Can you know TOO MUCH about an author?

May 10th, 2010

gaggedI was paging through a website I follow regularly today, looking for a post I’d seen some time in the past, but without a clear sense of where or what it was. In brief: pretty randomly browsing. And over the course of my clicks, I came to know one blogger a whole lot better than I had previously.

Now, get your dirty minds out of the gutter. I’m not talking about anything salacious, but I did discover some more details about her politics and beliefs and deeply-held truths to cast some aspersions (in my own mind, at least) on what I’ve liked of her work before.

Has this ever happened to you? You read an author’s book and love it on whatever level, and then you find out something more about the author, or what the book is reported to be ABOUT, and suddenly, you can’t help but look at the work differently.

Or can you help it? Are you able to separate an author’s personality and politics from their prose? Do you even want to? Do you care? Do you think it ADDS to their work?

In this world of celebrity connections on Twitter, once you know what someone’s thinking about at 3am in the morning, can you still enjoy their art?

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30 Responses to “Can you know TOO MUCH about an author?”

  1. Anabelle Says:

    One decent example of that would be the YA author, John Green. He, of course, has the popular vlog channel on youtube (the vlogbrothers). Even after watching his videos for over a year, I can separate him from his work. I still enjoy his books just as I would if he didn't vlog, but I don't enjoy his books any more because he does. Of course, it doesn't always work out like that. For instance, Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It's a wonderful book, but after checking out her blog and discovering that she's a feminist, I appreciated her main character twofold. I suppose it could go both ways, but knowing the author's political views doesn't impact my opinion of their work in a negative way. Usually, it makes no difference.

  2. Laura Pauling Says:

    Yes. I can still read a writer's prose – as long as what I discover doesn't creep me out.

  3. Katy Upperman Says:

    It's often hard for me to seperate what I know personally about an author from their work, which is why I rarely seek out information about authors of books I really love. I prefer that they be unseen forces behind their work. I'll refrain from referencing specific examples, but my opinion of a few well known books has changed as I've "gotten to know" the authors. It's harder now to remain in the dark since I'm exploring more blogs and have become more active on Twitter, but I still try to let my favorite books live in their own little bubbles.

  4. alaska. Says:

    there are times when i have made a decision to stop purchasing (or not purchase) books from a certain author because of things i know about them as a person.

    in both cases i am thinking of, i have never actually read one of their books, but formed my opinion of them from their online presence (blog, twitter, etc.). in one case, i knew the author was involved in an online scandal where before the book series was published/even sold, there was a huge issue of plagiarism and incredibly rude internet behavior followed by a "well since I'm A Published Author I Can Do No Wrong" sentiment.

    (to be fair, the book series probably wouldn't have interested me even if i didn't know what i did about the author.)

    the second case was a very well reputed author who recently got called out for treating her fans . . . not well. again, i've never read the books, but this pretty much cemented that i never would.

    so, yeah. if the author turns out to be a very condescending, rude, and in some cases, seemingly really crazy, i will turn to other things. i'd rather support authors that respect their readers and see what they do as a gift, not a right.

  5. Lisa Says:

    I once went to hear mystery writer J.A. Jance speak at a local bookstore. I loved her books but I was stunned at how many disparaging comments she made about younger women. I felt she came off very snarky (and not in a good way!) It colored how I interpreted her writing and I eventually stopped reading her novels.

  6. Becky Mahoney Says:

    Orson Scott Card. I never needed to know how homophobic that guy is.

  7. --Deb Says:

    I say yes, absolutely. There are authors I liked more before I learned more about them as people. Actors and musicians, too. I can think of several wonderful actors who I can't stand when I see them in interviews and can't bear to watch act because I can't separate the person from the role. There are musicians–and, just as important–music videos that have completely turned me off music I loved. Then there are some whose personalities don't affect the "art." I can watch/read/listen without their personal lives affecting me.

    On the flip side, there are authors that, the more I learn, the more I love. Ones I'm delighted to share interests with, or whose personal politics or sacrifices make me love them even more.

    The trick is that you can't know which way it's going to go before you learn the "extra" stuff. You can't stuff the genie back in the bottle.

