Discussion: should authors write about taboos? And how? With warnings or not? Do your read books with taboo?

Hi dear friends,

 

I am back this week with another discussion topic inspired by one of your reactions on last week’s discussion: Authors, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I really liked what Tanaz Masaba wrote last week:

“I am probably going to disagree on the “if you do not like, do not read it” statement. With all due respect, when you are a content creator, it is your responsibility that you are not encouraging misogyny, racism, prejudice in your content. It goes beyond that actually. As a content creator, it is your responsibility to acknowledge, and discuss taboo/controversial/difficult topics with respect to the groups it concerns (example glorifying rape is not only disrespectful to rape victims but also encourages the romanticizing of sexual abuse–something that should NEVER happen).

It does not matter if it is fiction.”

And she was right!

So this week’s topic is about taboo/controversial topics.

Should authors write about them? Do you read them? And how should they write about it?

 

First, let’s have a quick list at some taboo/sensitive topics:

Mental health;

Violence against people of color;

Terrorism and Islam;

Rape;

Incest;

Prostitution;

Homosexuality;

Out of the norm sexuality;

You can add other topics of course!

 

Second about the “should authors write about them?”

One year ago I discussed with an author’s friend about it. She told me “not speaking and avoiding to write about taboo topics won’t make them disappear. But it will help the perpetrators to stay in the shadows, unpunished and unaccountable.”

She was right!

For example, if we don’t speak about children’s rape by priests this will never end! The abusers won’t ever be stopped nor punished.

More than punishing it is also very important to acknowledge the victims in their status.

Part of the healing process is to be seen, to be recognized as a victim. Not as an accomplice. Not as a consenting party. Not as someone who “asked for it”. Think of the “She had such a short skirt she asked for it!”.

In child abuse the perpetrator often manipulates the kid and make him or her think that it’s “their secret” or that “they enjoyed it”. As a result, the victim feels guilty and wonders if he indeed was not at fault.

If you don’t speak about violence against black people or people of color, this won’t stop either.

In short: to make abuses stop we have to speak about them.

 

Nuance here!

Taboo is not always “bad” and violent. If you have a sexuality “out of the norm” like homosexuality or you like BDSM, as long as people don’t speak or write about it you will always be seen as marginalized. You will be either rejected or worse bullied.

Speaking about taboo topics not involving violence also helps to “normalize” them. To have others accept them.

 

Of course it can be seen as a bad thing if you are convinced from your beliefs that homosexuality is the devil’s work.  But I am from the opinion that as long as something does not involve violence to others (either physical or moral), as long as there is abolutely no coercion, people should be allowed to live their life as they please as long as they respect others as in: don’t flaunt it in other’s faces if they know that it will embarrass others. Yes respect goes both way!

 

Third point here: how should authors write about taboo topics?

Above all else: with respect for the victims of violence if violence was involved. And avoiding generalizing.

For example: if you write about the violence done to people of color (think The Hate U Give) you have to give nuances and avoid suggesting that ALL white policemen are violents against black people. Because that’s not true.

That same author’s friend, Nikki Sex (yes yes I know her name is provocative but she wants others to know exactly what is waiting for them in her books) has written many books about taboo topics like BDSM, sex slavery and child abuse. If you read her books, my favorite being the “Abuse” trilogy, you will notice that she has an enormous respect for the victims. She will call a spade a spade and won’t sugarcoat it or skirt around the topic BUT she will always respect the victims. You could say that she has a deep understanding and tenderness for all victims of abuse. Truth be told she is a former nurse specialised in victims of abuse.

So respect is the key word.

 

Aknowledge the topic, avoid generalizing (not every white people is a bad guy or every black people or …), research your topic properly (don’t give half truth or false “facts”), show respect and empathy for the victims .

 

When you don’t have violence (back on the homosexuality and the likes) authors usually want to open other’s people’s eyes.

They want readers to walk into their character’s shoes to feel empathy and stop prejudice.

 

Fourth point: should they warn the readers?

In my opinion: yes. Always.

Even if you spoil some of the fun I think it is very important that readers know about the taboo that will be broached into the story.

Because some people don’t want to read about taboos and we should respect this.

Because some victims should be warned and choose to read about something that was traumatizing for them or not.

Because people spend money for books and if you don’t warn them the chance is high that you’ll have complaints if people don’t like these topics.

Because …..

 

Fifth point: do you read about taboo topics?

Personally, I do. Not all my books are about taboo as I have to be in the right frame of mind. But I’d say 10 to 20% of my reads are probably about taboo topics.

I read them to learn. To open my eyes. To understand. To be a witness. In a sense to offer moral support to victims of violence. To teach my kids to be open minded, respectful and understanding.

