This is a discussion-based post, so responses are encouraged! Share your thoughts in the comments, and hopefully we can get some interesting discussions going!
Do you ever think about who the author of the book you’re reading is? Does it affect how you read the book? This topic came up in one of my grad school classes, sparking a huge debate. Is it deceptive for an author to disguise any part, or all, of their identity (including gender, race, political views, etc.)? For example, J. K. Rowling used her initials (well, her initial plus her grandmother’s) to publish Harry Potter at least partially because it was thought that young boys would be less likely to read a book written by a woman, despite the fact that the protagonist is male. Recently, I started reading bell hook’s All About Love: New Visions and she made the point that women are more likely to read books about love written by men than by other women, because they tend to assume they know what any other woman will have to say on the subject. That’s why Nicholas Sparks books are such big sellers.
There is a long tradition of authors masking their identity, especially when it comes to gender. The Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Ann Evans (George Elliot), and Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (George Sand) are just some of the female authors who, at one point or another, used a male pseudonym. In my editing class, I had to read a list of editing guidelines from the 50s or 60s, and the author (supposedly a renowned editor) made the point that this practice is deceptive, and that readers often feel cheated if they read a book or article assuming the author is male, only to find out she is a woman (or vice versa). Would you, like this editor, be upset by this? And if you are, would you also be upset to find out that Mark Twain was really Samuel Clemens or that George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair?
The point isn’t the pseudonyms, though, I get that. It’s the fact that, whenever you read something, you gain a greater understanding of it (regardless of whether it is fictional or not) when you have some knowledge of the author’s perspective or who they are as a person. But, short of a man writing a detailed account of the experience of giving birth (which, can totally still be done with a lot of research and a good imagination), I don’t see why it really matters. Would you only read books about transgender characters written by transgender authors? Or books about mental illness written by someone who suffers from mental illness (or a doctor who works in the field)? Andy Weir did not go to Mars before writing The Martian. V. E. Schwab, author of A Darker Shade of Magic and Vicious, hasn’t been to more than one London or found a way to use science to give herself superpowers (I’m pretty sure). So how much, if at all, does the author’s personal history matter?
There is another side to this coin: what if you decide you don’t like the author for a reason that has nothing to do with their books? I love Ender’s Game, but Orson Scott Card has been outspoken about some political/rights views I don’t personally agree with. And it is a challenge to separate the two in my mind. Do I still support him by reading his books? Does that really matter in the scheme of things? I’m not sure I’ve completely decided. And I’d be lying if I said the fact that there is evidence of Cassandra Clare bullying (teenage) critics of her books online didn’t play a part in why I stopped reading her books. So why did I stop reading Clare and not Card? (Probably because I like Card’s writing more, but I still think the point is valid.) Have you every stopped reading a certain author because you heard something bad about them or you don’t like them as a person?
I can also say the reverse is true, at least for me: I have a few favorite authors who I like partly because they are just amazing human beings. I have met both Pierce Brown and Neil Gaiman, and they are literally some of the nicest people I have ever come across. They were both so kind and accommodating to their fans, and are genuinely interested in meeting them. While I also just really love their writing, I think having such amazing experiences actually meeting them contributed to their being a couple of my favorite authors – I will buy and read anything they publish. Hypothetically, if we agree that I shouldn’t let my negative personal opinions of Clare and Card affect how I view their work, is it then not okay for me to let me positive opinions of Brown and Gaiman do the same? Should let our thoughts about an author affect how we see their work regardless of any other factors? Are there exceptions (such as nonfiction or fiction rooted in historical events)? Does it depend on whether your opinion is positive or negative (and is that a double-standard)? Or should there be a distinct separation?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Does your opinion of an author affect your opinion of a book? Would you be angry/annoyed/disappointed if your impression of the author turned out to be false after you’d finished their book? (Would you treat a painting or sculpture the same way?) Do you think your opinion about the book itself would then change? And, regardless of your opinion on the above questions, do you think it’s fair to let your perception of an author color your perception of their work?
Feel free to comment down below with your answers to these questions, and respond to the comments of others. I am really curious about what other people have to say, so I would love for a discussion to happen. Thanks for reading/commenting!