Ruining Childhoods Everywhere

A while back, I made a post where I casually pointed out that Roald Dahl was an anti-Semite. Now of course, there were people who didn’t think the quotes I linked to were offensive enough, so here’s a link to the top five most anti-Semitic things Dahl said and here’s one just to make things as clear as possible:

“I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.”

At the time I did joke that I had ruined some people’s childhood, but this was far from my actual intention.

roald dahl books.jpg

You see, as someone who’s ethnically Jewish, I should be mortally offended by his statements and have no desire to read his work. Yet, I went into his books knowing a lot of these things about him. I’ve read countless books (many of them by favourite authors) who promote the blood libel or say things that make my skin crawl. And still, even as a book blogger, I actively endorse their work. Just the other day, I praised Dahl for his creepy writing.

In my personal opinion, I *don’t* think you should boycott books based on what the author believed. Of course, everyone is entitled to choose what they read and why, but to me this would be too much like cutting off my nose to spite my face. Especially when one considers how many people in history (and presently) that have some kind of prejudice. There is too much to learn to insist on being narrow minded just because other people are narrow minded.

This can be extended to reading books by people whose views I disagree with. True, some people’s personal beliefs might cloud their work, and it’s fair to take such biases into consideration. It’s even fair to debunk or debate every line of a book if we so choose. However, we can’t fight ideas we disagree with by burying our heads in the sand- these ideas exist whether we like them or not- we can’t relegate them to thought-crime penitentiaries simply by name calling. It’s not an effective argument and, ultimately, it’s not how we learn. Frankly, I want to be able to decimate arguments from people whose views I find repugnant (and yes, I’m talking about literal Nazis or Marxists or whatever else extremist-ist you can find). For this reason, I will not limit what I read because of who I am or what I believe.

Forgive me if I’m being repetitive, I know I’ve talked about such things before. This just happened to be something playing on my mind.

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50 thoughts on “Ruining Childhoods Everywhere

  1. For me it really depends. I think it’s one thing to buy books from and support someone living who is espousing beliefs like that – particularly these days. But I don’t see it as so much of an issue when it is someone who has died. If the *-ist content is actually *in* the books, I probably won’t be interested in reading them but sometimes it’s still valuable for historical context. I’d say, though, that in an educational context you’d have to be sure to address the content full on to ensure you didn’t appear to be condoning or encouraging it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s very fair- I think that it would be different for me if Dahl (to use the current eg) was alive, personally, because I wouldn’t want to support him either. I think the other part is a bit more complicated to be honest, cos I’ve read a lot of books where the person thinks they’re being forward thinking, but it’s really not. Plus it’s usually not the central focus. Or it might educate me about different attitudes. I wouldn’t rule it out-
      though of course it’s massively off-putting and I wouldn’t want to pick up every dodgy book out there for the sake of my sanity. And obviously point it out if it’s there.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. I definitely agree with this. Most people who have left a lasting positive mark on the world did it in spite of the darkness they also carried. You didn’t ruin my childhood, but then I never appreciated Dahl’s creepiness when I was a kid. James and the Giant Peach gave me actual nightmares.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Aaaaaaaaaaw man, what rock have I been living under? I…I didn’t know this. This is like finding out about Orson Scott Card being huge POS about same-sex anything. Yikes.

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  4. I agree that it is good to expose ourselves to all sorts of views, and then to sit and ponder how they fit with us. To just avoid anything that is contrary to your beliefs limits your world. It’s fine to still oppose the views you find unsuitable. And to just view or read is certainly not the same as endorsing their actions or opinions.

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  5. Exactly. I don’t condone Antisemitism in any way, but I’ve found that if I boycott people’s work because they held some belief I don’t agree with or led a lifestyle I don’t approve of… I would probably have a list of about 10 books I allowed myself to read. There’s probably no one in the entire planet who holds exactly the same views I do, so I will always find things to disagree with people over, though some are clearly more egregious than other. And the complicated truth is that people can write good, thoughtful books about certain topics while holding pretty awful views about other topics. Things just aren’t black and white where “good people write good books and bad people write bad books.”

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    1. hehe yes that’s so true. When I think of all the authors I love, I know that a lot of the ones that are right up there for me have some questionable to dodgy things in their books. But I cannot ignore all the positives because of the negatives. And I love what you said about no two people holding the same views and things not being black and white- that’s very true!

