Do You Have To ‘Like’ An Author To Enjoy Their Books?

Yesterday’s small trip off to North Wales randomly ended up turning into a massive road trip upon which I was inspired to write my post today after brewing over the subject matter for a while. When we set out we were only meant to go to Ruthin, The Beard was having a meeting and I wanted to visit the spooky gaol and go to the bookshop, yet somehow after we did all this we ended up driving onto Conwy for fish and chips and a castle and then on to Anglesey via Snowdonia. I will report on this ‘windy whim’ day (as The Beard and I are now calling them) soon. Being in the car so much meant a lot of air play time, my iPod used to go on random but we’ve started listening to podcasts now as The Beard found my music taste questionable. Current firm favourites are old archived Desert Island Discs and the odd rogue short book podcast and as we listened to some a couple of authors came across really badly and I found myself saying ‘oh well I am not reading one of their books again’ to which The Beard asked ‘but you don’t have to like an author do you?’ Well weirdly I think I do, don’t you?

As I thought about this question more and more I started noticing a pattern to how I have switched off from authors in the past. Some have been favourites up to that point and some I have just fancied reading a random book of then heard and vowed I won’t turn a page again. Get me! Ha, but you know what I mean?

I think I see authors as friends even though I have never met them because through their books I feel I have gotten to know them better whilst getting to know myself better. Plus I am a strong believer that a book is a collaboration of their writing and your reading which feels like a kind of relationship as well as an experience. Like friendships though you can fall out, go off someone or see them in a different light and the magic vanishes. This more commonly happen when they write a dud book (to your mind) or four and you decide to go your separate ways, or they can act like a… well let’s just say ‘bit of a wally’ and you go off them as a person.

That ‘Like’ Button

Now I thought I would try and make what could be taken as, or accidentally turn into, a possibly negative blog post a bit fun, so note while these are based around true things that have put me off authors in the past I have made them a little more extreme and my comments a little more wry and tongue in cheek. Bearing that in mind let me give you some scenario’s firstly on radio, on television and in the flesh…

  • Arrogance on air… This was the offence noted yesterday, which inspired this post, when an author on Desert Island Discs and a separate author on one of The Guardian’s Edinburgh Book Podcasts came across as utterly pompous and arrogant. The first tried to make the interviewer sound really stupid and was utterly patronising, the second just came across as ‘look how clever I am everyone, my work is amazing, as good as the greats’. No matter how good an author is, it’s always lovely if they are humble about it and generous to their readers, other authors and their interviewers rather than spouting that they are the next classic author of their generation. Time will tell on that, not the author themselves.
  • Public Displays of Affectation… Having done many events with authors and been to a few these are some of the most interesting, and yet most awkward, things I have witnessed. An author might be up on stage with you, in front of you or recording with you  and being absolutely wonderful, delightful and charming the audience/you yet as soon as they come off they moan about the amount of people who did come (and now they have loads of books to sign and really they wanted to go to the hotel) or didn’t come (so it wasn’t worth the trip frankly) or the venue/wine/questions/colour of your trousers were all wrong and not up to scratch.
  • Slagging off other authors… This causes great controversy and therefore (oddly) sales but isn’t it just a bit mean and therefore makes the instigator look mean spirited?
  • Being a friend isn’t being a fan… One of the joys of doing this blog and other bookish bits and bobs has been making friends with readers from all over the world (be they fellow bloggers or not) and also some authors. However there is a fine line between fandom and friendship, initially I might be a fan boy and a bit nervous but it passes and a friendship is there. Or is it? Over time they want you to interview them for a project you are working on, they keep asking if you have read their latest book or say ‘you really ought to do an event with me shouldn’t you?’ but not in a genuine way – hence why I haven’t done events with them, reviewed them, interviewed them or worked with them… there are lots of lovely authors I have though. I will always support my friends, we all like to don’t we, that doesn’t make you a fan though.

