As I was trying to think of a topic to write about to fill this empty Sunday slot on the blog I decided to check out the Goodreads giveaways page. While there I saw a giveaway for The Gentleman’s Book of Vices by Jess Everlee and wondered if it was the same author and series of a book that had been on my TBR in 2020 only to get the boot due to a controversy I didn’t want to mess with at the time. That got me thinking that maybe I should explore author controversies this weekend, so, let’s go?
No, by the way, it doesn’t appear that the Jess Everlee book is at all related. Go ahead and read her book with confidence!
And before anyone gets upset that the authors I’m about to make example of are all white women, remember, this is me:
The book, series, and author I had been thinking of was The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. It’s a queer YA Historical Fiction about a young 18th century English nobleman who goes on what we modern folks call a “gap year” adventure around Europe… with his best friend who happens to be his forbidden crush. If you know anything about me and my taste in books, I’m sure you’ll see why I wanted to read that one!
So what’s the catch? What’s the controversy? Well, not only has the book been called out for containing racist themes that go above and beyond anything “necessary for historical accuracy” (crap excuse anyway) but the author was caught signing her own name to books by BIPOC authors. Yup, you read that right. In what Lee referred to as an attempt to help promote the indie bookstore she works (worked?) at, she signed the title page of many different books, most of which were not her own. This included a doodle all over the cover page of a copy of Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco, who called Lee out on Twitter (but has since deleted her Twitter; can’t link to the tweet.) The blog post I linked also includes a photo of Lee’s notes and signatures on the title page of a copy of History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera and “I did not write this book but I wrote this and I am v. impressive” scrawled across the back cover of a book whose title I can’t quite make out.
Another article has photos of cover pages signed by Lee in copies of War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki (complete with the name “Laura Dean” crossed out and replaced with Lee’s name) and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
None of these authors gave Lee permission to do this, many have spoken out against it, and Lee admits to not knowing who these authors even are.
So as interesting as her books sound (before reading the reviews that callout racism, at least,) I won’t be picking up her books. I don’t want to financially or promotionally support an author who disrespects other authors in the name of self/workplace promotion.
Lee’s books are published by Katherine Tegen Books, a YA imprint of HarperCollins, which means ever since this controversy came to light I’ve dreaded seeing her name crop up during #FrenzyPresents YA catalogue preview events with the HarperCollins Influencer program. Fortunately so far I have not been asked to review or promote her titles, but rest assured, I won’t.
Last year Twitter was once again full of drama surrounding an author: Lauren Hough.
What’s so bad about this one? Well, I can’t link directly to the tweets because Hough has blocked me, so I’ll drop this link to another blogger who took screenshots. Hough decided the best thing to do to promote her debut title, a collection of essays about life as a queer immigrant woman in working-class America, would be to publically attack any reviewer who didn’t leave a full 5 out of 5 stars on their Goodreads reviews of her book.
And let me be clear, the reviews her book had and has since received are not scathing. The first review she attacked was 4 stars, and despite the 2,537 1-star ratings her book has from disgruntled readers and reviewers, it manages to pull off a 3.23 Goodreads average. Do you know how many 4 and 5 stars a book needs to have to pull an above-3 average with 2.5k 1 stars? Over 4,000 combined! The people who’ve chosen to read this book, love it.
This all started with the tweet:
“Glad to see most of the Goodreads assholes still give 4 star reviews to show they’re super tough reviewers who need to, like, fall in love, you know? Anyway. No one likes you.”Lauren Hough on Twitter, April 2021
Yes, Lauren, we do need to “fall in love” with a book to give it 5 stars. Why? Because this isn’t Uber. 5 stars still means something here. If I call a book 5, it’s re-readable, flawless or so good it doesn’t matter, had me needing to keep turning the page from start to finish, and something I’m going to push on readers who don’t normally read the genre. Many of my favourite books aren’t 5s. I’ve rated favourites 4 and 4.5 many, many times. 4 stars from a dedicated reviewer is still high praise.
When I posted a sincere DNF review on Goodreads, she or her stans actually reported me for policy violations to Goodreads and nearly got my review account shut down. This is one of just two authors who has earned a place on my “authors to avoid” private shelf on Goodreads as a reminder to myself to never again touch her work with a 10-foot pole.
