05 February 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Know Your Author

Here's this week's Booking through Thursday, hosted by Deb. To see everyone else's responses, be sure to click through to the BTT blog.

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of him or her? Or the reverse--has a biography made you love an author more?

Sometimes knowing more about an author can affect how I feel about reading his or her works. It's not so much that it affects my opinion of the author's writing ability as much as it affects my desire to read that author's works. Here are just two examples:

⇒ When working on a book of Ezra Pound's correspondence, I learned of his deep anti-Semitic beliefs. Since then, I have never had the desire to read anything else he ever wrote.

⇒ After having read a couple of biographies about Emerson, I was compelled to reread many of his works so I could think about his words in light of what I knew of him as a man.

Sometimes knowing just a snippet about an author's life is enough to make me want to read his or her books. For example, I am interested in British authors who grew up in colonial India (such as Kipling and the Godden sisters), so knowing that fact alone would make me at least look into an author's works.

EDIT: I absolutely believe that a horrible person can be a brilliant writer. Knowing that the author is a horrible person may cool my desire to read more by him or her, but wouldn't stop me from reading if I truly loved his or her books. I don't believe in banning books or authors.


jlshall 2/5/09, 8:38 AM  

Yes, Pound is a problem - but I wasn't that fond of his poetry even before I found out about his sympathies. I usually don't try to learn too much about an author's personal life. I just let the works speak for themselves.

SmilingSally 2/5/09, 8:58 AM  

You have a valid point, and I would have to agree that if I knew beforehand, I would turn away from some works. Happy Booking Through Thursday!

Anonymous,  2/5/09, 10:36 AM  

It's interesting that I was just reading your answer when I heard a "click" that I got a new e-mail, and it was your comment on my BTT. :-)

If I found something like Pound's belief, that would turn me off, too. but usually reading about and author enhances my enjoyment of their work.

Nan 2/5/09, 10:47 AM  

I took a biography class in college in which I learned that in some time periods the author's life is of prime interest, and at other times he or she is judged by the work alone. I think for quite a while now we've been in the author's life period, don't you? For an english and amer. lit major, I know very, very little about Pound. I did however just read about him in John Berendt's book about Venice. He was very, very good to other writers. He helped them and didn't take the credit. I hate to find out something negative about a writer I love. I, too, am very, very interested in colonial India and have the Kipling Sahib biog. waiting on the shelf for me. Have you ever read M.M. Kaye's most excellent three part autobiog? It is what created my interest in this time and place. Oh, is it ever wonderful.
Part 1: The Sun In The Morning [1990]
Part 2: Golden Afternoon [1997]
Part 3: Enchanted Evening [1999]

She talks about how she was blessed with an amazing memory.

teabird 2/5/09, 10:48 AM  

Since I never liked Pound to begin with, I was shocked to learn of his hideous beliefs, but I didn't lose a favorite poet. I guess that's the best possible outcome....

Thanks for visiting !

Sandy Nawrot 2/5/09, 10:48 AM  

Definitely if I heard that an author was anti-Semitic, I would not buy any of his books. But normally, unless I read about an author in an article, or in an interview here among bloggers, all I have to go on is what is written in the back of the book. And that is usually so benign, it rarely will turn me off.

On the other hand, if I find that an author and I have something personal in common, or they live in or write about a location I'm familiar with, I might become more enamoured!

Dorte H 2/5/09, 10:52 AM  

I think your point about Ezra Pound is very interesting. To me it makes a difference, however, if he retained his views all his life, because back in the 1930s many writers and thinkers in Europe and the US had strong, racist views and believed in eugenics as something that could save civilization.
After Hitler lost WWII, these views grew highly unpopular overnight, though, so after that authors often conveniently forgot what they had written a few years earlier.

gautami tripathy 2/5/09, 10:54 AM  

That is a valid reason for reading Ezra Pound..

Here is my BTT post!

