How to Separate Books from their Authors’ Values

I’m a librarian who has been an outspoken supporter of diverse literature, highlighting Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, LatinX, Jewish, and many other marginalized cultures. As I’ve written in various articles, I see literature as a key component in creating empathy among readers. I sing the praises of a wide range of books to my students, friends, and family members. I initiate book conversations with strangers. My bookstagram account often features authors whose work is not backed by large publishing budgets. I’ve fought for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, encouraging teenagers to open their hearts to authors who create acceptance and understanding. As a member of my school’s Inclusive and Representative Literature Committee a few years ago, I created a spreadsheet of books featuring BIPOC, LGBTQ+, People with Disabilities, Underprivileged Social Classes, and Women’s Voices authors. 

This week, after the murder and kidnapping of Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists, I’m devastated, not only by these atrocities, but by the betrayal of some of my favorite authors. I’ve been watching in sadness as the social media accounts that used to brighten my days post messages of solidarity with the rallies and organizations that support the terrorists and their call to exterminate Jews. My feelings of grief are nothing compared to what my friends and family in Israel are going through. Yet, I find it almost impossible to focus at work or lose myself in my beloved books at home. I’ve been grappling with the isolation of being a Jew, but also with the question of how to reconcile works of literature with the beliefs of their creators.

 

It’s an age-old dilemma, but one that hasn’t touched me so personally until now. The most publicized cases include the authors L. Frank Buam, Roald Dahl, and J.K. Rowling. But all writers are humans with opinions, values, and backgrounds; it’s impossible for their beliefs to align with every reader. It’s up to individuals to decide if they feel comfortable interacting with stories that may not even openly address the beliefs they oppose. It’s inevitable that we librarians bring our own biases to our collection development. Despite this fact, there will undoubtedly be titles by authors we disagree with on our shelves. Difficult as it may be, it’s important for us to sacrifice our personal emotions in order to remain neutral in the face of our students’ freedom of choice.

The Anti-Defamation League provides insightful reflection questions regarding this issue. Among them are, “Can a person’s work be valuable even when you disagree with or find the authors’ viewpoints concerning or problematic?” and “How can we advocate and support the content of the work and its larger value to people and society, despite some concerning creator positions?” (“Separating the Message”). They are questions worth thinking about, especially as we navigate a world where misinformation and intolerance tend to create more divisiveness than ever before. 

For now, I’ll allow myself to grieve for the loss of life and the end of my naive assumption that all those in the literary field share the same ideals. As I continue to struggle with my reading choices, I’ll harbor the hope that deep down, we librarians, teachers, readers, and authors all truly want what’s best for our children and fellow citizens. 

Work Cited

“Separating the Message from the Messenger: How to Value Books Yet Disagree with the Authors’ Positions.” ADL, https://www.adl.org/separating-message-messenger-how-value-books-yet-disagree-authors-positions. Accessed 20 October 2023.

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.



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1 reply

  1. This is something I find myself constantly in struggle with and I felt like looking around at authors, social media, and news resources that somehow the world had gone mad or I might be. Thank you for this as it helped me to know it was not just me lost in these feelings and trying to separate these things.

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