The world of writing has changed since I started reading.
Writers used to be mystical beings who existed in some alternative reality of glamour and pixie dust, reachable only with low probability via a handwritten letter sent to the writer’s agent. Goat sacrifices followed as you waited and prayed for a response, and, if the pagan gods were pleased with your grovelling, some months later you received a scrawled missive from your literary hero. You framed it and treasured it for life. (Note this is all based on hearsay. I never wrote to my idols because, as I might have mentioned, I’m rather shy.)
Today, this world has been overturned. The winding forest trails that used to be the only way to reach an author have been replaced with four-lane highways. Many authors lounge in open-air coffee shops on the roadside, where any fan with a social media account can attempt to strike up a conversation with them.
So readers meet the authors of the books they love, and authors make life-long fans. What’s wrong with that, you might ask?
Nothing at all. Unless you’re like me.
The wonder of a book is that it transports you to another world. The physical world vanishes and you live through the trials and triumphs of the characters.
You’re not reading a book, you’re living a life. And so anything that reminds you that you are in fact reading a book is a grease stain on the reading experience.
This is why I don’t like chapter titles. Life isn’t split into chapters. When I arrive at the office, a heading doesn’t flash up saying, “Chapter 3: In which Alecia types and sometimes drinks tea”. When I get home, I’m not bowled over by the text “Chapter 5: In which His Royal Fluffiness laments the emptiness of his food bowl”.
Chapter titles are like flashing neon signs that say “You’re reading a book!”
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with meeting authors. Hold your unicorns, I’m getting there.
Have you ever tried to read with someone peering over your shoulder? Every minute you get, “What’s happening now? What do you think of it? Is it good?”
Now imagine it’s the author asking. When they say “What do you think of it?” this is no idle question. It’s like a parent asking what you think of his new baby. No matter how much or how little you care, you know he cares a great deal. This is his baby and he wants you to love it.
Talk about pressure.
I don’t want to feel obliged to enjoy something as I read it, or guilty if I don’t. I don’t want someone looking over my shoulder as I read. Did you see that clever sentence? Wasn’t it marvelous?
Go away and let me read in peace!
But it’s not just the author’s psychic peeping over my shoulder. It’s the fact he exists at all.
The author’s existence is a reminder that this is just a book, and it lived in someone else’s mind before it lived in mine.
I don’t want to know what the author’s face looks like. I don’t want to know that she prefers cats over dogs, grew up on the West Coast (of NZ or the US, take your pick), and her favourite tea is Earl Grey. The more I know about her, the more I’m aware she exists as I read her book. Did you like that plot twist? Clever, wasn’t it?
I don’t want to think about how the story I’m reading grew from late nights, industrial-strength coffee, and profuse swearing.
I prefer to think of stories as forming wild in drops of dew.
They grow untouched by human hands into their perfectly shaped final forms, then are set free to carry delight and wonder across the world.
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28 thoughts on “Why I don’t want to meet the author”
This was funny, charming, and insightful! I totally understand your point. Great stuff.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂
I wish they did grow wild. Harvesting them would be a damn sight easier than writing the blasted things. (Yes, I am stuck, why do you ask?)
You’re right, it would be so much easier! (Sorry to hear you’re stuck. Let me know if I can help read something or hash over ideas with you.)
I kind of agree with you. I like books be magic carpets, not manuscripts on someone’s laptop between grocery shopping and fixing dinner.
Magic carpets – that’s a lovely way of thinking of them!
Ooh, wouldn’t it be cool that as soon as someone turns into “an author” they get to move to a palace in another dimension and the readers approach them with prayers and goat sacrifices? That’d be life! 😀
Ooh, I like this! Although can they bring cake instead?
I’m up for both of these, but how about we keep the goats alive to play with while we eat cake?
Ha, I’m a sucker for chapter titles – if they’re fun, I love them! But I know what you mean – especially when you inadvertently read an article in which a favourite author is revealed to indulge in casual racism/hate cats/support the Wallabies, and then you can never read their books again. You kind of want stories to exist as separate entities to the author.
That’s true, humorous chapter titles justify their existence by making you laugh.
You’re quite right, those three things are unforgivable sins in an author, especially the Wallabies thing. 🙂
People we admire have a funny habit of being flawed human beings. For that reason, even when I had an opportunity to meet my favorite author, I didn’t always take it. At first, it was because I didn’t want to be a person in a line of people they easily forgot. As I got older it was because I didn’t want to be self-centered jerk who acted like they had gone out of their way to disappoint the image I had of them in my own head.
Also, I have this funny personal rule about not bothering people when they’re on their own time.
Sometimes, like you said, I just want to read the story, or watch the comedy, or see the movie and I don’t have any compelling desire to find out what color underwear the subject has on.
Why would you ruin my illusions like this? (Wails piteously.) Authors *are* perfect, that’s why they get to live in glamorous author-realms where we mere mortals may not tread.
I don’t think I’ve actually ever been faced with a choice of whether to approach an author whose book I’d read – and if I had I’m sure I wouldn’t have recognised them.
Interesting perspective! There really is something, I don’t know if disappointing is the right word, but something strange about the realization that your heroes are just people like ourselves. Another great post!