Beth F 2/5/09, 11:01 AM  

Well, ok, I never really liked Pound's work to begin with either. My point really was that I'm human. It is hard for me to seek out the work of author whom I know to be actively involved in promoting hate.

I am much more forgiving of learning about a passing comment, probably taken out of context.

Nan: I have read all three Kaye books, and loved them!

I don't care at all about an author's political beliefs, religious beliefs, or personal life choices. I do have a problem with people who promote hate.

Beth F 2/5/09, 11:18 AM  

Dorte: You make a valid point, but Pound was active in his hate and not just swayed by events of his time.

My only point is that we are after all human, and no matter how liberal one's thinking, how can you not be affected -- even a little bit -- by what you learn about an author?

Like I said in my post, it doesn't affect my feelings about the author's abilities or the worth of his or her book; it may however cool me to reading more.

It's always important to learn about both sides of an issue. I don't read only authors who agree with me. I like to learn, and I like to keep an open mind. And I think it's good to take many different approaches to a topic.

I knew I should have never responded to this question in the first place. I'm actually incredibly liberal minded and little concerned with other people's life choices. I read almost everything. Now I'm sure I will lose readers over this. Sigh.

Anonymous,  2/5/09, 11:46 AM  

Exactly, I would turn away from the mentioned works too, but on the other hand, knowing more about say Mark Twain would make me to read more of what he has written.

Dorte H 2/5/09, 12:06 PM  

Dear Beth,
if you lose readers because you use your mind, you will probably also win some :)
Seeing that people can read & think does certainly not turn me off their blogs.

Stacy 2/5/09, 12:17 PM  

I think that is a good point about Emerson...when I know more about the author I do read their work in a different light with a different understanding.

Beth F 2/5/09, 12:18 PM  

Thanks for your support, Dorte. This seems to be an emotional issue.

bermudaonion 2/5/09, 12:27 PM  

I haven't discovered anything like that in any of the authors I've read - you do much deeper reading than I do.

Anonymous,  2/5/09, 2:05 PM  

You're right, I don't want to promote hate either, so maybe I wouldn't buy their books if I found something like that out (if they were still living). I didn't think about it that way. I'd still read them though.

It's interesting to view a book through the lens of its author as well, but I don't do it too often these days now that I've escaped the trap of studying literature. =)

Anonymous,  2/5/09, 2:33 PM  

The truth is, at least for me, knowing the life of an author might incline me to read more of the works. Knowing is key to understand the authorial meaning in fiction. After all, author is a life, reading an author is just getting to know the life. As long as the author doesn't promote hate, I'll be fine.

Robin M 2/5/09, 3:58 PM  

Good post. Some authors beliefs have turned me off, but its more their attitudes than anything else. There is one author I've come across on one of the group author blogs - he is negative and swears alot - turned me off. But I shouldn't let that keep me from reading his books - they may be good. Who knows. Am I conflicted?

Nise' 2/5/09, 4:01 PM  

I can't think of any fiction author that I avoid because of their biography. I like to think that I let the book speak for itself. If the story's subject matter is offensive to me, I will quit reading and choose another book.

Becca 2/5/09, 9:43 PM  

You know, I just read this about Ezra Pound the other day. I had no idea. I haven't read a lot of his stuff, and never was a huge fan, but I guess I was a little surprised by it. I don't know why I was, exactly, but I was. I think it is good to read works by all kinds of people from all different beliefs and backgrounds. But, the thing is, I would have a hard time not letting this information color everything he wrote, whether it had anything to do with these views or not. I guess perhaps because prejudices against something a person has no control over has always been extremely odd to me and upsetting.

Yvonne 2/5/09, 10:05 PM  

Your answer is very interesting. I've enjoyed reading everyone's different outlook on the subject.

Anonymous,  2/5/09, 10:21 PM  

Good point about banning books...I didn't even think of the question in that light.

Dot 2/6/09, 3:55 AM  

I totally agree with your edit, Daphne Du Maurier does not come across well in biographies but in no way has it put me off her writing.

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