Now on another tangent one of the things I have loved about social media is that with blogs and tweets and all things in-between on the internet you can get to know authors a whole lot better. Rather like the ‘friend not a fan’ issue above though sometimes following your favourite author can show you a side of them you aren’t so keen on…

  • Social media moaning… I am all for a good moan. I like to do it myself on the odd occasion, like when I didn’t get that job because I hadn’t read any Dickens (I still haven’t posted a small essay on what that made me think in a positive/reflective light, maybe I should), but the highlight there is the odd occasion and generally I hope that they have a positive outcome. I get so disappointed when I see an author just ranting negatively on and on and on either in 140 characters or several hundred words in a post. Worst is when they do both. I feel the same about bloggers who only write negative reviews, misery might love company but my company doesn’t like misery.
  • #AmWriting… Why does any author need to tweet or facebook this fact? Are they unintentionally/intentionally implying we are stupid and don’t know how a book is written or do they just need to tell the world something is coming soon? You don’t see someone tweeting #ampoppingtotheloo every few hours do you? (Actually maybe some people do!) Do brain surgeons tweet #amchisellinganotheroneopennow? Erm, no they don’t… mainly because they wouldn’t have their eye on the ball or brain they were working on and it would be dangerous. Here authors can’t win though as I do quite like idle chatter from them like ‘oh I didn’t think that cake was that bad just now on The Great British Bake Off’, ‘a squirrel has just attacked my cat’ or pictures of their friends coming round for tea. Fickle, I am.
  • You like me, you follow me, so you must love me, so you must buy me…  This sort of falls into the twitter hall of shame really more than anything else, though it can also come in the form of a regular ‘newsletter’ you never asked for. If you happen to have had a nice chat with an author it’s great to get to know them a bit better, however nothing puts me off more than after that lovely chat being barraged with emails or direct messages about their new book coming out. Or the worst of the worst when an author retweets every nice comment they get. It feels like because you follow them, you must love them just as much as the fan/stalker follower who has said something amazing about them or you simply have to know how much everyone loved them. I get that authors like nice quotes from reviews on their books, but on their twitter and blogs it seems a bit much, even more when its someone saying what a nice person they are… pushing a point maybe? We all like a compliment but I wouldn’t tell everyone on earth, well however many followers I have, my blog made a reader or two buy a book (maybe I should?) or that someone admired my shoes on the bus today and aren’t I amazing for buying them. Mind you, I do retweet when The Readers goes live but that is once a week. Hmmm, does that make me guilty of the same thing? Oh no!

So there you have my random and rambling thoughts which turned into a much longer post than I thought it would. I should say here that a) again that was done slightly tongue in cheek b) I do unfollow any authors/blogs who do these things, just as I would expect people to unfollow/stop reading me if I said/did something on twitter or the blog that riled them, annoyed them or got a bit up myself c) I know authors have to do a lot more work promoting books themselves and get as many readers as they can but being stuck on tweet repeat does my nut in. I am more likely to read a book by a new to me author because they make me laugh or have similar random thoughts to me, wouldn’t you? I was also pondering that authors pre-social media had it so much easier, they just wrote books really, there wasn’t all the self publicity needed and authors are authors it seems a bit unfair they have to be their own publicists too, so there’s two sides to it all. Plus lots of authors do it all superbly, Margaret Atwood being my favourite example.

Anyway back to my question of the day… Do you need to ‘like’ an author to like their books? Can, or has, seeing or hearing an author put you off them? Or like with myself and several authors I have followed, does getting to know them a little better make you want to read them, or if you are reading them already, like them all the more? Or do you think liking them is irrelevant and feel it is the words in the book that matter, nothing else?

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “Do You Have To ‘Like’ An Author To Enjoy Their Books?

  1. There are a few authors I haves vowed not to read after incredibly snobbish comments in the press. It’s like authors don’t see their books as products and readers as consumers… No other business goes round telling potential customers they’re idiots! It’s not like there’s a shortage of books to be read so I’d rather give my time and money to someone that doesn’t annoy me.

    • Hahahaha, that is one of the things that I really don’t like Ellie, the whole author telling readers they are stupid, be it too stupid for their own books or indeed stupid enough to read another authors books. Something I have actually witnessed an author say.

