21 April 2011

Post 374: Afterword

Afterword: Conjuring the Literary Dead edited by Dale Salwak. ISBN: 9781587299896 (eGalley - publishes May 1, 2011).

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.


  1. I know just what you mean. I've met quite a few authors and interviewed a good number for my own blog. Almost all of the meetings have been good ones in so far that they have made me enjoy their work more than I did before. Even when they turned out to be quite different from what I expected.

    But the few meetings that went wrong, soured me on their work forever. I did an interview with the author of one of my favorite books only to find her a not very nice person. I'll never be able to read her again.

    But I will say that probably upwards of 90%, maybe 95% of the author meetings I have had, have been good ones.

  2. "The author has drawn the lines, but I get to color them any way I want to."

    Thus, the beauty of writing!

  3. CB,
    Sorry you've had negative experiences with writers. I'm always a bit leery when I've seen that an author has commented on a blog post or review. There are definitely times I hesitate to accept a book directly from an author, etc. because I know the backlash has the potential to be all that more personal and angsty than if I picked the book up on my own. I _love_ doing interviews though, so I would like to meet authors in that sense, but I do tend to refrain from talking directly about the meaning of their work, etc. I don't think it's their job to tell us what their work means and they do us a disservice but insisting that "the way they meant it" is the best and _only_ way of interpreting their work.

    Glad you liked that line. Danny, my editor/fiance liked it too.

  4. It really is a great metaphor.

    There's a theory in literary criticism that says that while an author can have intent, the "true" meaning of a piece is based solely on the interpretation of the reader. I highly subscribe to this theory. Unfortunately, I don't know who came up with it or what it's called, so I'm sorry for being unhelpful. But this post made me think of it.


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