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  6. I agree with you on the idea that we can read books written by people from all backgrounds and perspectives, but I do think biases can cloud writers’ opinions and find its way into their words. For instance, this past summer I was reading a mystery novel, and the author somehow snuck in several statements supporting slavery. Not only was the opinion misplaced, but it was aggressive and just wrong. As readers, the books we share and the money we spend on books is power! I put the book down right there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s very fair. And I get what you mean, I’ve definitely read books where people sneak things in (and in some ways that’s more grating). I think the distinction I would personally draw is whether they were alive or dead, cos you’re right, I wouldn’t want to give someone with views like that my cash. And of course we all have our limits!

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  7. For me a lot depends on the actions of the author and the book. For example, I can read Gone With the Wind, a book that depicts the slave holding American South as a paradise for everyone (including the slaves), and enjoy it for the vivid characters, the adventure, the love story. I won’t approve of the depictions of plantation life, but I can still enjoy the book, which was written long after the civil war ended and slaves were freed. I love Roald Dahl (I’m Jewish BTW), and I don’t really see anything antisemitic in his work. If I did, I would probably approach it the same way that I see slavery in Gone With the Wind. I wouldn’t like it or condone it, but I would still take what enjoyment I could from it. That said, I don’t think I could read a book by, say, an author who was a Nazi war criminal and enjoy it. Even if the author were a talented writer, the knowledge of the harm s/he actively caused would outweigh my ability to enjoy anything s/he produced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes a lot of sense and is a great example- I do think it’s possible to draw distinctions even within a story and enjoy one aspect but be critical of others.
      Yes, I agree with you there. That’s an excellent point. To be honest, what comes to mind for me there is books like Mein Kampf- which I’ve read sections of- and even that was too much for me personally (also obviously it was not for the sake of enjoyment)- so I don’t imagine having any urge to pick up any other books by an author like that. There are obviously gradients to this- so when it comes to war criminals and the like it’s a different story. And, to be blunt, I would find it strange if someone wanted to decorate their home with Hitler’s paintings, even if they liked the aesthetic (I wouldn’t even agree on that score anyway, they’re what my art teacher would have disparagingly called “furniture store art”, but I digress). Like you said, it would be pretty impossible to enjoy the work of someone like that.
      And always a pleasure to meet other Jewish people on the internet 😉 Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes. I think with authors who may have held a certain attitude that doesn’t make it into their work, or authors whose attitudes enter the work in a minor way can still be enjoyed for what they are. Especially if the author didn’t do anything to hurt the people (that we know of, at least) that s/he had negative feelings about. Books that preach hate are another category!

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  8. Everyone is being very diplomatic over here 😀 It’s sad to read that he had such abhorrent views. I just find it baffling. I do feel the same about him being dead, if he was spouting that now he’s be burnt at the stake (though sadly not by everyone!) I think he feels quite personal to us which makes it worse, because we all grew up with his stories. I don’t think it’s damaging to still read his books if they don’t tout these views but I wouldn’t be putting money in his pocket! I can’t give up the peach, that was some wierd stuff, the BFG always frightened me! When I read comments that don’t fit my views, I always think of Ezra Pound, I was like oh I quite like this…oh no he was a monster, who am I! 😂 Reading is so personal & what we read reflects in a way who we are, so it does make you question where you stand. Interesting post!

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    1. hehe yes they are a bit 😉 hadn’t thought
      about that 😂 . It is sad, but I think you’re right about it being different because he’s dead, and that’s a great point. I know what you mean- cos his stories really are incredible. But I totally get what you mean about not wanting to fund contemporary authors who think like this (I couldn’t personally anyway) hahaha yes that’s true 😂 I definitely get what you mean- there’s been many times when I’ve been confronted with an author’s views and have just cringed a little- it’s a certainly difficult to square the circle in this case. Thank you!!

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  9. I love Dahl books. And it is now, as an adult, that I came to know of his political beliefs and other beliefs (he wanted only attractive secretary women). Well, I was at a dilemma too. I think I am easier on authors who are dead or authors whose views I didn’t know before reading their books. I don’t think I would have picked his books had he been a contemporary author

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    1. I feel the same about that! I don’t feel as guilty reading the books if the author has passed away, or if it’s a copy I can get online. I had quite a dilemma, at first, trying to separate the author from the work.

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    2. That’s an excellent point and I do agree with the people that have brought it up- I think there’s a difference between contemporary authors and authors like this who have passed away. Dahl was a dodgy person for sure, but it is much easier with authors who are dead. Thanks for your comment!