  2. It can be dangerous to know a bit about an author, because if they annoy me I may stop reading them, whereas I could happily read their work if I knew nothing about them. There are authors I have stopped reading or authors I won’t try because of things I have observed them doing or saying, either online or in person. On the other hand, there are authors I have tried specifically because they made a good impression, and others about whom I have concluded that they’re lovely people but I just don’t like their books.

    A behavior I used to see quite a bit of (I have stopped following the offenders) is when writers post something to the effect of: “My friend has a new book coming out. You should buy it and read it. I’m sure you’ll love it because it was written by my awesome friend, so of course it will be great!” I couldn’t even say why little writer cliques who all post about how great their friends are rub me the wrong way, but they do. And of course most of the self-promotional behaviors you listed above are annoying, too, but I don’t bother to follow anyone who actually writes about their writing or their books–it’s boring.

    But in answer to your question, no, I don’t read books by authors who have annoyed me too much, or who give the impression of being an ass.

    • There can be some back patting but on the whole that doesn’t really annoy me as occasionally those recommendations from an author have led me to some other wonderful books that I have loved.

      I think there is a quandry with reading because I think invariably if you love a book you want to know more about the person who wrote it, which in itself can then lead you to finding out that they might not be as wonderful as the book alas, though many are it should be said.

  3. I do usually prefer to know as little as possible about an author – after all, it’s the book that is important. But I have to admit that when I met previously unknown (to me) authors at literary festivals and they proved intelligent, charming, humorous and self-deprecating, I have been unable to resist buying a book (even if it’s not the kind I would normally choose to read) and getting it signed. Then, if I liked it, I have gone on to read all of their backlog. I certainly wouldn’t have bothered ‘discovering’ them if they had been obnoxious in any of the ways you so graphically describe above. Great post, as usual!

    • That is a very good point, sometimes if you meet an up and coming author at an event or festival you might not have read before, and you really like them, you are far more likely to go and read their books.

      I saw Edna O’Brien on the telly the other night, not an up and coming author though, and she came across so fascinatingly that I now want to read her work, so its a benefit to see an author too sometimes.

  4. Interesting timing for this subject. Thanks for bringing it up.
    This has been a secret dilemma for me throughout a lifetime of reading. I’ve discussed it with authors and poets and the consensus is that it’s just not sophisticated, or fair, to judge a professional by a single act or even a lifetime habit of personal conduct. And I agree-except that’s not how we actually feel about it sometimes. Bad conduct puts us off and we’re often quick to disassociate from anyone who engages in it. The only way we can do that as readers is to deliberately refrain from buying, reading, or reviewing their work, a simple arrogance on our own part as it assumes we have some power over the writer.
    A current example is J.R. Ellory, and others, who’ve written glowing reviews of their own work, and worse, scathing reviews of others, all anonymously.
    When the fertilizer hit the ventilator a few days ago I realized I had a copy of A Quiet Belief in Angels on my shelves that I had Bookmooched and wanted to get to. My secret dilemma has raised its head again. Do I read it? If I do, should I review it or even say that I read it or recommend it on Twitter if it’s good as I do all my reading? I opened it and was hooked. I’m on page 214 of 396 pages, the first time I’ve read someone after finding out about their dishonesty and lies. I’m almost horrified to discover that this man can really write well and did not need to do this malicious thing to advance his own career. Just as I’m sitting here wondering what will I say or write when I’m finished, should I write a post on my blog about the subject or not, and here you are.
    In the end we each make our own decisions as readers, and we can in no way condemn others for theirs because it is a personal matter.

    • I don’t see choosing not to read a book as arrogance. There are more books in the world than we can possibly read, we need criteria to filter on. Personal feelings are perfectly valid. Just as I read books got their stunning covers, it might not be logical but reading isn’t logical anyway!

    • I don’t think I am condemning anyone in this post I am just talking about the subject of readers and authors and how social media and the fact we can know so much about them has changed.

      I wasn’t actually referring to the R.J Ellroy incident (is this you R.J, under another guise, ha?) as that really just didn’t affect me, I think I simply thought ‘oh you silly man’. Speaking of him though I read one, the Richard and Judy choice I think and just didn’t like it, so I won’t read him again anyway.

      I don’t think anyone would judge you for reading him and liking it post all this furore at all. They would probably think ‘okay, good book’ and then decide if they want to read him themselves afterwards, as normal I guess.