J. K. Rowling
We can’t talk about author controversies in this decade and not talk about the TERF queen herself. For those not in the know, “TERF” is not a slur. It stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist/Feminism. She would call herself a radical feminist, and her actions prove she’s trans-exclusionary. Being offended by this title is like cis people resisting the term “cis” or denying that they have pronouns. (Cis is an ancient Latin term used in many disciplines throughout history, including modern chemistry, and simply means same/matching/aligned-with and the opposite of trans. Cis-gender means your gender aligns with your biological sex.) And we all have and use pronouns. Unless you only refer to yourself by name in the third person and insist that everyone else also only uses your name, you use pronouns.
But I digress.
J. K. Rowling proved herself to be transphobic during a series of tweets and essays in 2020 that bled into 2021, dragged in other authors (Stephen King is our hero! Keep calling her out!) and soured a beloved franchise for a generation of nerds. If you’re a Millennial like me, chances are the Harry Potter franchise played a big role in your youth. You probably own copies of the books, the films, or both. You might own other merchandise from the franchise. You may have attended midnight premiers of the books or films. I tick all of these boxes. I decorated a book store I didn’t work at in preparation for the midnight release of The Order of the Phoenix! My friends and I worked out a way to play Quidditch with hockey sticks as brooms and a second string of players on the sidelines keeping birdie and tennis ball snitches and bludgers in play with tennis rackets while stick-riding chasers throw dodgeballs, and presented it to our high school PE class. Many of my friends named their pets or even children after characters from the series. My personal domain name and anonymous alternate online alias used to be Gryffinclaw, representing a sorting hat-stall between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw houses. In short, my childhood friends and I were “Potterheads” of the most dedicated variety.
But I’m also part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and 2020 was the year Rowling went too far.
As the author who writes about a loose magic system world where anything is possible and any magic user can learn to transform into an entirely different species, this author has taken to public forums to repeatedly remind the world that she doesn’t believe that trans identities, and trans women in particular, should ever be on equal footing with cis individuals. She’s of the radical feminist mindset that trans women’s rights take away from cis women’s rights. (They don’t. They bolster them.) She spreads misinformation about and even writes characters that spread the toxic idea that if trans women are given rights, cis male predators will exploit it. (They don’t need our permission, and they’re not socially transitioning their entire lives in order to commit a crime.)
Let me be clear up here on my soap box for a moment. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. No-binary and agender identities are valid. Pushing back against the fight for equal rights for trans and non-binary individuals does nothing to protect or bolster the rights of cis women and children. We just want to pee in peace, wear the clothes we love, and love who we love. We are not your enemy, we are not dangerous, and we will stand with you in your fight as well if you’ll have us.
We used to fantasize about life at Hogwarts, where we could transfigure our bodies to match our minds and hearts, and where we’d surely be accepted by all. Rowling, your books gave us an escape in our youth, and now you’ve tarnished that. No, you’ve burned that world to the ground around us.
But 2020 wasn’t the beginning. Like I said, it was just the last straw. Let’s go over a few other Harry Potter problems many of us graciously or ignorantly turned a blind eye to before:
- House Elves. This world has an entire race of creatures who want to be slaves. When Dobby resisted, he was an exception to the rule. When Hermione tried to campaign for the rights of the House Elves working at Hogwarts, the elves were embarrassed, and most of the school’s population thought she was crazy. It’s little wonder why this plotline was quietly dropped from the fourth film.
- Goblins. The curly haired, hook-nosed wealth hoarders who seem to exclusively work in banks are always portrayed as greedy, dismissive and grumpy, and are shown to abuse animals. Their description is too close for comfort when compared to 19th and 20th-century antisemitic caricatures of Jews.
- Werewolves and AIDs. Rowling has spoken openly and proudly about how the plight of werewolves in the Harry Potter universe is an allegory for the AIDs epidemic. Werewolves in this world are seen as predatory and evil, and the “one good one” (Professor Lupin) sparks angry parental demand for his removal when he’s outed by a fellow staff member. What a great way to portray the victims of what used to be called “The Gay Disease,” right? (That was sarcasm, by the way.) This is exactly how gay men have been treated in western society for centuries.
- Racist Names. The one and only prominent Asian character in the books is Cho Chang. She’s meant to be of Chinese descent. Readers have pointed out for years that not only does her name sound awfully close to “ching-chong” (racist mocking of the Chinese accent) but she doesn’t have a culturally correct first name. Asian names are typically presented in Surname-Given Name order, making Cho her family name and Chang her given name. Chang is a traditional Taiwanese-Chinese surname and Cho is a traditional Korean surname.
The only BIPOC adult character of any prominence in the series is Ministry of Magic minister Kingsley Shacklebolt. Yes, you read that right. A prominent Black man in the series is name Shacklebolt.