  8. Ruth Donnelly Says:

    If I like the author's online persona–say, if I admire their stance on certain issues, agree with their politics or philosophy, or just really dig their sense of humor–that deepens my enjoyment of their writing. If I find out something I STRONGLY disagree with, it's hard for me to get past that.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I went to a writer's conference and one of the speakers, who also teaches classes on writing, was so obviously and flamboyantly gay, but he kept referring to his wife. Don't get me wrong. I'm totally all for same sex relationships and marriage, but what bothered me was that I suspected the reason he's living a huge lie is because of his religion, which he also made clear. Then he was rude on top of that. Any time someone threw out an idea, he would respond with "that's boring." Of course he was trying to be funny, but I left there with a really bad impression of this man and will most likely never pick up anything he writes.

  10. Kerensa Says:

    I think it depends on various factors, like who they are, what they write, and what it is I find out. I recently read an exchange on her website by an author I would have counted amongst my "auto-buys." After reading her opinions of some of her fans, I was so turned off, I'm not sure I want to read the two of her books I've already paid for, that are on my TBR pile. Ick!

    OTOH, maybe if it's not someone I "loved" (i.e., if it's someone in whom I have less emotional investment), I might care less. It's a tricky, and very public, world we live in now. Be who you are, and say what you feel, etc., but be aware that the world IS watching (and consciously or not, judging) you. If you're okay with that, great. If not, you may want to rethink your public persona. Just sayin'.

  11. Heather Zenzen Says:

    Typically, it doesn't bother me. But if they're radical to an almost-hateful level, that bothers me. So, like Becky, I won't be reading Orson Scott Card's work any longer. I would buy from someone I don't agree with politically, but not when they're position on something is hate-fueled.

  12. Stephanie Perkins Says:

    Orson Scott Card is homophobic? SIGH. Guess who is never recommending Ender's Game to anyone ever again?

  13. JJ Says:

    Oh, poor Orson Scott Card. It's not his fault his religion is wackadoo! (I say this with the utmost love, as I grew up with Mormons and my extended family–and there are a lot of them!–is Mormon.)

    However, he is an example of a writer whom I adore despite the fact that I don't agree with many of his views. ENDER'S GAME, but especially SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD killed me. Yes, I might not agree with him on many accounts, but how can anyone read SONGMASTER and not think he had the utmost empathy and sympathy for humankind, even with homophobic views? It doesn't stop him from being a phenomenal writer.

    There are things Margaret Atwood has said that I don't agree with, but it doesn't stop her from being an amazing writer either. (And uh, recently, Neil Gaiman has said some things that rub me the wrong way. But I adore him and his writing!) I think in the end, the writing will speak for itself.

    However, that being said, I will be turned off potential writers if I go online and find their online personas to be rude, obnoxious, or even *gulp* whiny. Of course, if they happen to be the next Michael Chabon, I'll probably buy their book anyway, but if their writing is good, but I can still be persuaded, then personality/beliefs will go a long way in making me decide. Do I want to work with a diva? No, I don't. However, if I get the next Jane Austen in my hands, I'll grit my teeth and do it, no matter how distasteful they are.

  14. Mel Wiccith Says:

    This is something that bothers me more than I would like it to.

    As an avid reader, I'm always looking for something new to read but now, because of the internet, I always do a little research before picking up a book. For the most part, this is good, I can see what the book is really about, read reviews, get a general idea of whether or not the book is something I'll enjoy before I actually go out and spend money on it.

    But there is a negative aspect to that research and that is that often times I will find out things I didn't really want to know about the authors. Things that-whether I like it or not-often ruin books for me.

    A great example of this is one that lots of other commenters seemed to be talking about: Orson Scott Card's, "Enders Game". People have recommended it to me time and time again, and honestly the book looks very good but… I've been protesting Prop 8 and other homophobic actions for years now. I donate my money to charities that fight for homosexual rights and I do everything I can to fight for equality for all. I have so many friends who are homosexual and I can't, in good heart, pick up a book-whether it's brilliantly written or not- that was written by someone who is homophobic. If I did, I would spend all of my time reading the book focused on thinking, "Why is that person so hateful?" instead of focusing on reading. I know that this is really my own fault for not being able to see past it but I don't think I'll ever get around to reading "Ender's Game".

