bibliophilic monologue

On the Separation of the Book and its Author

I have been thinking about this topic for a good long while and have yet to reach a concrete conclusion, in fact, I think this is such a murky topic that a conclusion cannot be reached. However, the topic is interesting enough that unwrapping it and discussing it is fun.

I refer to the separation of a book and it’s author where analysis of the book is concerned. If I am not mistaken, there are different schools of thought in academic analysis of English literature where one theory sharply and incisively separates the author from the text and analyzes the text simply as it exists, contained and limited to the boundaries created within it (I’m referring to specifically fiction here) while the other theory considers the author’s contribution to the text in terms of the views/experiences/education the author has and how these may have affected the text under consideration.

As a writer, I can definitely argue for the latter theory because my book is mine because the experiences I had while conceiving it are unique to me. My words are my own because of who I am and what I have seen and been through. My story is what it is because the experiences I have lived through. So I have an irrevocable bond to the text I have written.

However, things get very murky when you move the discussion out of the classroom and into the world. Just because a book has been written by a POC or has diverse characters in it doesn’t make it automatically good. I do think there needs to be a separation of the text from the book where the evaluation of a work of literature is concerned. A work cannot be judged on the basis of who the author is but needs to be evaluated for the quality of the story it tells and the manner in which it tells this story.

Then again, in situations where cultural appropriation might be concerned, who a person is matters very much. Should it? I don’t know. Can there be issues of cultural appropriation even when a story is told with respect and well-researched? I don’t know. More research is necessary before I say anything of the kind but if I were to speculate, I’d say yes. I do remember a conversation in class in the past where a person who had written a book from the viewpoint of a Haitian boy and won an award for this book was accused of cultural appropriation. (I’m assuming that the book winning an award is an indication that it is well written.)

Cultural appropriation aside, I do think I will stick to my earlier claim: that the evaluation of a book as a piece of literature/art should not have anything to do with who the author is.

Thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “On the Separation of the Book and its Author

  1. To be honest, I have a difficult time separating authors from their work. And I really don’t have a problem with it. Because nothing we do happens in a vacuum – when we read, we bring all our lived experiences to the table, and when authors write, the same thing happens. And especially in cases of cultural appropriation, racism, sexism, or homophobia, I firmly believe that we need to look at the greater context. Also, when looking at the themes and messages of a book, a lot of might have to do with *when* it was written, so much that it can’t be ignored.

    I know I’m in the minority with this, but I can’t help it. Each word that makes it into a book is a decision the author made and for me, there’s no separating the person from what the person says.

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    1. I totally understand and even agree with what you’re saying. I think though what I am against is evaluating a book by who the author is. Whether a book is good or bad does not depend on who the author is but the book itself. Obviously a book can be awesome but I will still decide not to read it because I disagree with an author’s politics/homophobia/misogyny but I will not deny that the book may have literary merits. Similarly, just because an author is popular/beloved/in the minority doesn’t mean that their book is amazing. I will still read it but I’ll invest my time in the author but I will be honest. Does that make sense cuz I have a feeling I just confused the issue.

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  2. I remember hearing in college once a story from a professor about a time that Ray Bradbury came to speak to students who told him that his own interpretation of the meaning behind Fahrenheit 451 was wrong.

    It’s not quite the same as completely divorcing what we know about an author when we know things about the author, but at some point, the author will no longer be there to explain and clarify his work’s meaning or intent (or in some cases authors never make those apologia in the first place).

    While I do like to try to separate artists from their body of work, sometimes there are things that just go too far. These days I see a lot of judgment about authors who say stupid stuff on the internet or might just come across as jerks, And I think that sort of thing is -if not forgivable- something which can be ignored in the moment while appreciating a great work. On the other hand, there are a few extremes (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s enabling of a child molester or Samuel R Delaney’s advocacy for sex between adults and children as young as 6) that are just too much to overlook, going beyond merely holding backwards cultural ideals.

    More relevant to your point, however, I think that the average reader does not have an activist or progressive mentality; to them the background, ethnicity, culture or gender of the writer does not matter much (or may even be irrelevant). They care about a well written and enjoyable story and will appreciate the story regardless of the author’s background. If they enjoy it, they might then go and find out more about the author and their background. But as I said, for most readers, the story will make them interested in who the author is, not the other way around.

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    1. Well said. (I had no idea about MZB or SRD but now I’m horrified and determined to stay away from their books.) I actually prefer not to interact with authors before I’m done reading their stuff and sometimes even after that because what they say does affect me where their work is concerned. And sometimes their comments/actions bother me to such an extent that I will not read their book because I cannot shut out their voice. However, where evaluation of a text is concerned, that is, judging its literary merits, I do think there needs to be a separation of the book from its creator. This is less prevalent in books for adults but in the YA scene, I’ve often observed that even when a book is weak in prose/plotting etc, it is still lauded simply because of the author. I find that problematic.

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