Weekly Geeks: Do your books do the talking?

March 15, 2010 at 12:14 am 6 comments

This week’s WG prompt is about whether we, as readers, need to know about the people behind the stories. Specifically, they ask a number of questions about author interviews, following up with:

Do you track down author websites or look for biographical information about them elsewhere? Would you skip reading a book if you couldn’t find out anything about its author?

My answer? Certainly not! Some of the best books I’ve ever read, especially contemporary ones, were by authors about whom I knew nothing. All I know about Jasper Fforde, Michel Faber and Marisha Pessl is that they are all capable of writing stories that are hilarious, compelling and amazingly emotionally resonant, respectively. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy doing an author interview with any of them, but I must confess that my questions would probably focus on plot points and research or writing techniques, rather than childhoods, love lives or favorite breakfast cereals.

When dealing with a dead author as I so often do, though, it’s sometimes helpful to have a biographical context. Jane Austen’s father and brother being curates and her brother being in the navy explains her affinity for both those vocations in her work, and her being a spinster aunt herself enables the reader to read some self-effacement into the many interfering aunt figures in Austen’s novels. In a similar vein, knowledge of the death of Charles Dickens’ very young sister-in-law helps inform our readings of characters such as Little Nell.

Are these insights necessary? Not necessarily. In my humble (and loosely New Historicist) opinion, an author’s culture matters more than the author’s personal experiences. It’s less important for me to know that Dickens’ sister-in-law died tragically at a young age than it is for me to know that Victorians as a whole fetishized the death of  young women and girls, believing an early death kept a woman innocent and pure. I don’t even need to know who Shakespeare was in order to enjoy the parallels between Prospero in The Tempest and its playwright, who is also preparing for one last grand display of his or her talents.

While it can be interesting to know about an author, and many of them are or were fascinating people, a biographical knowledge is not, in my opinion, necessary to the enjoyment of a book. But that’s just me! How about you? Do you guys like to know about an author before you read their works?

– KT


Entry filed under: Weekly Geeks. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Fairy Tale Friday: National Geographic Presents…the Brothers Grimm?! Discussion Questions: Ivanhoe

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. britney  |  March 15, 2010 at 6:03 am

    I think I only read biographical information about the writer when I happen to search for other things they’ve written. I’ve read a lot of books that didn’t even have three sentences about the author at the end.

    Sometimes it informs my reading (Madeleine L’Engle’s had a few protagonists with connections to Smith, some went to Swiss boarding schools just as she did, the New York City settings were based on her experiences living there, and a lot of the theater people came out of her own time in the theater) but most of the time, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need to know anything about the writer to enjoy their stories. I think I only picked up on all the L’Engle stuff because I loved her books so much that I had to learn more about her – I read her posthumously published novel The Joys of Love a few months ago, and it was all stuff I already knew about her – the main character went to Smith and was apprenticing at a summer theater company (very similar to Katherine Forrester in her first novel, who had a mother who taught at Smith – if I remember correctly – and spent a lot of time in the theater with her Aunt Manya).

  • 2. Eva  |  March 15, 2010 at 6:38 am

    With contemporary authors, I prefer to know nothing about them as people. I want to judge them based on their books, not anything else!

    With classic authors, I’m more interested in their social milieu than their biographies. I do think that it’s neat to know details about their lives that show up in their writings (like w/ dear Jane), but like you I don’t consider it essential.

  • 3. Corey  |  March 15, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I actually like knowing nothing about the author, reading the book, and then, after the reading, finding information about him or her. It definitely makes rereadings somewhat richer and also sometimes provides a little retrospective insight into what I’ve just read. But not knowing something about an author would absolutely not prevent me from reading the book anyway! I would agree with you that I value the book’s intrinsic quality (or lack thereof) above knowing any specific biographic detail about the author.

  • 4. silverseason  |  March 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I think reading authors from a different time and place is sometimes made more meaningful if you learn something about the time and place. That is almost as important as the author’s biographical details. 19th century Russian novels, for example, or those of the great Victorian novelists like Dickens and Trollope can seem quite mysterious if you don’t know any history.

  • […] with “T”?) I had no sense of his books, his country, or his contemporaries, clearly. Did that matter? No! Perhaps blind is the best way to go into some things. It really increases the likelihood that […]

  • […] has definitely discussed this sort of thing in the past, but I’m still not sure where I stand. I think I prefer going into a book blind but then […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Connect with LT

literarytransgressions (Gmail)

@LitTransgressor (Twitter)

LT RSS feed (Subscribe)

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 134 other followers


LT Archives

In accordance with FTC regulations…

...we must disclose that we are independent bloggers with no ties to authors, publishers, or advertisers. We are not given books or monetary compensation in return for favorable reviews or publicity.

Where we have received advance or complementary copies of books, it will be noted in the body of the entry, and will not affect our review or opinions in the slightest.

%d bloggers like this: