Dr. Timothy Spurgin is at it again – (May I call you Tim? You are, after all, speaking to me from my bedroom television) – sharing his insights on books, reading, and writing.
Today I’ll share a word about authors. Sometimes we discover that an author has a less than exemplary life story themselves. He was a raging alcoholic, she was reported to be a witch, their love lives were the basis of entire episodes of The Young and the Restless…
But does it matter? Does an author’s personal life make them a better or worse writer? Is the story they have to tell tainted by the creator’s reality?
Tim suggests that we think of the author as another character of the book. Allow the author to materialize on the page, discover who emerges over the course of the story, and find out who is revealed through the structure of the work itself.
We can find out a great deal about the author’s inner workings by asking what kind of person writes this kind of story? Is he/she trying to instruct or entertain, or a combination of the two? Do you see their sense of humor? Sense of justice? Sense of timing?
T.S. Eliot believed that a writer’s life was unrelated to his or her writings. He contrasts the “man who suffers” (the one who goes to the grocery store, gets divorced, enjoys tennis) with the “mind that creates” (the one that creates, shapes, and drives the writing). As a result, Tim states, “what you get as a reader is not the artist’s original feeling, but a rendering, or translation of it.”
So, does it matter if the author signing our favorite novel is rude, or has a bleak family history? Since it is the author’s creation – the book – that we care about, aren’t we really more concerned with the mind of the man (or woman) rather than the man (or woman) themselves?
I believe the answer to these questions also affects how we see friends and acquaintances in our everyday lives. With the pervasiveness of internet relationships between individuals who may never meet in “real life”, how many friendships do we now have who are “friends of the mind”. Aren’t we all projecting the image of the people we wish to be? I know that I am. I don’t post about sick days or road rage or family dinners. That is my everyday life, but it is not the life of my mind.
And the deeper question…Which is the real life? Is it our everyday presence in the world, or is it the life of our minds?
The Paris Review
The Rhetoric of Fiction, by Wayne C. Booth
An Experiment in Criticism, by C.S. Lewis