After reading Alice in Wonderland and Go Set a Watchman, we started thinking about how much an author can impact our opinion of a book. Is it possible to separate an author from their work? Should we?
For example, the photographs Lewis Carroll took, have you seen them? They’re quite weird…weirder even if you consider it’s the Victorian era.
The things we see as pervy now just weren’t then. Photographing children like this was completely normal. Now we’re all repressed Americans who think everyone is fucking everyone. We tend to think of Victorian times in a way that they movies have taught us to. Not everything was quite as buttoned up as we suppose. Of course my love for Carroll and Alice is well documented…
I have a hard time not over-analyzing the writing of an author I don’t agree with or disapprove of, in the sense that I’ll pick apart every word looking for how it connects to their way of thinking. On the flip side, I’m sure I can be more forgiving with authors I love. I think Margaret Atwood is a magical unicorn, so I imagine I let certain things slide with her that I might not with other people.
Ultimately, how much I’ll let slide depends on why I’m reading the book (I’m much less tolerant with nonfiction) and what issues I’m most sensitive about (some things I just can’t let slide). But if an author has a hateful activist-type public presence, I am more likely avoid them altogether, because reading their books makes me feel like I’m donating money to their cause.
Maybe it depends on how vocal they are about their personal beliefs. I don’t know anything personal about the majority of the authors I read. They could be flying a Confederate flag and promoting hate agendas and I don’t know it. Although, I like to think it would manifest it in their work somehow. Do we want to know more about authors or is it better that they are still largely able to keep their private lives private?
I don’t usually research authors before deciding whether or not to read their books. But if the book’s main themes include issues especially important to me, I do do a quick Google search to see if anything hateful stands out. And I do mean a quick search—if something turns up right away, it’s usually because that author has an agenda and is especially vocal. Otherwise, I’m not going to waste time digging.
I agree with both of you. I’m not going to go digging for dirt on an author… I honestly feel that if a work can stand on its own that who the author is, or what s/he may have preferred is beyond me.
I don’t know if I want to know about an author’s personal life but it’s nearly impossible in this day and age to not know. And hey, that’s fine by me because if someone is sharing hateful views I’m not interested in their work.
I always check out the bios before I start a book, but I’m with you in that I don’t go much beyond that unless something in the book sparks my curiosity.
I think think the internet has really changed what it means to have a “private life” as an author. Today, a well-known, published author really couldn’t be waving a Confederate flag or promoting a hate agenda without most people knowing about it. Aren’t authors who who truly want to keep their private lives private or aren’t available on social media often seen as reclusive?
I don’t know, I reserve “reclusive” for authors who refuse to (or rarely) interact with the public in any way, including interviews. I agree that the internet has changed things, but I think authors can still choose what they discuss publicly.
Sorry, I was being hyperbolic but how many author’s homes have you seen pictures of? They could be flying whatever flag they want. And while “promoting” is a strong word like anyone, they could easily be funding agendas a reader strongly disagrees with. It goes to how far they carry their beliefs. And if those beliefs make their way into their work. I like to think I only read authors whose beliefs are largely aligned with mine but even in this day and age it’s not possible to know. Most authors are not celebrities so their lives aren’t subject to the same scrutiny.
Insert Stephen King fangirl here…he said the worst decision he made in his career was to do the AmEx commercials in the ‘90s because then people started to recognize him. But that also goes hand in hand with his agenda. The essay ‘Guns’ that he wrote, the fact that he’s an open democrat, all of his amazing non-profit work…should that count against him for a conservative reader?
I would assume those things would count against him to a conservative reader? One thing that we all need to be better at is finding out the truth. I’ve heard for years that Orson Scott Card is a homophobe so it’s been quite easy for me to ignore his work. But when I think about it I don’t really know the story. I’ve heard rumblings, I’m under an impression…but I haven’t done the due diligence required to have an informed opinion.
I definitely agree that it’s possible for authors to choose what to discuss and what not to discuss, but I think it’s much harder for authors to avoid having an internet persona today than it was five or ten years ago. I listened to a podcast episode a few weeks ago about publishing data (it’s FiveThirtyEight’s podcast if you’re also a data nerd) and the publicists were talking about how important it is for an author to have a Twitter presence, how much value it has before even getting a book deal, how closely they track followers, etc.
Speaking of authors keeping their private lives private I recently ran across this Electric Lit article wherein Elena Ferrante explains why she publishes anonymously. I love that she says, “Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” What do you gals think of that statement?
I feel this way about most artists…while some of the allegations against Woody Allen are totally reprehensible, does that stop me from enjoying Annie Hall? I’m struggling at this point to come up with another author who I love that has been accused/involved in something unsavory. But the big question is, does that behavior reflect upon the genius or enjoyment of the work?
That is the big question. Can we, as consumers of art, still enjoy something created by someone that we don’t admire?
What do you think, readers? Do the beliefs or opinions of an author impact the way you read a book? Do you even want to know their beliefs or opinions?