Discussion

Are You Allowed to Enjoy Problematic Books? ~ Are We Making A Big Deal Out of This?

//I’m a tad bit scared of the response this post will get, but let’s see. Like all my discussion posts, this is not intended to offend/ridicule anyone.

I’ve heard tons of people on booktube and read tons of bloggers who say that ‘they see the problems in ——- book and yet they enjoyed it a lot’, which personally I completely can agree with because there are tons of books which I’ve read where I can see the problem and why it hurts a particular group of people, and yet enjoy the book for at least its entertainment value.

I see how sometimes a group of people might get hurt because of a particular way a book is written. No matter what non-Indian book I pick up, I’ve never seen myself accurately reperesented in them. I have never read about an aptly represented Indian in any non-Indian book that I’ve read, and yes there have been times when I’m been offended by the way some authors portray ‘typical’ Asian people, or write us in unflattering/untruthful manners. So yes, I absolutely understand that sometimes, books end up hurting a group of people for the way they represent these people.

However, the reason I’m writing this post today is because I watched a particular video where the booktuber decides to reread a number of her favorite books to see if she can pick up on the problems in these books. And this is where I feel things are getting out of control.

Reading books with the sole purpose of picking up problems in them is something I can’t connect to. Personally, it seems insane to me that someone would specifically pick up a book just to see its problems; I cannot relate to that at all. There is a huge uproar in the bookish community about problematic books. But what I feel is getting really exhausting is people analyzing every nook and cranny of the book in order to prove it to be problematic.

Of course now, there are the books which are blatantly problematic. The problems are extremely evident and out in the open, and there’s no refusing that the book has high chances of deeply offending a group of persons. However, I’m talking of the other books, which are not problematic in an open way. I’ve lately watched/read reviews where the reveiwer praises the book, and then goes on to say how problematic it is. To substantiate that opinion, the reveiwer then comes up with one or two dialogues, or one or two quotes here and there and bam! ‘This book is SO problematic‘.

This is where I feel it is taking this issue to a great extent. Of course probems in books have to be dealt with, but nitpicking every single word and sentence is crazy. You know why? It’s because if you sit down to nitpick and critically analyze every single sentence in a book, each and every book will turn out to be problematic. There will always be something in the book which offends a particular group of people.

I’ve heard people complain about how Harry Potter is problematic because it had only one majorly detailed female character, that it should’ve had more female characters in the forefront. I’ve seen people hate on V E Shcwab because her characters aren’t diverse. I’ve read reviews of books where reviewers deem the book to be ‘extremely problematic’ because of one dialogue a character might have said.

And this is crazy to me. Every single book will be problematic, if you start analyzing things like this. Personally, I consider a book problematic when the entire book or the majority of it propogates something I don’t stand by, or if it intentionally represents a particular group of people in a offending light. That is what is problematic to me. But just because a character says something offending doesn’t make the entire book problematic! That character himself might be problematic, or else, that is simply a flawed character and we should embrace flawed characters. We might not accept their flawed thoughts or opinions, but declaring a book to be bad or problematic because it showcases a flawed character isn’t something I agree with.

Of course I am in no way making light of the problems which people might have, but nitpicking and reading something exclusively will make 99% books problematic.

Which brings me to the next question : are you allowed to love problematic books?

My answer for that would be YES, but only if you recognize the problems and accept it. Blindly loving a book and not seeing its problems is again something foolish to do, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with loving a book for its entertainment value, problems aside. A major example of this is A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J Maas. Almost every review I’ve read of it, the reviewer claims to acknowldege the problems it has, and yet absolutely loves it. Which makes me happy, because that’s what I do too!

But then there are a people who claim they absolutely hate a book, or just declare that book to be a problematic one because it has one flawed dialogue or one little problem. And because of that problem, they then feel that no one should enjoy the book and if by chance someone does enjoy it, they conclude that they don’t see its problems.

I personally feel that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a book, as long as you are aware of the problems it has, and do not blindly praise it all day long. I also feel nitpicking every word in a book to detect problems is harmful, because we are all different people and get offended by different things. So every book will have that one single sentence or that one character saying hurtful things but declaring that book to be a bad one, or a problematic one just doesn’t make sense.

What do you think? Do you love books but still see its problems? Do you think it is okay to love problematic books? Are you fine with readers nitpicking books? Do you always pick on problems in books? Share below!

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49 thoughts on “Are You Allowed to Enjoy Problematic Books? ~ Are We Making A Big Deal Out of This?