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  10. My first experience was with Pablo Neruda when I found out that he had raped a Tamil woman. I was horrified because my mind couldn’t comprehend, at the time, that someone who writes such beautiful, romantic poems could be so heinous. I felt guilty and confused.

    Eventually I learned to draw my own line between the author and their work. I could appreciate their work, either by reading or talking about them, but I wouldn’t actively promote them. But, of course, there are certain works (like Neruda) I will refuse to indulge in. It sounds very judgemental of me, like picking which immoral act is less bad than the other, but yeah.

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    1. That is horrifying and I get what you mean about how it can be hard to draw the line between the author as a person and their work. That makes sense and I think everyone has the right to draw their own lines- and I don’t think people on either side should feel bad or guilty about it. I think there’s a difference between promoting the person and their work- but that’s just me (and as a lot of people have said here, it makes a huge difference if the person is alive or dead, because I don’t think many people would want to give their money to/or support people who can still benefit from it- and even then, there’s always the question of the estate and where that’s going, for instance, Wagner’s children donated funds to Hitler- so it’s not a clear cut debate) I can definitely understand where you’re coming from and it doesn’t seem judgemental to me, it seems fair. Thanks for commenting!

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  11. Deciding whether or not to read authors who have offensive views can be a tricky subject. I think, however, that we all do it (often unconsciously, of course–the average person doesn’t research every author). And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong with deciding where you will draw your own line in regards to authors and their works. I have friends who won’t read authors who did immoral stuff. But if I am reading their work and the work itself has no indication that they were violent or whatever in real life, it seems to me imprudent to immediately throw the work away. People are complex and often disagreeable. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes say good or beautiful things along with the bad things.

    Obviously drawing the line becomes trickier when the work itself and not just the author seems offensive. Yet, if we got rid of everything offensive, we wouldn’t have much literature yet. And I think it is possible to read and even enjoy a work with offensive parts. We can think about those parts, analyze them, and discuss them. We can learn from them. But I’m not sure we should let them taint the whole work. Or that we should toss everything written before today because historically society didn’t share our values.

    What really bothers me is often not reading the work but giving an artist money for something I don’t want to encourage them to repeat. If someone makes a film that I think is offensive, for instance, I probably won’t see it in theatres. If I want to watch it and see what the film really does and if I agree with media assessments of it, I will wait to borrow a library copy because that seems to me like a less direct means of support. Or maybe I won’t watch it at all. But if the artist is dead and not receiving money anymore, I might have fewer qualms about engaging with their work.

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    1. Completely agree- I think it’s really important not to judge others for their reading habits, so I really think this is a personal choice for everyone to make on their own. I agree with you personally. Like you said, people are complex, and sometimes less than pleasant- and on the more extreme ends of the spectrum, I think you can still admire someone’s work without admiring them as a person.

      That’s true. It is not my personal view to draw a strict line at “offensive” work- because like you said, there wouldn’t be much literature left if we did that- although of course I won’t pretend like there aren’t things I just wouldn’t be able to bring myself to read. I agree so much that we can learn from these parts. And I think people really need to consider historical context when reading literature- after all, I’ve even read books where the author clearly thinks they’re being progressive, or might have been considered progressive in their time period, but is not so by today’s standards- it seems a little harsh to judge people for that- even though it makes sense to analyse and critique the work for it, perhaps it doesn’t make sense to get too irate about it.

      But yes, I think there is a difference when it comes to giving the artist money. A few people have made the distinction with artists who are still living and ones who aren’t- and I think that’s an excellent point. Likewise, I think your point about not wanting to feed a film (or piece) of art financially if you strongly disagree with it from a moral perspective- and I can’t argue with that. It’s rare (like Wagner rare- cos his family funded Hitler) where I would worry about that for an artist who was no longer alive.

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  12. huh, I never knew Dahl had such views..to be honest, I don’t know much about Dahl because I didn’t grow up on his books and I can’t say I’ve read anything by him.

    I think the point many make about the author being dead/alive factoring in is interesting… but I can’t yet put it to words in what way… I have to mull it over 100%.. hehe…
    Great post as always, though!

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  13. Great post! I like to take a book on its own merits regardless of the author’s history. Of course, beliefs and worldview usually work their way into an author’s writing (as they probably should if they actually believe them and are being intellectually honest), so a person with a morally gross history might not be someone I want to read if it affects their content. Of course, even when an author has morally repugnant beliefs that show up in their writing it gives me an opportunity to understand where such a person is coming from rather than setting up a straw man version of their beliefs. I had that experience recently with Star Ship Troopers which is basically a love letter to fascism. Of course, in a case like that where repugnant beliefs affect content I probably won’t read much of what they wrote because I do want to be able to enjoy what I read.