  5. A very intersting discusrion; just the sort of thing I come over to your weblog to read. I am very much disconnected from authors (from choice); I don’t attend book festivals or readings and I don’t read about writers via biography or autobiography (one exception here is Colette). I don’t follow their weblogs and I don’t read Twitter. Thus at some level my life is easy. I have met, over the years, and number of authors in social situations (unconnected with books) but it has not led me to rush out and read their work, nor has it stopped me from doing so. I’m sure there is a line not to be crossed ( the behaviour of Figes for example) and I’m also sure that there is a huge difference if the author is living as opposed to dead (Hitler probably an almost universal exception here).

    I think self-promotion has been with us since writing began and in the “I” today, on my flight to Stuttgart, I read that the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood used to indulge in self-puffery via pseudonyms too.

    More posts like this one please!

    • I will try DP, I will try. I don’t know if at the moment I have the energy for more posts quite like this but when they come to mind I will endeavour to do something like this.

      I am slightly envious of your lack of author knowledge. Though don’t you find that when you really admire a novel you want to know more about the mind and the person that created it?

  6. Laura Caldwell

    If I enjoyed an author’s books but then found out she was a jerk, I probably would continue to read her books trying to forget the “added information.” If an author that I was unfamiliar with sounded like a jerk, I might be more likely not to bother with his books. Mostly, though, I don’t care very much about the author, only their art. Interviews with authors never interest me too much anyway, I prefer to read/hear other readers’ reviews. Including yours.

    • Interesting use of he and she in this comment Laura!

      I think it is probably worse for the author when you haven’t read their work weirdly as why would you bother afterwards. Though I have to say an author I really liked, and got to know, ended up being a jerk and its really, really put me off reading any more of their work. I also think I might be harsher if I ever read them again. Awkward.

  7. gaskella

    A fun and thought-provoking post! I find it impossible to generalise on this topic, and take each author separately – I have disposed of the two books by the sock-puppeteer that were on my shelf – life’s too short and I have too many books. There are a couple of authors I’ve been to see for whom signing was obviously a chore, and that does put me off buying their books a little – well at full price anyway. There are a couple who are so pompous on TV that I just won’t bother with now. Being shy myself, I can sympathise with those authors for whom self-publicising doesn’t come naturally, but it’s part of writing life these days, so you hope they’ll find it easier with experience. But there are also many who were so nice and friendly, and interested in you/blogging that you could really have a two-way relationship for that short time, and there are even authors who remember you from previous signings. In general I like most of them, but I’ve not been lucky enough to make friends of any yet…

    • There are lots and lots and lots of lovely authors and this shouldn’t be seen as a ‘Simon hates authors’ post as I really don’t. Just to clarify that one hahaha.

      I do think you are right though, each case is different and we all have different levels of what we find annoying/vile in people so it will always be like that.

      Though it is tempting to ‘out’ a nasty author. For example… Hahaha. I wouldn’t!

  8. I believe it’s possible for a truly horrible person to create a beautiful work of art, so I try to separate the work from the artist. However, once you know a person, say an author who was very rude to you during the interview process or an author who continually expresses bigoted opinions in every form of media that will pay attention to him, it can be very difficult to look past the personality to enjoy the work.

    So yes, there are authors whom I no longer read because they are jerks. I’m just not very proud of this fact.

    • Interestingly one of my favourite authors is known to be a little homophobic, and yet oddly I still read their work as while they can be really belligerant, they write bloody well. So you are right.

  9. Kristen M.

    Oh, the amwriting hashtag … let’s actually require that every profession start doing that. Twitter will be full of #amprogramming, #amteaching, #amsellingcrapatacornerstore, #amkickingagoal … how fun it would be! ;)
    I am very selective about which authors I will follow on social media because I worry about finding out that their personalities are less than stellar. And yes, I follow some writers that I don’t read just because I like who they are and eventually I will try at least one of their novels even if they aren’t my favorite genres/subjects. Personality does actually matter to me.

  10. Thank you for calling out the utter nonsense that is the #amwriting hastag. I hate HATE it! It’s so self-aggrandising and vain.

