As a member of all sorts of Facebook fiction reader and writer groups, I daily read comments, reviews, conversation and just general chatter about books.
Lately, with more enforced time to scan through these as a result of a fractured shoulder and, counting my luck that it’s my left arm held firmly, rigidly, in a sling, leaving my right hand to scroll freely and leisurely at all hours, I’ve become involved in what has developed into a virtual dispute.
And, of course, I should have known better than to enter the fray.
When I read a novel, opined a reader on one of these sites, I have absolutely no interest in knowing anything at all about the author – in fact, I don’t even want to know their name.
I couldn’t help myself.
That’s a bit harsh on the author, I swiftly responded, when you think how long it takes, the years that can be devoted to writing that novel!
My exclamation mark was intended to keep things light even if I meant the sentiments.
And of course, a barrage of strongly-felt and expressed feelings soon resulted.
Most people seemed to agree with the original view that they had no interest in finding out about the author – that only the story itself was of any concern to them. Why would I want to know all the boring details of the author’s life was a wide refrain. I never even bother to look at their name – it’s only the story I care about was generally expressed.
Only one or two appeared to support my curiosity about the writer. (I made sure I scanned through enough rebuffs to find, eventually, some empathetic voices!)
And this attitude seems very strange to me – or am I in a minority of readers?
I like to know where the author grew up, conjecture at the likely influences of background – historical, social and geographical. Yes, fiction is made up, an imaginative construct about people who don’t exist, living lives that are neatly shaped by a writer’s creative drive and instinct.
But doesn’t it enrich the reader’s experience to know a little about what may have propelled the novel’s ideas and even, perhaps, convince them of its authenticity of setting and event?
Anne Tyler’s novels, for example, breath Baltimore where she has lived for most of her adult life. Her characters can be believed, not only because she is a superb writer, but because they must reflect the society she knows intimately.
In fact, the more I think about it, it is impossible to separate a writer from the setting of their novels:
Daphne du Maurier and Cornwall.
Dickens and London.
Emily Bronte and Yorkshire.
I could go on endlessly.
(although, of course, none of my theories can apply to fantasy so I’ll quickly sidestep that genre as I don’t read it or hold any views on it!)
Which leads me on to a related yet entirely different aspect of what I’ll call author ownership.
If you didn’t know the gender of the novelist, would you be able to tell? From the tone, story line, language and characterisation? Some writers use initials or are advised to in order to avoid immediate identification – and it certainly didn’t do J.K. Rowling any harm where sales were concerned!
But back to the assertions of the readers who claim not even to want to know the name of the author of the novel they have read.
Novels can take years to write – mine certainly do! – and it seems like an easy courtesy, a case of plain good manners to invest at least a moment of time in reading the name on the cover image.
After all, if the book has been enjoyed, the reader might want to seek out others by the same author – or avoid at all costs if the experience has not been pleasurable.
Knowledge, after all, can be, in this case, all!