Fans have also pointed out that prominent Irish student character Seamus Finnigan is basically named the Irish equivalent of “John Smith” or “John Doe,” and the only confirmed Jewish wizard is Anthony Goldstein. The most Jewish-sounding name she could think of with her world’s currency in it.
Other fans have also called out the extremely stereotypical-sounding names of other prominent non-British characters in the series such as Viktor Krum (Hungarian,) Fleur Delacour (French, first name literally means Flower,) Parvati & Padma Patil (Indian,) Madame Olympe Maxime (French, half-giant. Names refence Olympic titans, in line with how badly giants are treated in-world, and simply being large), Igor Karkaroff (Bulgarian,) Hassan Mostafa (Egyptian,) Mykew Gregorovitch (Eastern-European wand maker.) The point here is that none of the non-British characters are the Luna Lovegoods or Minerva McGonagalls or Albuse Dumbledoors of their cultures. They’re the John Smiths and Sam Hills. They’re the Seamus Finnigans.
- Cultural Appropriation. With the introduction of the Fantastic Beasts franchise (make no mistake, Rowling has always been directly involved in the screenwriting, world-building, and casting of this spinoff film series,) we got the North American equivalent to Hogwarts. Ilvermorny boasts the houses Horned Serpent, Wampus, Thunderbird, and Pukwudgie.
Horned Serpents are dangerous characters in North American indigenous lore across the continent. Fans have pointed out that the symbolism makes sense for a Slytherin equivalent house, but this house would most likely be the best fit for Ravenclaw students from Hogwarts (the knowledge-seekers.)
Thunderbirds are heroic, mythical creatures in North American indigenous lore that represent strength, hope, and power. These characters are revered as godlike and the Thunderbird often appears in positions of prominence on totem poles. As it is used in Fantastic Beasts, this Ilvermory house would be the most comfortable fit for Slytherins transferring from Hogwarts. (aka the potential dark wizards.)
The Wampus Cat, a creature in North American indigenous lore, is a mischievous catlike creature that brings bad luck, curses, and loss of livestock. The Ilvermory house Wampus would be the best fit for Hogwarts students from Gryffindor (the honourable adventurers.)
The Pukwudgie is an obscure reference to a creature from Wampanoag folklore from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Unlike the other Ilvermory houses, it doesn’t even have a connection to the indigenous nations that live within the borders of the USA. These are human-like, 2-3 foot tall shapeshifters that serve the same ill purpose in their folklore as Irish faeries. This Ilvermory house would be the best fit for Hogwarts students from Hufflepuff (loyal, just, and patient.)
The use of these real indigenous mythology creatures to represent magical school houses with values that show a complete lack of understanding of the mythology the names were borrowed from doesn’t sit well with North American fans. This is exactly the sort of flagrant disregard for sacred culture that resulted in centuries of mistreatment and genocide of North American natives since Europeans (and specifically British) colonizers first settled here, and it’s being written from across the pond by a British white author.
- Queer Baiting. Rowling retroactively declared that Dumbledoor was gay long after the book series came to a close, but did not demonstrate this fact what-so-ever in seven books and didn’t take the opportunity to celebrate it when the chance to tell young Dumbledoor’s story came up in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Nymphadora Tonks (a natural born shapeshifter who constantly tweaks her appearance) and Remus Lupin (werewolf, addressed above) were always read as queer, non-binary, and gender-fluid by fans. They ended up quietly settling down together and married off in a perfect little cis-het family portrait, then killed, by the end of the series. We’ve not only dove headlong into “bi-erasure” by putting the queers together in a straight-passing partnership (which yes, does sometimes happen, I’m an example) but we’ve also then buried our gays. Dumbledoor, too.
- Nagini. In the original book series, the big-bad has a pet snake called Nagini that occasionally does his bidding. Cool. No problems there. When Fantastic Beasts was released, we found out that Nagini started out as a Korean woman who was able to transform into a snake and became stuck that way. So the dedicated pet of the Dark Lord is actually an enslaved human woman, and a sexy exotic Korean one at that.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope you see why many of us have taken off our rose-coloured glasses and no longer support this author we once cherished.
So, now I’m curious. Drop some comments down below, let’s discuss!
- Were you aware of these particular author controversies? Where do you stand?
- Have you avoided or abandoned other authors over controversies?
- Can you personally separate the art from the artist and continue to enjoy works by authors who’ve been exposed as problematic people, or have you reluctantly closed the cover on certain books for the last time?