  15. Krista V. Says:

    It’s true that Orson Scott Card doesn’t support homosexuality, either as a personal practice or a social norm. (Here’s an article he wrote on the topic, if you’re interested in reading the account firsthand: http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-hypocrites.htm… However, I think it’s unfair to call him homophobic and hateful, just as it would be unfair to call people who support homosexuality heterophobic and hateful (of heterosexuals).

  16. Krista V. Says:

    P.S. The link doesn't work because of that last period and closing parenthesis. If you drop those and go with just http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-hypocrites.htm… it will come up just fine.

  17. Red Boot Pearl Says:

    I think beliefs/views/etc. come out in the work, usually I'm not surprised by what I find out about the author.

    My opinion of agents change when I read through their blogs, because before they are just a name–and although they may or may not post their views on politics or other things, you can often guess. The types of books they represent says a lot about their views on life. For me horribly profane language is a huge turn off on agent blogs, it's so unprofessional.

    Reading agent's blogs has narrowed my query list, but if I don't like their blog/views/reading choices they probably won't like mine–and it wouldn't work out anyway.

    I find it interesting that Kate asked: "Has this happened to you?" and NOT "What author or Who…?" Bashing authors isn't what I want to come up when someone Google's me…

  18. christy Says:

    It's funny, I was going to say I can't remember eschewing someone's books because of political views in particular, but Orson Scott Card is a good example of someone whose books I decided not to read when I heard about his homophobia. But it wasn't even a conscious decision like that. It just would never occur to me TO read a novel written by a known, contemporary homophobe. And no, there's no gray area here. I have a precious few dealbreakers that I consider uncontroversial and not up for discussion. Equality is one of them.

    There are other, less emotionally charged reasons why an author's online presence could affect my enjoyment of their books, though. Then you make a sacrifice one way or another.

    Anabelle brings up John Green. After following his videos, I can't say I enjoy his books LESS, but there were times reading Paper Towns where there'd be some detail that made me think "oh yeah I remember when he talked about that on the vlog" and I guess you could say it took me out of the story a bit. But I guess I enjoy the videos enough that I'm OK with that.

    There is another, life-long favorite author. When I first started reading author blogs, I put hers on my RSS feed. The blog showed me that she's just a rich old curmudgeon. Had to stop following so I could still love the books.

    Then there are other authors that I just don't think use the medium well. If someone's too negative or complainy on their blog or twitter that will definitely dissuade me from picking up the book. Then there are others, like Justine Larbalestier, whose blog I enjoyed long before I read any of her books.

  19. B.J. Anderson Says:

    Tricky topic! I like the author websites/blogs that give me information about upcoming books and insights into the industry or what inspired them to write their book. I hate to admit it, but when an author gets preachy, rude, whiny, or seems down on everything, I may hesitate to pick up their next book.

    I don't really care about political or religious views, but I think it might be in an author's best interests to keep those to themselves unless there's specific prodding from an outside source. They're in the business to sell books, and you can alienate a big portion of the population with one simple statement.

  20. Sarah H. Says:

    I also stopped reading Orson Scott Card. It's not about him being homophobic in general, or about belonging to a religion that believes being gay is a sin, it's about him publishing essays about how gay people shouldn't have civil rights (like gay marriage). It seems extremely unreasonable for me to support (through book purchases and book recs) an author who advocates AGAINST my civil rights. If OSC had just kept that opinion to himself, I would still be buying his books and recommending them widely.

    Brandon Sanderson and John C. Wright have similar anti-gay-rights screeds online (Wright's is much, much nastier than Sanderson's), and I won't read their work anymore either. Am I missing out on good books? Maybe. But if I tried to read their work, underneath every sentence I would be seeing "this author hates me and doesn't want me to be happy". So no.

  21. Anon Says:

    I, too, am wondering why a religious belief that states that homosexuality is wrong means that you hate them, in people's minds. At least, it appears that way from some of these posts.

    If I can love someone who lies (which most of us agree is wrong)…if I can believe drug users have a wrong lifestyle, but I can still love them… if I can love the man who visits our church and just got out of prison…then why can't I believe that homosexuals have a wrong lifestyle and love them? My uncle would disagree with you all. He knows that many of us believe homosexuality is wrong…yet he also knows and sees that we love him and are more than willing to include him in every family activity and get-together, etc.

    So am I homophobic? Or not?