I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂
Hero worship is a strange thing, and I admit it’s not something I’m very good at. Ask me who my heroes (in a gender-neutral sense) are and I can’t tell you one. At the same time, there are lots of people whose skill in a particular area I greatly admire. If you idolise everything about a person because of their talent or success in one area, as soon as you learn more about them you’re bound to be disappointed.
I feel this way about actors. I don’t want to know ANYthing about them. Then I might have to stop liking them. Then I can’t watch their movies. Of course, sometimes, getting to know them a little makes me like them more. It’s so tricky! I know what you mean about authors though. If they’re too into social issues and tweet about it all the time, I feel like their books are going to be the same way. I’m not into social issues, so then I don’t want to read their books. I don’t have any current thoughts on chapter titles at the moment. I don’t think I see them often enough.
I think what you need is a screening friend. So if you think you might want to know more about an actor, you have your screening friend dig up all the dirt on them. Then they decide whether knowing everything about the actor will make you like them more or less, and based on that you do or don’t find out about them. It stops you getting in the unfortunate situation of never being able to watch their movies again.
What’s always bugged me about actors is that they have to be real people as well as being their characters. It just doesn’t seem right.
I’m torn. I agree it is amazing to get swept up into what you’re reading, but I’ve also come to enjoy following specific authors on social media, learning more about them, appreciating their talents more as a result, and then reading all of their books! Plus, as I’m reading, I can usually discern things about the author as I read, whether or not I want to. Rysa Walker is a great example of all of these things. I read her first book Timebound, and KNEW she was a historian. Sure enough, in the notes at the end of the book she admitted she had been a history teacher for several years before quitting to write full time. She writes young adult and is AMAZING at character complexity and natural dialogue–turns out she has two (now teenage) sons. Knowing these things about her, and generally loving all 6 of the books I’ve read by her, makes me only want to follow her more closely on social media and read ALL her upcoming books.
I agree though that when authors let their personal experiences or biases get in the way of their writing, it is a problem and distracting. Maybe it’s the difference between a good and a poor/inexperienced writer? I’m not sure.
Also, the idol worship thing IS weird. I enjoy the fact that I can interact with authors I like on twitter. If they are too snooty to like or reply to my tweets at them, I end up liking them a little less.
That’s a great point that I hadn’t really thought about. When I find out an author has first-hand experience in what they’re writing in I do trust their writing about that subject more, whether it’s history, mountain climbing, or magic. Maybe you can think that the facts of some authors’ lives complement what they write about (like Rysa Walker), whereas the facts of others’ would detract from their books – the way the actress who played Maria in The Sound of Music didn’t like children.
In confess I do get a bit of a thrill when I tweet about a book and the author responds, and feel a little snubbed when I’m totally ignored.
😀 Now I have to know what authors you are thinking of when you say ‘authors who know more about the subject of MAGIC’
Off the top of my head, Peter McLean. You might be surprised how many fantasy authors practice magic.
I don’t generally read the chapter titles. Maybe I’m lazy that way, but to me it’s like “said,” you just sort of pass it over without really reading it.
And as far as writers, I don’t mind learning about their personal tastes, or what jobs they had, or how they once set the record at their college for how many goldfish they swallowed. What I don’t care to know about is their political views, especially if they run severely counter to my own.
That sounds like a skill I should cultivate. Like internet advertising, I should teach myself not to see chapter titles.
I think I’d be more likely to read a book if I knew the author set a college record for swallowing the most goldfish, but you’re right, I prefer to fondly imagine that all authors share my social, political and religious views. I do not want evidence to the contrary.
I agree. This is also why I won’t go to see my favourite authors at writers festivals. Not only do they become mere mortals, but also they are no longer mine and mine alone. I once made the mistake of seeing Annie Proulx – too much love in the room. I was incensed that I had to share.
Yes!! I don’t want to share my favourite authors, and they certainly shouldn’t become mere mortals. 🙂
I’m conflicted on this one. As a general rule I don’t really want to know authors, and I make no effort to, same with actors and singers, I just want to enjoy what they put out into the world, but there are occasions when I’ve read or seen things that make me like the author/actor/singer and I have gone out of my way to read/watch/listen to what they had done more than I would otherwise.
On the flip side of that is the side of me that is an author; I’m constantly being told that the best way for me to achieve long-term success is to engage, put myself out there and to interact with readers because they like that. This is something I find very difficult because I’m not a very sociable person, and something I would rather not do, but the evidence suggests I should make the effort – then I come across an article like this one, and now I’m even more confused on the issue, lol.
All of that said, good article, and I agree on chapter titles, too often they serve as a spoiler for what’s going to happen and I don’t want that.
I hadn’t even thought about that side of the issue. Like you, I’m not a very sociable person, but I think there are enough potential readers who do want to know more about the author that it’s worth putting yourself out there (at least online, where you can hide behind a screen) to make those potential future fans happy. Then the people who don’t want to know anything about you can just avoid your Facebook page. But the advice to avoid talking about religion and politics is probably sound, unless that’s your thing.
That’s true, unless you write about controversial subjects, it’s best to avoid mentioning them on social media.
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