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With Robert Galbraith, Sometimes The Greatest Mystery Is How I’ll Feel After Buying A New Book

The first time I read The Cuckoo’s Calling, I didn’t know who wrote it. It was the debut novel by an unknown writer, Robert Galbraith, yet the book felt somehow comforting, almost nostalgic in its style. Months later, I learned that Galbraith was a pen name for JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, the writer who had helped me and countless others fall in love with books and storytelling.

Over the next decade, Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike detective series grew increasingly complex, long, and intricate. But the depth of character development and plot twists made the ever lengthening series a must-read. Every few years, upon the release of a new edition, I would re-read all of the past installments, preparing for the next saga. And despite the continued use of her pseudonym, “Galbraith” remained a quintessential byproduct of Rowling’s gifted voice.

The past decade, though, has also brought forward something of a reckoning for the wizarding queen, who has continually doubled and tripled down on her in sufficiently inclusive ideas. Often criticized as a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), Rowling has appeared entirely tone-deaf to the alienation of some of the people who she had most meaningfully inspired with her work. As her personal opinions became more and more impossible to ignore, readers and fans had to come to terms with how to evaluate her work, both independent of and in relation to her politics.

Rowling is hardly the first artist to face this kind of dichotomous grappling. Kanye West is an unimpeachably fantastic lyricist, yet his behavior has been frenetic at best, leaving many to question the ethics of playing his music. Roman Polanski’s skill as a filmmaker do little to assuage the concerns of his crimes. And the sports world is rife with examples of athletes whose on-field performance is overshadowed by their off-field antics.

All of this swirls in my mind as the seventh and final installment of the Strike series hits bookshelves today. The Running Grave is as hefty as its predecessors, and certainly implies the same intrigue and adventure as all of Rowling’s other work. Yet, the general conversation around media ethics seem to say that buying a copy of the book is a form of validation for the entirety of the person, a kind of rejection of the Trans community, and a “donation” to Rowling’s social agenda. Despite the fact that I don’t know anything about the politics of most of the authors I read, my awareness in this case seems to implicate me more than my ignorance would in other areas.

This is the fourth book release of Galbraith’s since Rowling’s TERFy comments ignited outrage, and I’ve grappled with the morality every time. Once I only got the book from the library so that I didn’t give her any money in the deal. Another time I read the book exclusively on kindle so nobody would “see” me reading it. But ignoring the books altogether never seemed like a real option; after all, I had so grown to love the characters and storylines that it felt inefficiently self-deprecating to abstain from the story altogether.

The Running Grave was delivered at midnight to my iPad, and I read greedily at 2 in the morning during a nighttime feeding of my daughter. Because the reality is that morally gray situations are inherently impossible to parse. The best we can do is not pretend that the conflict doesn’t exist, nor entirely write off the material altogether, but rather to accept that we have to navigate nuance to be a citizen of the world. There are countless angles to consider in every situation. Is Rowling getting over-the-top criticism because of sexism and animosity for a successful woman? How do we compare the wrongs of different artists and decide if they are significant enough to require a ban? Is reading books from diverse voices a helpful way to expand understanding of the world, even when the writing is fiction? All of these are worthy questions, and deserve to be explored at length. But sometimes, a novel is just an interesting story. And if the past is any indication, this one is going to be a good one. So, with my social conscience very much present, you’ll know where to find me (for the next few weeks, because 940 pages is A LOT).


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