The Next Chapter

How Candy Palmater navigates controversial classics and other reader dilemmas

The comedian, broadcaster and The Next Chapter columnist looks at controversial classics and books by problematic authors.
Candy Palmater is a comedian, media personality and columnist. (CBC/Sinisa Jolic)
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Candy Palmater is eclectic and diverse in her reading tastes — and that's why The Next Chapter loves to talk about books with her.

The comedian and columnist had never read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She picked it up recently but felt it was a struggle.

The novel's worldview was hard for her to take —and it got Palmater thinking how she as a reader should treat problematic "beloved" books of the past and books by problematic people. She stopped by The Next Chapter to talk about what's a reader to do when it comes to controversial classics and problematic authors.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell was an American novelist and journalist. (Getty/Stringer, Random House Canada UK Distribution)

"I give myself a little challenge every year that I should at least have five classics in my yearly reading list. I had never read Gone with the Wind. I've never even watched the movie, even though I love old movies. 

"I was expecting it to be dated. What I was not expecting was, seven pages in, that the whole notion of slavery was right up in my face. I was in some kind of a dream world. I didn't realize the depiction of slavery would be so blatant and casual in the book.

What I was not expecting was, seven pages in, that the whole notion of slavery was right up in my face.- Candy Palmater

"I had to put it down. I felt like my breath was getting shorter and shorter. That got me thinking about a question that seems to be big in popular culture right now: do you throw the art out when the artist has done something reprehensible? 

"I do want to eventually finish reading this book. But I don't think I can do it all in one go. I'll have to read a little bit — then put it away to let it get out of my system — and then maybe read a little bit more."

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee smiles before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in 2007 in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

"When I went to read To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought this is Dances with Wolves for black people. Dances with Wolves was one of the most painful movie experiences of my life. But there still are so many schools that insist on teaching this book. They don't understand how that whole notion of the white hero can be offensive for others. 

I feel bad for Harper Lee on some level because she's obviously a wonderful writer.- Candy Palmater

"I feel bad for Harper Lee on some level because she's obviously a wonderful writer...But there is this blind spot. I just feel that people who are not marginalized do not understand how those books and movies that are made to make them feel good about themselves portray us in this infantile way"

Anne Perry

Anne Perry is an English author of historical detective fiction. In 1954, at the age of fifteen, she was convicted of participating in the murder of her friend's mother. (Ballantine, anneperry.co.uk)

"Every year, I've picked up the latest Christmas book by Anne Perry. She writes a book for Christmas every year and she's been doing it for years. I absolutely love them. I've read a whole bunch of her other books.

"Then I caught myself one day, remembering that at the age of 15, Perry and her best friend murdered the best friend's mother. And yet I continue to read her books. 

"I'm struggling with that. Do I have to sacrifice something I love because I find out that the artist has done something reprehensible? We do ask people to change over time. My whole work, both in my comedy and my broadcasting, is that I feel that I'm a change agent. 

Do I have to sacrifice something I love because I find out that the artist has done something reprehensible?- Candy Palmater

"If I don't give people a break once they have changed, then what's the point of what I'm trying to do? Because I, like everybody else, have done things I'm not proud of. I've done things I'm downright ashamed of. But as I grow older, and as every day goes by, I know better."

Hunter S. Thompson 

Hunter Stockton Thompson was an American journalist and author. (Getty/Frazer Harrison/Staff, Modern Library)

"This one is tricky because I absolutely love every word that man ever wrote including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. His writing was incredible, but I wouldn't ever have wanted to have been in a room with him. I think I would have throttled that man. 

His writing was incredible, but I wouldn't ever have wanted to have been in a room with him.- Candy Palmater

"But again, I feel like I'm punishing myself if I cut off a piece of writing that I really love. Am I punishing him? No, he's dead and gone. It's something I love that brings me joy. I wonder if it is something that we have to figure out, artist to artist, or if it is something that each reader has to figure out for themselves. I'm not sure. 

"Human beings are flawed. That is just the cold reality of life."

Juan Thomspon watched as years of drugs and booze wore away at his father. Juan Thomspson talks to The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti about his father's last days. 1:56

Candy Palmater's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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