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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