When Does A Reader Know Too Much?
There are times when I wonder if being ignorant would have made my life easier. Over the past few months, the disappearance of my publishing world ignorance has made its way into my reading life. Specifically since I’ve begun turning to the internet for book-related advice and news. My internet de-virginizing has lead me to learn more about authors and publishers than I would have ever known as a blind reader.
There was a rather surprising incident over at a fairly popular fiction blog, for instance, where a blogger made a comment about how she felt uncomfortable with a character’s homophobic comments and (in her opinion) they didn’t have any place in the narrative. An articulate, honest, and legitimate review. Then in the comments, I see that a certain YA author who is a fairly large seller is attacking the reviewer because she is apparently calling foul on the author of the book being reviewed. Even though that didn’t happen.
An author making a complete idiot of themselves over a small controversy involving their work was surprising to me. I’d soon come to realize this happened with a lot of people, including several large names in YA and romance authors of various degrees of success. These incidents easily made me rethink whether or not the authors were worthy of buying.
Learning about an author’s politics, religion, sexuality, family life, etc. leads to knowing quite a lot about who they are as people beyond their published work. The internet provides an all-too available pool of information for readers who want to get to know more about someone they possibly admire very much because of great writing or characters or stories. It was how I came to find out about the award winning young adult/science fiction and fantasy author Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game has gotten thousands of awards and recommendations, and before I attempted to buy it Google was used…and I heard some rumors.
Dreaded confirmation came from @courtneymilan, who sent me a link to this post written by Card himself. Confirming the views that I pretty much knew to be true. Then blowing up my anger even more as said views surpassed their possible saturation point. I am a gay teenager. I do not need to realize that this author – who is in tons of classroom libraries and on many awards lists – has fans who listen to him say things like this and agree with him because he’s Orson Scott Card.
*Insert many swear words and the sound of banging objects at your own risk*
This brought on an important question to me: When do readers reach the point where they know to much about an author? When enough is enough and they realize that the author can no longer be separated from their work?
A popular romance reviewer had a less negative experience involving a recent release. Her review is a good study in how knowing an author well could spell trouble through their work in a different context. She follows the author on Twitter and knows a lot of her in-jokes and the way she speaks. Reading the book made her uncomfortable and she felt that the was basically writing about herself – creating a one-time case where the author seemed to be writing herself as the protagonist in the reviewer’s eyes.
Now other reviewers found the book readable because they didn’t know the author so well based on her presence in Twitter. While not as talked about as issues involving author behavior, the insertion of an author’s extremely personal traits and habits could easily effect more readers than ever with the way they can get to know an author through Tweets, blog posts, or Facebook walls. Not to mention authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, who on further research, have political comments and ideals hidden within their stories that go well past a few character quirks.
Most recently, there is controversy over the author-run book packaging organization run by James Frey. He’d already made a public mark on his reputation from the Oprah incident, making many readers swear off his novel when they realized he blatantly lied to get sales. Now he uses other authors and cowrites with them, taking nearly all of the money he makes from the books and series he’s had signed.
In depth morals aside, this creates a gap between the books packaged by this particular author and more aware readers. Many have taken pledges to not read them or read them in such a way that it wouldn’t stimulate a huge increase in sales for the books. This scenario got a stronger reaction from readers in the sense that it directly effected sales among a large (if fairly isolated) reader community online. Some readers feel they know too much about the origins of this packaging company and the author that heads it to feel comfortable supporting it.
A good percentage of those readers probably picked up the book prior to this knowledge or were thinking of picking it up. While authorial knowledge isn’t always a moral thing (in the case of the authorial/protagonist similarity, it was a one time incident resulting in extreme familiarity with an author’s online personae and a newly attempted book format by the author as well), it has the potential to strongly impact the reader in a way that shifts their perspective of the reading experience for a particular book, author, or genre.
Whether it’s religion, politics, ideals, or online actions – exactly where does it get to the point where, as a reader, you find yourself knowing too much?