As a new member of the team of book bloggers who look after the Weekly Geeks meme this week was my turn to post a discussion topic (and we will not discuss how much I despise using Blogger in comparison to any other platform on the net which is why the format of the post is screwed up). In a selfish sort of way I thought I’d find out what others think of an issue that I have been pondering for a while now. In brief it is the issue of whether or not I can, or even want, to separate an author’s non-writing existence from their fictional works.
It all started because I very much enjoyed the two Susan Hill novels that I’ve read and already had the next book in her Simon Serrailler series on my audio book playlist. Then I discovered, via the author’s opinion column in a UK newspaper, that I don’t particularly like her personality or what you might call her ‘small p’ politics. I found this rant about the charity bookshops Oxfam mean-spirited and inaccurate and the fact that it included yet another misuse of the word bullying was the icing on that particular cake. I haven’t counted (obviously) but I think it is the second most over used word in the published English language these days (after the word tragedy) and because of that any real meaning the word ever had is long gone. Because this one piece made me particularly cranky I went on to read some more of her columns and realised that she is not someone I would want to have a beer with.
I have some pretty odd opinions myself and I manage to rub along quite nicely with friends and family who have wildly wrong different views to mine so it should be far easier to ignore the opinions of someone I am socially removed from such as an author. Except that I’m a big advocate of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is or, if we’re being pedantic, not putting one’s money in the mouths of people I don’t respect. So if I find out that a company uses practices I don’t agree with I make it a personal goal not to purchase products that company produces if I can possibly avoid it. I won’t pretend I actively seek out such information for all the companies I deal with but if I am making a major purchase or investment I do my best to find out about things like the company’s trade practices and the sorts of investments they make themselves. It therefore feels a bit dishonest not to follow a similar personal rule with respect to my entertainment budget (almost all of which goes to books). It just doesn’t feel right to actively provide income to someone whose opinions I find fairly repugnant. So I am done with the Simon Serailler books which is sad because I enjoyed the first two but it doesn’t hurt to have one’s principles genuinely tested every now and again (and no I’m not angling for a humanitarian award here, there’s plenty of tests I fail and it is only a couple of books after all).
The other part of the question I raised related to how people would feel if they discovered that an author they liked had committed a major crime. Like murder (as in the case of Anne Perry which I thought about after seeing a post about her at Crime Watch). Perhaps perversely I have far less trouble with this one although to be honest I’ve never been truly tested. The closest I’ve come is being a moderate fan of Jeffrey Archer’s and for the record I was completely nonplussed by the fact of his conviction and prison sentence for the crime of perverting the course of justice.
I’m pretty confident that the fact I’d rather one of my favourite authors was a murderer than have social opinions I find abhorrent is pretty screwed up. But there you have it.
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Do check out some of the other thoughtful and thought-provoking answers to this week’s topic (check the Mr Linky below the post). All the posts have been interesting to me but the one that still has me pondering is from KT at Literary Transgressions who has written a terrific responseabout her relationship with author Phillip Pullman both before and after she discovered that Pullman the man isn’t someone she likes very much.
Bernadette – That really is an interesting question about how we feel about an author’s personal views/life/etc.. As I think about it, when I find out things I don’t like about my favorite authors, it really does depend on what those things are. We’re none of us perfect, and anyway, we can’t expect to agree on everything, so I don’t stop reading an author who’s made her or his share of mistakes. But I, too, have my limits. When I found out, for instance, what a blatant (and very unapologetic) sexist Ray Bradbury is, I stopped reading his work. As you say, sad if one likes the work. But I couldn’t stomach some of his comments; I just couldn’t. So I know what you mean…
Margot I find that there are many people whose opinions differ from mine (how can they all be so wrong?) and often I enjoy the discussion/thoughts that the differences generate. But when the opinions are repugnant (like sexism or racism or any other form of bigotry) I draw the line. With Susan Hill it wasn’t the differences so much as her fairly nasty, demeaning way of discussing people whose opinions differ from hers.
