Updated: Sep 18, 2020
While making breakfast I hear a thud from the direction of the door. It could just be a sound from a neighbor, but I pull back the curtain to see if I can catch sight of a delivery person jogging back down the stairs. I only see the same white van that was parked out front since last night. Still, I open the door to find a box tucked neatly beside it.
It came! It’s here!
I find the scissors under the debris of an earlier package and cut open the box. I hold its weighty innards in my hands. I want to share my excitement, but I’m home alone. I snap a photo and open Instagram to post it: Troubled Blood, the fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series written by JK Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
I pause to think, questioning the decision to post this. How do I justify my excitement for this book when the author has expressed transphobia on Twitter and, amid backlash, dug in her heels in an article she wrote to defend her transphobia?
I finally write:
The wait is over! It just arrived! I know JK Rowling has said some icky bad transphobic things, and I definitely don’t agree with her stance. Still, I love the characters of this series, and I’ve been waiting for this book for two years. This isn’t the first book I’ve felt conflicted about buying or reading, and I don’t think canceling Rowling is the only solution to this conflict. You can bet I’ll be discussing this further at #babbleofthebooks.
Post complete, I resume making breakfast, then bring my coffee and oatmeal to the folding table beside the couch, where Troubled Blood sits on top. I pull the table closer to the couch, grab the coffee cup so as not to jostle it, only it catches on the lip of the table’s uneven fold and spills over the book.
Anticipation turns to exasperation as I wipe dry the dust jacket and attempt to prop the book, spine stiff with newness, open to fan its 900+ pages.
Is the Universe talking to me? Is this what I get for making a purchase that financially supports a powerful transphobic voice? With numerous people in my life belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, I consider myself an ally. I learn about, stand with, and stick up for them. Is buying and reading this book a betrayal to them?
I want to say no, but I don’t feel confident in that answer. I’m concerned that my privilege as a cisgender person allows me to make excuses for continuing to consume Rowling’s work.
This conflict is not new to me. In college I read a book entitled Zen in the Art of Archery, written by Nazi apologist Eugen Herrigel. I remember the slim volume, which had nothing to do with Nazism, being a monumental influence to my personal philosophy, re-reading it in grad school and passing my copy on to a friend. Now when I think of picking up another copy, even borrowing it from the library, I cringe. With Trump as president, Nazi ideals are not historical, but resurrected in the White Supremacy that found an opening since Trump’s election. Eugenics persists in the US today: an ICE nurse revealed that a Georgia detention center is performing mass hysterectomies. Herrigel’s views are not relic, but current, and I challenge finding credible wisdom in whatever was authored by him; nor can I ignore the ideals he held when they are embodied in the present.
Before 2016 I could say that Herrigel was the product of the paradigm in which he was immersed; though his sympathizing with Nazis was detestable, it was a long time ago and we know better now. But now I see that some people, out of ignorance and arrogance, were and are unwilling to know better. They’re not afraid to voice their hatred or act violently in the present day. Thus, I struggle to compartmentalize Herrigel’s zen writing from his expressed sociopolitical viewpoint.
Can JK Rowling’s sociopolitical commentary exist separately from Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series? My heart says yes, my gut says no, and my brain says though it’s complicated, it’s worth exploring.
My husband Mark says books don’t belong to their authors, but to their readers. Like me, he opposes Rowling’s transphobic stance, but he believes the books she writes can stand separately from her. At the same time, he’s shared that he’s felt her transphobia sour Harry Potter for him. He is less inclined to visit the wizarding world via page or screen because of Rowling’s comments.
When I texted Mark about spilling the coffee on Troubled Blood (troubled indeed) and asked if he thought the spill was karmic, he replied:
Enjoy your book, my love!
Once the pages are dry, surely I will, but the enjoyment cannot be pure. To approach the book is either to face the cognitive dissonance of my beliefs in contrast with my actions, or else take on the mental gymnastics of separating an author‘s public voice from her literary creation.