  1. I think there’s nothing wrong enjoying ‘problomatic’ books. I like things that entertain me. It does not mean I necessarily agree that it’s right just because I like it.
    For example.
    My all time favorite book is Wuthering Heights. I mean, I just love it. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to sit here and say that Heathcliff and Cathy had a beautiful perfect romance. That relationship was soooo unhealthy in soooo many ways, but I still love the book.
    Half the time if I’m so caught up in the story I don’t even notice the problems until it’s pointed out, so reading a book just to nitpick baffles me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, I too like books which entertain me and give me happiness, and that is no reason to start analyzing it to find out mistakes!
      I love Wuthering Heights too – a lot – but Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship is definitely not what you’d call an ideal one, it is very unhealthy. However, I still love the book and it is their disturbed relationship which makes the book what it is!
      That’s the same for me too! Half the time even I don’t see the problems in a book until I read somewhere else or listen to some other reviewer talk about its problems :)

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  2. I’m so glad you wrote this because I’ve been having very similar thoughts to you recently. I’ve been seeing a lot of reviews for certain books that start by saying it was a great book and then go on to nitpick and highlight the one time something was a little offensive. Blatantly offensive books are definitely not okay but when you have to go searching for it, I don’t think it should be labeled offensive. I think it’s okay to love problematic books once you take them with a grain of salt and as you said, recognize that there are faults and accept them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes exactly my point! As long as you recognize the faults, you can always go ahead and love the book :)
      And yes honestly nowadays it’s become a trend to praise a book but then read out small little things which might have been a little offensive. It really annoys me 😢

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t think I ever cared about not having too many female characters in books because I always felt more connected to characteristics rather than gender. I’m more like Harry than Hermione and I never connected with her. I know only one book I didn’t enjoy, an Indian book written by an Indian author with ZERO accuracy about the Indian community she was representing. I was enjoying it till I got to the part where she described a traditional south indian brahmin wedding, Iyer specifically, as a punjabi wedding. Not the word, but an actual punjabi wedding with dancing and lehengas and all. Lots of people like this book but it seems more and more like south indian erasure to me. But I’m not going to attach them for enjoying it (which people have started doing recently). You’re right. There will always be problems in books, it’s a bigger problem when people start dictating to creative people what is okay and not okay to write. Especially when they’re doing it all the time! I used to really care about this not I’ve stopped. If I pay attention to the people talking only about the problems, like you said, i’ll never have anything left to read.

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    1. Well I feel Indian books of course portray Indians well enough, but other than these Indian books, I hardly find an accurate representation of myself anywhere. And yes, there will always be problems in a book, but nitpicking and telling people what to write or not is a bigger problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely agree with your thoughts though I tend to go a little beyond: all books are problematic because humans are problematic. Meaning that we as readers aren’t perfect nor is an author perfect. Whether it’s bad writing or a bad overall premise or an offensive representation, you can always find something negative to say about a book. There are things you’re going to miss based on the person you are and things that will always stand out to you because of your experiences. I just think that we’re reaching that point where people are just going to stop enjoying to read because looking for problems is going to be what they want to do when reading. And that’s just a sad thought

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    1. Yes exactly! We all have flaws, and it’s extremely probable that an author will make some mistake while writing. Also, people who complain that a particular character said something offensive need to understand that the character is human, and they’re bound to have flaws. There’s no point in reading a perfect book! And yes, it is always possible to come up with a flaw in a book, only that problem is subjective – it might be a flaw to one person and perfectly okay to another.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome post! I find that most books people find problematic are actually showing the real, darker side of life. For instance, fictional books laced with such taboo topics as domestic violence, sexual assault/abuse, etc. may be disturbing to read, but I hope people remember that these things REALLY happen to people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes,I agree with you. People think books are problematic mostly because they show the darker things but these things actually happen! For example, I’ve heard many people say they hate a book because it has cheating. I did a discussion on this topic a few months back – how can you hate a book which shows something which does occur in real life!?
      Another example is people hating The Wrath and the Dawn because it shows rape and an abusive relationship in the beginning. But let me tell you, that kind of marital rape is very much still existent in a few arranged marriages where I live. That’s just how it is!
      I genuinely hope people realize how harmful it is to nitpick.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post, Anushka, and I agree with many of the points that you made! Personally I’m of the same opinion: it’s OK to like problematic books as long as you’re aware of the problems. Like, I LOVE reading New Adult books at certain points of my life and I would heartily acknowledge how problematic the relationships in those books can be, for the most part. (Some, after all, can be not quite so obviously problematic.)