    And if it is homophobic to believe he is wrong, even while I'm enjoying his company and having him in my family…then is it divorc-a-phobic to believe that my aunt was wrong to run out and cheat on my uncle, while I am enjoying her company and having her in my family?

    I simply don't get this…

  22. Heather Zenzen Says:

    Anon, I don't have a problem with others beliefs conflicting with mine, as long as their respectful about it. If you believe homosexuality is wrong, but you don't wish to persecute people for it, I respect your opinion. However, Card was much more radical in his essays. He was hateful. He wanted gays persecuted. He wanted the government taken down if gay marriage was approved. He wants laws against homosexuality to be enforced, "to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society." That's not respectful, in my opinion. That's not love. That's just hate. I would still read his work if he respectfully said that he does not believe in gay marriage and he does not support homosexuality. It's the fact that he brought it to this next level, this radical level, that causes me to shun him.

  23. Anon Says:

    Thank you for your reply. It is good to know that there are others, like me, who believe that we can hold to different beliefs and still live in harmony with each other. :-)

    This whole conversation does make me realize that I would need to be very careful how I state my beliefs, however. There might be a price to pay. I suppose that is true for all of us, though, isn't it? I won't deny that those who believe as I do often don't ACT as I think we all should.

    It's a messed up world…and people DO seem to connect more with the author of books they love than they do with the inventor of the Kleenex they use or the owner of the McDonalds down the road.

    I guess each of us, as authors, has to make a choice and think carefully before we do, because there will be no second chance to change that choice!

  24. Becky Mahoney Says:

    Thanks, Heather! You articulated exactly what I wanted to say.

    Anon, I don't have a problem with Card's religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic myself, and I know many devout people who can separate their religious beliefs from the way they treat homosexual people in day-to-day life. I was simply saying that Card's words on the matter have made me uncomfortable, and that colors my opinion of his work.

    Eeek, I didn't mean to steer the conversation in this serious direction!

  25. Sarah H. Says:

    Anon: everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs. And I would feel much more comfortable with reading their work if OSC and the other authors mentioned truly had a "love the sinner" type of attitude. When they argue that those beliefs should be LEGISLATED, specifically to take away my rights, is when I have a problem. Why should his religious beliefs trump my own?

    For example, (I think) OSC's religious beliefs include not drinking coffee or beer. And yet he has no online screeds about the wrongness of coffee and beer. He hasn't stated a belief that the government should outlaw beer and coffee. Why, do you suppose? Why doesn't he have a public anti-coffee-drinker opinion? Why doesn't he want to stop the sinful consumption of coffee?

    If you don't like gay marriage, don't have one. If you want to stop me from having one, I can't help but think that you hate me.

  26. Anon Says:

    I do understand what you all are saying, and I appreciate your kindness and courtesy in expressing it. Hopefully more people like you and I can overwhelm those who hate on both sides of the issue.

  27. Krista V. Says:

    I appreciate the discussion going on here. It is possible to disagree and still be respectful. And it's possible not to support homosexuality and yet not be hateful toward those who do.

    To Sarah: In that spirit of mutual respect, then, I just wanted to point out that both sides are trying to pass legislation to force the other to accept their claims. In states that have already legalized gay marriage, pro-heterosexual people must recognize marriages that they believe to be morally wrong. For example, if a homosexual couple asks a pro-heterosexual preacher to marry them, he doesn't have the right to refuse to perform that wedding – which, technically, is a violation of his first-amendment right to freedom of religion.

    So it's a tough situation, an impasse, for both sides. But again, just because I don't support homosexuality – and support laws to curtail it – doesn't make me hateful. Just like you're not hateful toward me even though you support legislation that I consider to be morally wrong.

  28. Sarah H. Says:

    Krista: You are incorrect in your statement that an anti-gay religious leader is required by law to marry a same-sex couple. This is not true anywhere in the US. It's a common misconception put forth by anti-gay marriage activists. In reality, if a religious leader does not wish to perform a same-sex marriage due to his religious beliefs, he does not have to. His rights to choose whom to marry are not infringed at all. See http://www.marriageequality.org/religious-vs-civi

  29. Kate Says:

    This has been a fascinating conversation to follow, but I think we're getting a little off topic, so I'm going to close this post to further comments.

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