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    1. Thank you! I completely agree! You’re right- there are certainly writers who have certain opinions that cloud there work and make it hard (and in some cases frankly impossible) for me to enjoy the book- and so much more so if the person has a gross history. It is incredibly difficult to get inside a person like that’s head at the best of times (ie in non fiction perhaps) but when it’s from their perspective, it’s tough to bypass that. But I do agree with you- even when someone presents morally repugnant beliefs, it allows us to understand what they truly mean. And I agree with you- especially since I hadn’t heard of that series and don’t think I would have any intention of reading it just knowing what it’s about. Like you said, I want to enjoy what I read.

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  14. Excellent point and I agree. A bit like how people would say Michael Jackson’s music suck or they wouldn’t listen to it because of rumours of whatever he might have done outside of the music business. Sure, if whatever he’s done outside of music is true, it’s disgusting, but the music he’s produced and the impact he’s had in the business is still remarkable and reaches the soul! Thanks for sharing. 😉

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  15. I’m still debating over that fact myself: should I boycott books that were written by awful people?
    I find some solace in the fact that, usually, I’m pretty ignorant of an author’s life and beliefs before reading their book and I don’t usually take the time to research it. This sounds pretty awful but it’s the truth. I don’t take pride in being ignorant, mind you. I certainly will love to learn as much as possible about anything that I can. But sometimes that’s just not doable.
    However, if I do know about it beforehand, it feels strangely wrong to read and even appreciate their work. But really, should I? Isn’t art supposed to be controversial sometimes too? Isn’t it supposed to challenge your world views?
    I admire your ability to read books by an anti-Semite being Jewish, and knowing about it hahaha But I agree that we certainly need to face these things head on and stop avoiding them. Won’t do anyone any good to think otherwise.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! It’s always great to learn some new facts 🙂

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    1. Thank you- I know the feeling.
      No- that’s not awful- it makes a lot of sense- it’s a good way to go into things to be honest. But yes, if you know beforehand there’s not really much you can do about it, so I guess you just have to bite the bullet (even if it is weird to go in knowing some things) But yes, I completely agree with you here- art is provocative and controversial and it can make you feel uncomfortable- that’s the point. We don’t get to be comfortable all the time- and art is so often designed to put us outside our comfort zones (and make us ask difficult questions of ourselves). At least that’s my opinion.
      haha thank you! Exactly!
      Thank you for your brilliant comment! 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Awe man. I didn’t know that, ugh frustrating. I read a few of his books when I was a kid, and don’t remember being traumatized by hate lol. I’m not sure I will stop reading his work. I don’t alway know a lot about an author when I read their work, and I would like to be able to pick it up without any thought to their past, but sometimes if I know about a sketchy past it changes how I read a book(probably just me). I was planning of starting up my monthly bookish posts in November and I was planning on reading a short story collection written by Dahl. This info won’t stop me from reading it, but I will be looking for. If I find his adult writing to have antisemitic views I don’t see myself picking up his work anymore.

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    1. hehehe yes, his books really don’t seem to have anything like that present in them lol. (Plus it’s a relief, cos it means we can still get excited about his work). Well, as I said, I don’t personally boycott an author’s work for their views, but everyone is free to make a different choice. I do agree with you though- it’s hard to completely disassociate. I’m really glad this post won’t stop you, cos I don’t think it should! I’ve personally read a lot of his work and never come across anything- though having read other people’s anti-Semitic views hasn’t stopped me in the past, but I do see why other people choose to stop- it can be hard to press on sometimes.

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  17. Ok, first of all I never knew that about Roald Dahl, so thanks for sharing that bit of information with me! 😊 I also agree that you shouldn’t boycott books because of the things an author might have done. It’s always been important for me to stay open minded and read works of people that I don’t think I will agree with because understanding another person’s perspective is really valuable. It is possible to like the art of a person while not liking the actual person behind the art, though of course it might change from a case-by-case basis. 👍

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  18. I chance some consolation in the fact that, usually, I’m pretty ignorant of an generator’s life-clock time and beliefs before reading their book of account and I get into’t usually withdraw the clock time to inquiry it. !

    Liked by 1 person

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