21 April 2011
Post 374: Afterword
After reading this book, I think I've decided I don't want to meet any dead authors. For one thing, they don't really seem keen to talk to anyone. Most of the essays present authors as being as elusive as, if not more so than, when they were "in the ground" dead, and so really, what's the point?
But here's the thing, there are very few authors out there that I want to meet. Why? Because I am so afraid that they will be huge assholes, which will make me enjoy their work less on principle. Or that they will have a really obnoxious voice or verbal tick and I will not be able to read their work without hearing their voice inside my head. While this is somewhat pleasant for some authors (Neil Gaiman comes to mind), it is less so for others. In fact, one of my professors in undergraduate managed to bring in an author for a text we were reading, and after that I could not help but hear the author's somewhat nasally voice and tendency to pause in odd places. It pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn't be reading any of her books until I forgot what her voice sounded like and her other mannerisms.
There's another reason I don't like knowing much about the author. Once they've written the book, and I've read it, it's mine. Or at least partially. Certainly they've done all the work of creating it, but I have to do all the work of consuming it and determining how it fits into my worldview. I know I'm in the minority here, but I honestly believe in the potential of the written word to improve the lives of anyone willing to put a little effort into it. I don't think books have to be the best written or the most thought provoking to have said effect; it helps if they have those qualities only because people go into the book with a certain mindset.
I feel that if I know the author and speak with him or her about what s/he meant with whatever metaphor or character trait, then I am missing out on a valuable opportunity to form my own opinions and theories. Those theories that I work for are often more satisfying and enjoyable because I not only get the pleasure of reading the author's work, but also of collaborating with the author. The author has drawn the lines, but I get to color them any way I want to.
How annoying it would be to have some dead author looking over my shoulder to make sure I colored the sky blue when I want it to be green.
Writing may be a personal endeavor, but the results are public (assuming it's published). That means we have not only the privilege, but the right and the duty to interpret the work in a way that makes sense to us as individuals and as a society. And authors should allow this to happen, because as isolated and lonely as writing claims to be, reading is a far more personal a matter. If authors do not step back and allow readers to form their own opinions, well, it will blow up in their faces and will probably look something like this. If your writing is really your baby, those apron strings will be cut at some point.
My review can be found at Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.