Book Thoughts: The Unsullied Pleasure of Reading

Book Thoughts

There'a a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them, so I take care to always remain on my side of the line. Otherwise, the unsullied pleasure of reading ends, or at least is transformed into something else, which is not what I want. This boundary line is tentative, it tends to get erased: the world of those who deal with books professionally is more and more crowded and tends to become one with the world of readers. 

This is a quote from On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino written in 1979. The person speaking is Ludmilla who is refusing to speak to the publisher of several books that seem to have been misprinted, even though she is invested reading these book. She's very strict!

This quote stuck out to me, especially the part about the tentative boundary line. In 2016, most authors have some kind of online presence. It's very easy to reach out to authors via Twitter or their own websites. It works in the other direction too. The author can get involved in readers' discussion of their own work. Ludmilla would not approve of this at all! What would she makes of this blurring of the lines? And book bloggers? Who else is erasing that line more than we are by writing about authors and their lives daily?

"the unsullied pleasure of reading ends, or at least is transformed into something else" 

What is "something else"? Does the unsullied pleasure end?

You don't even have to have a personal, awkward encounter with an author to experience this. Just a quick Google search can taint the unsullied pleasure. How many of us have struggled with the personal or political personalities of a beloved author by looking a little too closely at their lives? Found out that author was racist, homophobic, sexist, or supported a cause we find repellent? And while the ideal is to separate the artist from the art, can you ever go back once you know what you know? It was a lot harder to find out these uncomfortable truths when you had to go to the library and look things up IN A BOOK.

On the other hand, I remember being blown away while researching the life of Mary Shelley when I had to write a paper on her for university (no internet then either!). It enhanced by reading of Frankenstein knowing about her struggles. I guess that counts as "something else."

There are pros and cons to crossing this boundary line.

What do you think? Are you like Ludmilla? Do you wish it was harder to cross that boundary line? Or are you grateful to have the access to authors we have now?

11 comments:

  1. I think the worst thing is when authors get upset with reviewers for their reviews... That is when the lines get a bit too crossed? And then there is drama... It doesn't go well...

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    1. There is always drama in those situations. They never end up looking good.

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  2. Interesting and complicated question. I tend to take Roland Barthes' view that the author should be separated from their work—the point is how it's received, not what the author intended for it or why. At the same time, my reading has been affected by the actions of an author or publisher. I think Ludmilla's desire to separate herself from the production of books stems from the idea that the best way to approach art is with an "innocent eye," so to speak, like a child. And while that may be the ideal, I don't believe it's possible to maintain such an approach over a period of time.

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    1. I think the more you learn about the personal opinions of authors, the more it is possible to receive their intention. Most of the time I prefer to make up my own mind, but there are times when I like knowing what they wanted the reader to get out of it. Of course, most of us grew up being asked, "What did the author intend?" by teachers. So it is always a question I end up asking.

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  3. I hear ya. I've had both good and bad interactions with authors, especially via Twitter. One: I had a "run-in" with one author whose work I didn't like and one good interaction (recently) with another author, although I still have to read her latest book. Maybe after that, it will be a bad interaction, but I hope not. I probably won't comment if I don't like her latest and also I'm in no rush to read it, maybe as a result of the (internal, mostly) pressure to comment one way or the other on what I think of it once I have read it. As for non-personal interactions, I know that Jonathan Franzen has gotten a lot of heat on social media (and justifiably so, since I think he's an ass - not even adding the suffix), but my wife and I still liked The Corrections. Orson Scott Card? I liked some of the Ender's Game series, but to be honest, some of it, I just found boring and his personal views didn't affect my opinion on that front.

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    1. It's funny, because of what I know about Franzen (and Knausgaard) and have no intention of reading either. Their personalities annoy me so much I don't think I could read their books without rolling my eyes. Maybe if someone gave me their books without names or titles I could. I should start a business! A publishing house of all the most obnoxious authors but with no way for the reader to know who they are reading.

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  4. It's tough for me to answer this! I am by nature very curious about authors and I like learning more about their writing process and what their influences are and why they made the choices they made. But as you say, it's a double-edged sword. Authors can turn out to be terrible people, and then it becomes hard to keep enjoying their books in the same way.

    I think as I've gotten older, I've become less likely to seek out interviews and personal info about authors I like. Once I know a bad thing about someone, I can't unknow it, and it inevitably colors the way I read their books. Which is not always a thing I want to have happen.

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    1. I tend to look for that information after I finished a book, especially for reviewing purposes. I'm not sure if I didn't have a blog if I would look them up or not. I know I have stopped reading books I once enjoyed by authors who do the dumbest things online (Anne Rice). I feel so disappointed with them that I can't read their books anymore.

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  5. Like Jenny, I tend to be curious about authors and their backgrounds, writing practices, and influences. Especially authors of classics. It can be very revealing in terms of motivations as well as add an extra layer to their writing(s). I am generally able to separate the author from the art, so to speak, but there are times that has been challenged. I've discovered I have my limits.

    When I first heard rumors about an author of one of my favorite books actively covering up and possibly being involved in sexually molesting children and youth, I dug a little deeper to find out if it was true. Unfortunately it was. Even though that author is dead now, it has tainted my view of the author's books, including make me hesitate to count the one I loved among my favorites. And yet, I have no problem reading and enjoying the books of an author who was involved in the death of her friend's mother.

    I admit the entire "authors behaving badly" thing has turned me off some authors. But I also try to keep in mind that they are human too. Venting a little is one thing, and something I can ignore, but when it takes off from there . . . Not so much. I also think readers can go too far.

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    1. It's a bit easier for me with authors of classics. There is time between us. That acts as a filter. "It was the era/culture/things were different then." I think with authors from now it's harder because we all live in the same space. Also the dead can't learn to do better anymore. I am much more likely to forgive a modern day author who behaves badly if they can admit to screwing up.

      As for the author covering up molesting, I think I know who you are talking about and that's a tough one. In the end, it's up to the reader to decide what to do there and I would never judge a reader for how they deal with it. Especially with the author being dead, they can no longer profit from the sales of their books.

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  6. Oooo...have you read The Madwoman Upstairs yet? Because the main character gets into a similar debate with her advisor. I tend to fall on the side that an author's personal life is separate and distinct from the author's work, however the other side of the argument is compelling.

    Even when it is so easy to blur those lines, I do tend to try not to do so. I don't voluntarily research authors or even look at their websites. Often, I don't even know if an author is male or female. It is easier for me to maintain that distance. If I get too close to an author, I find it more difficult to write reviews for his or her books, no matter if I loved or disliked them. I like not knowing and I like maintaining my objectivity.

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