    • Hahahahaha, its the worst thing isn’t it? It literally makes my skin crawl. In fact any tweets that say things like ‘oh am finding book x really tough/had a real brainwave with book x today’ just irritating. Tell us all about the book afterwards is my thought.

      I also cant stant authors retweeting their reviews. I mean come on, aren’t their fans already following them? Wouldn’t they have bought the bloody book?

  11. I’ve always seen the #amwriting tag as a way for authors to get themselves into the right mind set and in order to talk about the process with other writers. Though it could just apply to the authors I follow, I do notice they’ll converse back and forth on the subject. A sort of self-motivation.

    I was about to say that yes, I do need to “like” an author, but that’s not strictly true, for example I’m really not keen on Philippa Gregory for what I deem her unnecessary scorn of Anne Boleyn, but I want to read one of her other books because the subject matter is interesting. I think in general I do need to like an author or at least feel neutral, but when it comes to books on history it doesn’t matter so much, my love of history and debate trumps anything else. Oh, and maybe Victorian writers, too. Not sure why I’m lenient there but I am.

  12. An interesting discussion on a difficult dilemma – I suspect Dark Puss has the best approach, by remaining disconnected from authors. It can be really tricky not to let an author’s personality, lifestyle or political views colour your perception of their work, but the same applies to artists and composers. And it’s not a problem that only applies to living authors.

    What about Dickens, portrayed for many years as a great family man, who treated his wife abominably and had a secret mistress, or Ezra Pound, who wrote some divine poetry, but was a Fascist who was imprisoned for supporting Mussolini?

    At the end of the day you have to judge the work on its merits – but I always wonder how much an author’s personal views and character affect what they write.

    • I wouldn’t know about Dickens though would I hahaha. Good point though. I mean look at Jimmy Saville, everyone thought he was a brilliant kids entertainer and now… Well actually now most people are saying ‘I always new there was something off about him’ erm, no you didn’t.

  13. Louise Trolle

    Like Laura, if I already like an author’s books, I won’t be too influenced by finding out dislikable facts about them. And mostly I don’t pay much attention to the person, as long as the literature appeals to me.

    But I think that my love for the works of authors like Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie and A.S. Byatt has increased, because I’ve heard them speak on several occasions, had my books signed by them, and they were utterly delightful and interesting.

    However unread authors can be a different matter – if they really get my back up. After listening to V.S. Naipaul for instance being sickeningly self-absorbed AND a male chauvinst xxx , I won’t be reading any of his books…

    And I become suspicious and avoid a book, if I feel like someone tries to shove a it down my throat, or authors spam 50 different groups on Goodreads, or get their cousins, spouse, mail man and neighbours to give their book 5 star ratings (with no review to indicate that they’ve even read it).

  14. I agree with Laura, I might be able to overlook bad behavior if it’s an author I already enjoy, but if it’s someone I haven’t tried, I think I’ll be turned off forever. Naipaul sprang to mind immediately. I love Dickens but then I do get angry at him for how horribly he treated his wife. Roald Dahl was kind of a jerk too.

    And I just posted a comment on another blog of my dislike of Michael Chabon because of his wife Ayelet Waldman. I had mixed feelings about his work and then I read some things about her that bothered me, so I’ve never read any more of his books.

  15. I think some authors you love, and some books you love. I’ve had some fairly nasty break-ups with authors after their latest book has disappointed, but it doesn’t stop you from enjoying those books that made you love them in the first place.

    As far as Desert Island Discs go, Julian Fellowes’ interview was the final nail in his already quite tightly closed coffin for me. *shudders*

    • I love that expression of a nasty break up with an author over their book. Thats brilliant, and so true.

      Julian Fellowes was AWFUL wasn’t he, though that isn’t actually who I meant hahaha.

  16. That’s very interesting Simon. I’ve been to a couple of signing where I wished I hadn’t gone. Although it probably won’t make me stop reading a book if I think it’s interesting, it will make me more critical if the writer is rude or ghastly to his readers or the people he works with. On the other hand, if a writer is lovely, it will more than likely make me want to try their books even if I wasn’t interested before.

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