One of the first things I taught them was to respect people with other skin color, other religious beliefs, other sexual preferences. Respect the difference. And learn from these people who are different from you. Because you’ll be wiser, better educated and forgiving.

Open your mind is the most valuable lesson that I hope they’ll remember.

 

I want to conclude with some books that opened my mind about taboo or controversial topics.

Incest: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (be warned that I ended the book still aware that incest was wrong yet understanding and loving the characters!);

Child abuse: Abuse trilogy by Nikki Sex (one of the best books on this topic. If you are a victim, read it);

Homosexuality: The Silver Cage by Anonymous, Wolfsong by TJ Klune; A Charm of Finches by Suanne Laqueur;

Prostitution and escorts: Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone;

Mental illness: Grayson by Lisa Eugene; Find You in the Dark by A. Meredith Walters;

Autism: Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters; Puddle Jumping by Amber L Johnson; The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang;

Rape and sexual violence: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnson;  Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake; The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns all by Khaled Hosseini;

Domestic violence: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover;

Transgender: Stop! by Alison G Bailey;

Islam and preconceived ideas: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi;

Racism and violence againts people of color: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas;

Refugees: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt;

Physical handicap: Priceless by Linda Kage.

 

Now let’s chat! What do you think about taboos? Should authors write about them and how? Do you have books to recommend on these topics (I hope so as I’d love to add some to my TBR).

Thanks for reading!

Sophie

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27 Replies to “Discussion: should authors write about taboos? And how? With warnings or not? Do your read books with taboo?”

  1. I do think they should write about taboo, in respectful ways. It’s the only way to educate people about things, by keeping it in the light. I recently read WTF, Dorkus/Suicide Tango, which focused on teen suicide.

  2. My thought is that if an author has a story to tell, they have a story to tell. Just because it’s not a story I would want to read, doesn’t invalidate it or mean that there is not audience for said story. I tend to like my books to be on the lighter side, so heavy issue books are not my go-to, but as far as what I’d never read, not sure I have pinpointed that. Some things make me uncomfortable, but I have yet to be turned off totally by a topic. I have DNFed books that offended me, though. I do prefer the books that follow the healing process after some atrocity versus being in the moment of the horrible event.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      So basically if you feel it go for it? Yes I think that’s the best option. Not to write about taboo because it’s “hype” or it will end up badly! And yes I do prefer reading about the healing process than graphic details of the trauma too Sam!

  3. I totally agree. These topics should not be considered taboo, cuz as you said that enables all the bullies.
    Also agree with Jacquie, the previous commenter, that some fiction depicts these in a manner that makes light of them. Just recently read one like that and it was ghastly.
    But when it’s handled well, it can be helpful.
    Often what bothers me is when it happens in books intended for teenagers, who may not have the relevant skills/experiences to recognize when these topics are mishandled.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      I saw your review about that book Norrie and I totally relate! Now you have a point about books read by teenagers who don’t have the relevant skills. This is very important indeed!

  4. It’s so important for these issues to be addressed in fiction! But I do think there is a really fine line between it being realistic and then completely glorifying certain subjects. I think as long as it’s properly researched, written honestly and with respect, then it opens up the dialogue for these topics and that’s always a good thing in my opinion.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      I totally agree with you Rose! And yes it’s a fine line to walk.

  5. I’m a big fan of taboo topics! The only time I have drawn the line is with glorifying/romanticizing pedophilia like in All the Ugly and Wonderful things and Lolita. I totally loved THUG Forbidden. I felt the same way you did. Great post Sophie!

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Thank you Daniela!!!

  6. Most taboo topics don’t bother me, although I don’t really like too much detail when it involves harm to children. I am drawn to the psychological aspect of the cause and affect, because it just intrigues me for some reason. But I 100 percent agree with you on balancing it out with a respect to the characters.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Harm to children or even animals is something that I can hardly stomach too Daisy! If it gets too detailed and graphic I just want to throw up and can’t resume my read. That’s why warnings are important to me.

  7. I think it’s tough for writers right now, because we have kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” culture thriving on twitter right now. If you ignore a taboo topic, you’re ostracized. If you try writing about a taboo topic but manage to offend ONE person, they will rile up everyone else into ostracizing you. If you’re a minority author and choose NOT to write an own voices story, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? If you’re a non-minority author writing about a main character who is different than you, MAKE WAY FOR OWN VOICES AUTHORS, WE ARE TIRED OF YOUR WHITE PERSPECTIVE ON THINGS YOU CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND! It’s just. too. much.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oooh I so love your comment! I can feel another future discussion as you are totally right! Social media make it so difficult for authors do please everyone. Earlier if you did not like a book your opinion was limited to your friends and family. Maybe you wrote a letter to the author but that was the extend of the “damage”. Now you have a whole net to scream and voice yoru feelings. As everyone knows that unpopular opinion and scandals are most praised by many gossip lovers this spreads like a wildfire and growing something that would ealrier been anecdotical into a wildfire!

