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Knowing About An Author: The Effect On Our Reading

A photograph of Marlon James

In the context of this post it would be more appropriate to use a photo of Elena Ferrante, but I don’t want to do that.

We know a lot more now about the lives and views of authors than we used to. I remember choosing books in Waterstones as a young adult; few included photos, some included mini biographies; while that can still happen, in those days you couldn’t just turn to the Internet to gain the knowledge. I find myself disappointed now when a book doesn’t have much author information in it.

We’re ‘supposed’ to be able to read a book in a vacuum as far as author information goes. People write articles about how we shouldn’t judge a book by its author but even if you try to adhere to this, you hardly have to make an effort to learn details – they’re a few clicks away. Authors are more often in the news or features section. You’ll often hear about them anyway. The increased access we have to authors is a great thing – it was the main reason I started events and made them free, because I wanted people to be able to have access to authors and literary events – but it makes it difficult to read a book without any extra details, details it could be argued are irrelevant. Our reading has changed: knowing about an author will impact on us somewhat no matter how much we try not to let it.

In thinking about this, the recent unmasking of Elena Ferrante comes to mind. I’m very aware that when I get to her work it will be with the knowledge of who she is. I wonder how this will affect my experience – so many people had already read the books and I had naturally (rightly?) assumed my reading would be similarly in the dark. I looked forward to it. How will my reading, now, differ to others’ for that reason? What would my experience have been if she hadn’t been unmasked? I do know that it will be different to what the author may have hoped because of the anonymity. I rather liked not knowing – yes, I felt curious, it was an exciting mystery – and not knowing wasn’t a drawback.

Album cover of Rurutia's Promised Land (2004)

Contrast this with a musician whose first album was released in 2001. Rurutia is a new age Japanese singer who until recently never showed her full face in music videos or photos. She used make-up and costumes, veils and lighting. As far as I can tell, allowing the photos, when they surfaced, and the gradual increase in quality of them, was her choice. Her real name is still unknown. While the mystery might have grabbed the listener’s attention, not knowing about her allowed your focus to be fully on the music.

Some books require context. There are books that don’t make sense until you read about what the author wanted to do, others that seem a political tract – for example – that prior research better prepares you for. In these cases, knowledge enhances your reading. But otherwise it could be said to harm it or to distract – are you too focused on the author? Has reading about them changed your stance on the work?

Do you prefer to know about an author in advance?

 
 

Kelly

March 10, 2017, 5:47 pm

Once upon a time I would have said no, that knowing about an author had no influence on me at all. However, Yvonne at fiction-books.biz often includes biographical information or guests posts by authors and I’ve found it can make a great difference in whether I want to read a book or not.

Tanya Patrice

March 10, 2017, 11:43 pm

I dont have to read about an author before I read their books, but if I read more than 1 book by an author, or they become a favorite, then I wasnt to find out more about them. And definitely what I learn will have an effect on me, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There are so many authors / good books out there that if I find an author is deeply into something I have an issue with (e.g. racism), I have no qualms about ceasing supporting them immediately and forever.

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