word.” Whereas Twitter seemed to think that sensitivity readers were supposed to judge books’ worthiness to be published at all, instead of offering helpful revision suggestions.

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      2. I saw some stuff about it on twitter in february or march, not that much though. I’m not opposed to the idea of sensitivity readers as a concept but honestly some of the things I’ve seen are a bit dumb… for example there was a sensitivity reader on twitter saying she tells authors to remove the word “crazy” from dialogue because it’s offensive. I also think it may perpetuate the hypersensitive cancel culture environment. However it also makes a lot of sense to consult people from a group you’re writing about for advice on accurate rep

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      3. Yeah, the original idea was that the sensitivity reader offered their perspective and guidace, and the author would revise as they thought necessary. I don’t know if the author is allowed any agency in the process as it is being reimagined. But the reality is that some people are not offended by what other people are offended by. It’s hard for just one reader to speak for everyone. If I saw a passing mention of “crazy” I would understand it as being used in a colloquial sense and not a anything directed at people with mental illness. Words and meanings grow with the language, and that one is so overused it has lost m uch meaning. But other people might see it differently.

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  8. Oh you should definitely post the satirical post about Fahrenheit 451. I would love to read it! I think your point 2 is my biggest issue with labeling things problematic or canceling an author – everything is so subjective. So why should we cater to the people who ARE offended over the people who AREN’T offended? Every thing that has been “cancelled” always has people on both sides of the fence so catering to the offended can create a very victim-focused society, in a sense. But again, I really can’t add anything of value that you haven’t already said yourself. All of this is so well articulated and explains the other side perfectly!

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  9. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been writing for years with no success at getting into trad pub, but I’ve decided I have to shift into self pub because trad pub is full of awful people constantly coming after each other for alleged offenses against X group of people that, frankly, don’t hold water most of the time.

    Someone else brought up Blood Heir in another comment and I’m still salty that certain Book Twitter types tried so hard to tank that book, but also very glad that Amelie Wen Zhao got to publish all three books in her trilogy while several of those who went after her (most notably L.L. McKinney, whose friend Margaret Owen also had a pseudo-Bardugo YA fantasy similar to Blood Heir coming out around the same time) have had their own careers kinda stall out.

    Similarly, someone else mentioned Carve the Mark – I remember when Justina Ireland tried claiming that book was racist, but she straight up admitted that she skimmed the first 80 pages or so before quitting. Such a liar, and she herself has been plenty racist against Asians (something Zhao criticized her for – Kat Rosenfield theorized that the “cancel Zhao” campaign was revenge for that, and since Book Twitter is all about social vengenace over social justice, I totally agree) and Native Americans, on Twitter and in her own novels. Glass houses and all that.

    And honestly, I’m so sick of the community turning so hard against JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Personally boycotting it is one thing, but they’re trying to actively purge HP from the culture at this point. Comparing HP tattoos to swastikas, leaps of logic to claim that she’s retroactively racist against every ethnic group imaginable (even the Irish, when Twitter doesn’t care about racism against Irish people otherwise) blaming JKR personally for LGBTQ+ youth suicides (Xiran Jay Zhao lost me as a reader forever for this, though it was the straw that broke the camel’s back since they’re so awful a person online), and of course that Manhunt novel you obliquely referenced, writing JKR’s literal death in a fire…I know whose pockets are getting lined with my money, and it’s not the ones who actually advocate violence.

    One last point – I was able to obtain an ARC once of Kosoko Jackson’s A Place for Wolves, his planned debut that got completely canceled for alleged Islamophobia (despite that the book makes no mention whatsoever of religion), and I’ll be keeping it with me everywhere I live for the rest of my life, to remind myself of how no low is too low for Book Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I’m so sick of the community turning so hard against JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Personally boycotting it is one thing, but they’re trying to actively purge HP from the culture at this point.” 100%. I have an entire post in my drafts about how the JKR hate has gone too far. That swastika tweet, I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not. Perhaps we should invest more in historical education so people can learn what the Nazis actually did and stop calling everyone they don’t like Hitler.

      And the Manhunt book situation honestly disturbs me so much. The author is getting so much support on Twitter too. As I wrote in my post, I don’t judge books as being offensive before I read them, so to do so for this book would be hypocritical of me. However I’m judging the author’s Twitter, on which she openly bragged about writing JKR dying in her book. And somehow, she’s being lauded by NPR and other mainstream news sources. From the excerpts I read of the book, it seems quite violent and pornographic, so I don’t plan to read it. But the fact that people are gleeful about a book about “TERF”s getting murdered is… so unsettling…

      Oh yeah, I heard about A Place for Wolves. That situation is hilariously karma-like because Kosovo Jackson cancelled people on twitter before and then they turned on him when he wrote his book lol (https://reason.com/2019/02/28/he-was-part-of-a-twitter-mob-that-attack/) That of course doesn’t mean they should have cancelled him. It just shows how ridiculous it is and that even the wokest of the woke aren’t safe. I haven’t read his book, but I probably should. I need to eventually go read all the notorious twitter cancelled books.

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  10. Loved reading your thoughts on this topic! I admit that I usually try to stay clear of any discussion of “problematic” stuff, as I’d much rather form my own opinions. I agree that the bandwagon effect and a severe lack of critical thinking are the root of the problem, and while it is frustrating to read some opinions posed as fact online, I simply try to ignore it because I’m waaaay over it. I’ve got my own biases, as I’m sure everyone has, but I don’t feel any need to preach to the masses online about what they should or should not read. I just think we should always be critical of the media we consume, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be flawless (such a thing doesn’t exist) or that we can’t enjoy it even when it has so-called “problematic” aspects.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wonder how much Twitter, as a platform, encourages these kinds of takes to occur. Is this related to the advent of Twitter as a space where heavy cultural and political debates are occurring? How does this differ from critique on other platforms like Tumblr or Facebook?

    For example, Twitter’s character limits mean that people can’t write long explanations or provide a lot of textual evidence to back up their claim within one Tweet. And threads are really unwieldy. On the other hand, blogs are a great place for long-form discussions to be had because they have no word limit (though people’s attention can drop off over time).

    Like you said, some people are more sensitive to certain topics than others. So, if someone doesn’t want to read a book because they find it problematic or they critique it for that reason, that’s fine. But if someone is OK with reading that book because they don’t find it problematic, that’s also fine.

    (On a separate note, I also think it’s important to point out that government considerations of speech vary around the world. For example, Canada and many other democratic countries have hate speech legislation while the US doesn’t. And it could cover printed publications as well.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the format of twitter does have something to do with it, although one book was apparently canceled a couple years ago based off someone’s 9,000 word blog post. I think it has a lot to do with the general cancel culture/moral posturing that has become mainstream in the past few years

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Agree with this quite a lot. I joined bookternet just last year and i was so frustrated with all the books being cancelled in that just that small span of time. And for smaller and smaller reason every time.
    It soured my love for so many books, even ones I hadn’t read.

    I really appreciate all the time you must have out into this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I absolutely loved reading this post! A year ago I would’ve had totally different opinions on topics, but I’ve grown as a person and now I can see how out of touch I was with reality. When I used to be on bookstagram, I frequently saw discussions on how XY is problematic, and I accepted it as given, deciding not to read that certain author’s novels. I kind of felt like I was being such a nice human being for “doing the right thing”, and doing the bare minimum. Now I know that I was simply foolish, because life and humans are not black and white, and I only got to see one point of view, a really biased one. We as readers can never know the full story completely, and we just have to trust the author, just like trusting a friend, for example. Most times (obviously there can be cases when the author is actually proven to be a horrible person, but that’s another topic) the internet blows things out of proportion, and people – instead of dealing with their own problems, yell at strangers on the internet for daring not to be perfect. That’s why I love the blogosphere the most, it is not as toxic as social media. I think it’s due to the fact that it’s slower, it takes more time and more consideration to write a blog post, than to tweet a few words. (I’m not a huge fan of social media, but I’m sure that’s clear from my words, haha.) It’s certain that we need to be critical of everything we consume, but I think people should reflect more internally, before actually talking about these topics, as it is not wise to rush to conclusions.
    All in all, I think you did the topic justice, and I enjoyed reading it very much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, bookstagram was really intense about this sort of thing. I definitely agree that the blogosphere is more chill, and it’s healthier to have a balanced view/give authors the benefit of the doubt whenever reasonable. Thank you so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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