November 24, 2013

The Author's Book or the Book's Author?

Dear M,

The author, these days, is projected larger than the book. With the advent of virtual promotions via the Internet, it is more or less justified; nevertheless, I cannot help but think of a time when the author's Book was more famous than the book's Author.

The man/woman behind the book used to be a mere name. We probably also knew they lived in this or that city. Or maybe they were authors of the past, of whom we knew next to nothing.

What, O. Henry was not his original name? 
Did Jane Austen live in this century or the last? 
Which country did Kafka belong to?

It is easier to admire and adore a person whom we know nothing about. It is easier to call a certain piece of writing as brilliant, when its author exists only as a name, and lives in a different world. It is perfect when the author does not explain his/her writing, when it remains fascinating and incomprehensible. Anything that is to be explained, should be explained by the writing. When the author tries to explain what inspired him/her to write, I saw these two people on the road the other day and I thought I really should write about them, the writing somehow loses its charm. We readers don't want to know. We would like to interpret it in our ways. We would like to read it in a way that our experience has taught us to.

When the author is someone we know, it becomes difficult for enigma to exist in their writing. When we read each story, we see the author behind it, and we unconsciously assume that this could be his/her own story. We try to squeeze the character into the writer's skin. Or we are tempted to ask, What can she know about poverty, she has never lived in such circumstances? How can he write about the Partition, when even his Dad was not born during that era? You know, she has led such a wild life that I am not surprised that her story is all about wild women; must be her own story. When we know the person, we are prejudiced, and are quick to jump to conclusions.

There is another reason why I think the author should not be as famous as the book - the writing might be wonderful for a first attempt, but when the author talks about it (as he/she inevitably will, as fame demands), it might sound arrogant, she/he might appear unlikeable, and the little attention that the book had received might be destroyed. (As we have seen in a few recent cases.) The author as a person might not be the epitome of grace. His personal lack of charm should not stand in the way of his excellent writing. We often say that the character that an actor has portrayed is brilliant, but in real life the actor is a jerk. Something like that - just because the writing is exceptional does not mean the author should receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Hence I believe it is the writing that should be appreciated before the person behind it, even though it is the person who wrote it. The book should be more famous than the author, if it is any good.

Incidentally this is my 100-th post, and a major milestone in the life of this blog.


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