    What I’m a bit iffy about is thinking that if a person likes a problematic book, that means they’re racist/sexist/unfeminist/et cetera, et cetera. I think we all could use a lot of introspection in figuring out where our “lines” and “triggers” are — we have such different experiences interacting with the world that what might come to you as racist might totally fly past my head, etc. — and I think I’d much rather err on the side of being kind and respectful in terms of calling out that person. By that I mean… by all means, call them out and point out to them what might be problematic, but name-calling and witch-hunting feel a bit over-the-top and cruel, and are much likelier to send that person down the wrong path.

    [/end rant] Sorry! That totally went on a different direction than I had expected. Kudos for writing this post. <3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment actually made me think a lot, so thanks to you! I think what you said is completely true : that the problems in a book are completely subjective because what might come off as racist to me might not even be noticed to you. And that totally depends on the life experiences we have as ourselves. Also, name-calling people just because they might enjoy a problematic books is an even bigger problem.
      And thank you so much ☺

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  7. I think part of the issue is that there is never going to be 100% consensus on what the word “problematic” means and what counts as problematic. This is why there are disagreements on Twitter all the time. One person may think a book is offensive and a bad portrayal of their culture; another person from that cultural may love it and think the portrayal is spot-on. People simply don’t have the same opinions or same life experiences. I know some people really identified with the portrayal of chronic pain in Carve the Mark. They have pain and agreed with it. Other people, because it’s not the way they experience or relate to their pain, didn’t like it. It depends on the book, I suppose, but in general I try to remember that the fact that the character doesn’t experience life the way I do doesn’t mean that literally no one experiences life that way.

    If we’re talking about “problematic” romance or something like that, I think someone in the comments raised a good point about being aware it may not be good or realistic. I think you can read about instalove and not walk about thinking love is or should be like that. I also think it’s possible to enjoy “bad boy” romances or whatever as a fantasy and not actually want to enter into that type of relationship in your real life.

    But overall there are just so many factors for me to give a simple answer to the question. Is the whole book problematic? One line? Is there one character who says nasty things, but that character isn’t necessarily portrayed as correct about what they’re saying? I’d have to go on a book-by-book basis, personally.

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    1. Oh yes! I too think that perceiving something as problematic is completely based subjectivity. What might be offensive to me might be completely okay with someone else – and this subjective perception depends on our subjective life experiences and the kind of person we are.
      And yes definitely, as long as you’re aware of the problems in a book, it’s all right to read it. You don’t have to agree with the problem but enjoying the book nevertheless isn’t a crime!
      And yes, way too many factors. What I pointed out in the post is how people nitpick, which I don’t approve of. I know we’ll have to consider every book individually when it comes to seeing problems and what those problems are based on, but my complaint is how some readers nitpick and judge the book as bad because of a problematic sentence or a morally inept character.

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      1. Yes, I am personally of the opinion that a character with problematic views is not the same as the book being problematic or the author agreeing with the character. I just saw someone on Twitter declaring Caraval problematic because the protagonist’s father is abusive. But he’s not portrayed as “good” or not abusive. In fact, the other characters specifically point out that he’s a horrible person. People or saying terrible things in books isn’t problematic. In fact, I don’t think there’d be much to write about if we couldn’t write about people doing things that are wrong.

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        1. That is insane! How can a book with an abusive father be problematic, when something like abuse exists in real life!? As long as it is not portrayed in a positive way, and as long as it is shown to be harmful, I personally don’t mind reading about such things. I was just talking to another blogger in the comments about how people declare a book to be problematic, even though all it does is portray something which exists in real life. Cheating, abuse, lying etc – it’s all very much existent and I don’t see why people complain about the representation of real things.

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          1. Exactly. It seems as if we’re saying “real” problems shouldn’t be portrayed, and that means if we want any conflicts and/or villains in books we can only have wild plot lines where the “bad guy” is doing something semi-unrealistic like trying to create a magical orb that will turn everyone in the world into his slaves. But just representing difficult behaviors or attitudes isn’t automatically “problematic,” particularly if the book isn’t making some overt argument that “Cheating is actually okay” or “This behavior isn’t really abuse” or whatever.

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            1. Yes! Most people complain so much about books simply representing real problems, and it honestly baffles me everytime. And honestly, if all characters in all books are perfect, then what’s the point of reading them?