  8. Most books that I’ve read with taboo content in them had no warnings. I think it should always have a warning, even if the topic is handled meaningfully, not just for shock value.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Yes Laura because sometimes people have lived traumatic events and are not ready to read about something similar. So they should have the choice to opt out.

  9. Well, once again I agree with you Sophie. I do read taboo romance (to a certain degree) which of course, like Jacquie mentioned, tends to glorify these sort of topics. So, yes, absolutely, taboo subjects need to be handled with care and should definitely come with a warning! I’ve read books from authors that I normally enjoy that have tackled some dark topics without giving any kind of warning which sadly, has me DNFing books (which I loathe doing). But at the same time, what is romance but the glorification of certain topics?!?!? I guess what I’m trying to say is its important to find a balance and it’s important to know YOUR OWN LIMITS and what you enjoy! Does that make sense? Or am I just rambling, LOL?! Anyway, fabulous post! 🙂

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      What is romance but the glorification of certain topics? I so love how you turned it Trisy! Yes we have to know our own limits and authors have to know their own too!

  10. Ahh thats an hard one…
    Yes and no, I agree with what both of them said! However.. maybe we should have a note or something, specially if it is a story about BAD things that however do need to be talked about, to recognize that yes- that was a work of fiction but thoses actions are still bad and meant to serve to learn a « lesson » etc etc..

    And yes!! I am very for trigger warnings and/or just aware the readers that it’s concerning abuse or rape or etc. Sure, we as readers can choose to dump a book at any given time.. but for me thoses are things that we may need to be prepared for? For instance maybe the knowledge of it, keeping an eye open and not being caught off guard can help someone alot… without necessarely it being a trigger. Timing with what may have happened in real life we arent ready to face yet may be it too

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      You are certainly right about keeping your eyes open and timing the read! I know I have to be in the right mood to appreciate certain books with triggers!

      1. What I can handle now may not had been the case when I was in my really low depressive point .. just like how 13RW on netflix had a big boom on social medias as they showed everything and it may had hurted some people. We ourselves can be the “problem” sometimes, not the book itself — but we gonna know if we can handle it or not

  11. I think when you said “Acknowledge the topic, avoid generalizing, research your topic properly, show respect and empathy for the victims” You hit the nail on the head. I think it is important to write about taboo topics but it has to be done right. If you are writing for the shock value then you shouldn’t use these topics! They need to be handled with finesse. Also I agree warnings are necessary for a lot of these! You probably don’t need a warning if your main character has autism but you most definitely do if there is rape. There are a lot of topics in-between with varying degrees of warnings needed, but if an author isn’t sure they should err on the side of caution and include a warning.

    Great post! Very thought provoking <3

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Handle with finess I so love your wording Brittany! Finesse indeed. And you are right autism should not probably need a warning while other distressing topics like rape should never be “dumped” upon readers without warning. And thank you <3

  12. Another powerful topic, Sophie, one that’s sure to have many answers and opinions given just how diverse a bunch we are. There is no easy answer other than, as you stated, wonderfully, point by point, it all comes down to respect and understanding that if you are going to cover such topics, do it the right way. And, maybe, as Jaquie points out, fiction might not be the best place for these subjects.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Yes Alexandra Jacquie has a point. But on the other hand some readers don’t read “non fiction” and would not be enlightened about these topics otherwise. I’d say these are not topics every author can nor should handle!
      And that’s what I love about you all too: you are a “diverse bunch” as you say and that makes blogging so much more interesting!

      1. I love that you are talking about these topics, and getting us all to stop and think about what we read, and what, also, we won’t or don’t read. And yes, if an author can do it right, then I’m all for people being educated any which way possible.

  13. I agree these issues need to be covered, but I’m not sure I agree it should be under the realm of fiction. Why, you may ask? Because fiction tends to glorify (and in a way, make light of) problems in our society that should be treated with respect.
    I could be wrong, and I know many authors have tackled issues like rape and suicide, but that’s not for me. I also avoid reading those books- but, that’s my choice.

    1. BewareOfTheReader says: Reply

      Oh Jacquie you have a point here! That’s true that fiction tends to glorify and embellish. Some authors could do it without glorifying (see the list above) but indeed non fiction would make it easier. And of course not every author has to speak about taboo topics! I’d say they “should” do it only if they feel compelled to speak about these topics.

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