Susan Hill comes over as a very odd person with a bit of a persecution complex when you read some of her public lashings out
Thanks for the ping!
And I hadn’t looked up this Susan Hill person before, but…wow. The first paragraph of her rant is so convoluted and so irrelevant to her point that it’s clear she was so angry she could hardly think. Not the time to try to put together a coherent article on the evils of Oxfam (!) and the non-existence of global warming (?!).
Wow. Great response and great subject matter. I haven’t really ever thought of being annoyed by an author (except Nicholas Sparks), but you are totally correct that it would change things. Maybe with our new ‘global village’ online we’ll hear more from authors that tell us about their personality more than the blurb on the back. This is what I don’t get about people who follow their favorite actor…if you enjoy them so much, what happens if you hear them or see them do something awful? You’d lose that enjoyment forever. I’d run the other way if I saw one of my favorites, meeting them is just that dangerous!
Regarding the crime thing, to me it would depend on the crime, as it would with most people.
This is a very interesting question, Bernadette – particularly as I agree with you about Susan Hill’s public persona, lashing out in a prejudiced way (i.e. with no factual research behind what she writes) at Oxfam, people who use fabric softner, and people who believe in Global Warming to take but three examples (I got taken to task on her blog ages ago when she had a “guest post” from Nigel Lawson (that well-known climate researcher who has several degrees in physics, geography and statistical modelling) flatly denying GW on all kinds of emotional, non scientific ways. Aware that this is a hate-topic on the internet and of what Susan Hill is like, I put in a mild comment that the post was not what most scientists would consider the evidence showed, and put in a link to a more factual debate. She really let rip at me, starting out “who on earth are you” – despite some emails to me (unsolicited) from her a few months previously thanking me for my review of one of her books.
She closed down that blog because she said she did not like the comments she was getting on it (no wonder with such inflammatory posts) and she closed down her new writers’ competition (won by Chris of The Good Thief’s Guide series) becuase she said people complained when they didn’t win.
However, I do still like her books and I would read books if I liked them, whoever the author, unless they were Hitler or Pol Pot or someone like that, I think I would draw the line there.
In science we get a lot of this, scientists are a very outspoken lot and there are also plenty of bigots out there who write the most horrible personally attacking and vile stuff about vaccines, reproduction research, religion (its relation to science) etc. Yet if any of them submitted a paper to the journal, or a good essay, I’d publish it if it met the criteria.
All very interesting, this disjunct between the output and the person. Of course sometimes you get an unpleasant person whose books are no good, and that is fine ! (I am thinking of a certain DNF of yours) . And, more often I hope, you get a book that is good and an author who is charming, and that’s nice too. (Though I think the relationship between authors and reviewers is an uneasy one, perhaps a topic for another post. Some authors, eg Margot Kinberg and Martin Edwards, so totally get it. But many others don’t.)
I used to think, it did not matter but it does. I cant read authors who have no values or ethics.
Your post was highlighted on the Books Please blog and I thought it was a very interesting discussion topic. I read one of Susan Hill’s detective series (found it confusing and irritating and donated it to Anglicare op shop), I did not like Howard’s End is on the Landing (borrowed from the library) which I found dull and pretentious – and this was before knowing anything about the author.
Makes me think.
My favourite quote: “I’m pretty confident that the fact I’d rather one of my favourite authors was a murderer than have social opinions I find abhorrent is pretty screwed up.” 🙂
I suppose I would still read the first book of such ill-reputed author, but wouldn’t read her / his second book and so on.
Great post. I enjoyed reading it. You got me thinking about buying books “ethically” but the fact we always separate the person who wrote the book and the book itself makes it all the more difficult to make the distinction. I think it’s the emotional attachment with the love of books that makes me indifferent to whoever wrote it; but it would be different if I buy a TV, food or any consumable items.
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