              Liked by 1 person

  8. OMG, this is the post I’ve been waiting for! I’ve been having these same thoughts, and I feel like it’s really interesting. I think something that I’ve always just disagreed with is how if someone finds something problematic, EVERYONE now has to deem it problematic. Someone early on in the comments section talked about how different people have different experiences, and that’s so true. I remember looking at reviews for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and it’s so crazy how differing opinions could be. There were some people who said it was an accurate portrayal of depression, and some said that it was downright offensive and not handled well at all. And it comes down to, “So who’s right?” And I just don’t like how people will immediately say, “Well, the offended people!” But, why? If someone with depression found it to be accurate, is that not something to be taken into account?

    But, yeah, I love this post. I’m not a nitpick-y person, generally, so I don’t see the point in feeling like you can’t enjoy something anymore and you have to constantly look deep into a book to see if it’s racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist, etc. Because, at this point, I’m pretty sure every book could be problematic if we all looked hard enough at this point.

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    1. Exactly. It’s like a trend, as soon as someone points out something problematic, everyone jumps onto that bandwagon and everyone starts having problems. It’s all extremely subjective and depends on personal experiences – whether one finds something problematic or not.
      Thank you 💙

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think it’s fine to enjoy a problematic book; I like them. I could enjoy a book and see a problem but I won’t let that cloud my judgment of the whole thing. I think you should stop reading a book if you truly don’t like it or it makes you feel offended in anyway. As for nitpicking, I think you should be careful with it. Like you said if someone nitpicks everything in a book they won’t like the book anymore. But nitpicking one or two things in a book shouldn’t ruin the whole book for you. All in all if you enjoy a book read and if not find a new one 😊

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  10. I think it’s fine to enjoy problematic books, but we shouldn’t be nitpicking every single little tiny thing that could possibly be problematic about a book, if it’s something blatantly harmful then yes of course point it out, but going through books just to find problems is not only horrible to the author who worked so hard on that book, but horrible to the people reading it too, because you’re taking out the enjoyment for them.

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  11. I find the current drive to ban or censor books people find problematic to be somewhat concerning for the very reason you state–just about any book can be considered problematic. J. R. R. Tolkien has been criticized for racism. So has C. S Lewis. Shakespeare has been accused of misogyny and ant-Semitism. Dante has been criticized because he thinks his religious beliefs are true (as do most people with religious beliefs–otherwise they probably wouldn’t hold them) and that’s not fair to other people with different beliefs. Tons of medieval European texts are anti-Semitic. Most historical texts tend to have problematic views on race, women, or religion. If we were to stop reading every text that has problematic moments we might be left with nothing.

    It’s also true, as you note, that sometimes critics take moments out of context to call a book problematic. If a character who is sexist says or does something sexist and then the plot critiques that character and shows how their actions are harmful, the book itself is not sexist! But so often readers seem to think that any character doing or saying anything is an authorial endorsement of their attitudes.

    Reading texts doesn’t have to mean we whole-heartedly endorse every moment in them. We can read them, even enjoy them, and still be able to think critically about them.

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    1. Yes exactly, all big authors have been criticized on some ground or the other. And just because a book is offensive to some people definitely does not mean it’s offensive to everyone else, and thus it shouldn’t be banned. It all depends on a personal point of view, I feel.
      Exactly, a flaw of the character is NOT flaw of the book. It’s just how the character is portrayed, and doesn’t reflect the author’s own beliefs or the book as a whole. A lot of time, I’ve noticed that dialogues reviewers find to be problematic need to be considered in the context of the scene going on, sometimes the scenes requires a dialogue like that, but pulling out that line and criticizing it objectively as a flaw of the book is so wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I read ACOTAR last month and I know a lot of people’s problem with it is the lack of diverse characters. However, my problem was the drugging and kidnapping etc. but I still loved it and plan to read the sequel when I’m done with my current reads and The Hate you Give.
    Everything is problematic if you look deep enough. I’m not going to let it stop me from reading a book I want to read, but I would warn someone before they read it if I know they’re sensitive to that issue.

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    1. I actually feel the same. I know everyone trashes SJM for her lack of diverse characters, and I’d definitely appreciate her involving diverse characters in her later books, but my bigger problems were the drugging. Back when ACOMAF was still not released, when I heard people swooning over Rhysand, it really boggled me because for me, he wasn’t a mysterious, evil, cool bad guy, he was a druggist and abuser. My main problem with ACOMAF was how Rhysand’s character COMPLETELY changed, and so did Tamlin’s. They were completely different from the first book. I still loved ACOMAF for it’s story and the entertainment level, but I did have my problems. Like you said, that won’t stop someone from reading the book he/she wants.

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