#205: Is it Necessary to Like an Author in Order to Enjoy Their Work?

splash-heartI don’t read many living authors — not intentionally, it’s just that the current trend of a lot of fiction doesn’t intersect with my tastes very often — and so I’m saved the concern of how they comport themselves on a daily basis and how this impacts my feelings about them.  But following a comment by Dan at The Reader is Warned about a comment made by John Dickson Carr in She Died a Lady (1943), I got to thinking about the above question.

Inevitably, an author and their work become very difficult to separate — “Oh, I love Georges Simenon!” — and for some people, among who I suspect I number myself, it can be difficult to want to engage with their work if the author in question seems like a complete tool.  While it’s true that I’ve read books by authors who seem like nice people, hated the book, and carried on thinking they’re still a nice person, I don’t think the reverse is true.  If I don’t like how an author conducts themself as person, I don’t think I have it in me to read their work.  Take two examples:

The Irish writer Adrian McKinty has written a couple of novels in recent years that concern impossible crimes and so should be right up my street, but when I searched for him online several months back, the first thing I came across was this post from his blog in which he frankly comes across as a smug ass-hat.  Now, he’s possibly a lovely man, and perhaps his lofty better-than-thou attitude when condescending to someone else on why he’s clearly violating a simple law is merely a result of him having a bad day — in fairness, he does say up to that he doesn’t come out of it very well — but there’s something about the arrogance of sitting down to write about the encounter (and then posting it on his own personal blog where, presumably, he is expecting to find fans and sympathisers and so be validated in his actions) that just doesn’t sit well with me.  And, as a result, I don’t think I’d be able to — but which I mean I don’t want to, not that it makes me so angry I forget how to — read his books.


Books such as these, since it’s possible I’m doing the man a disservice…

I am aware that this isn’t terribly rational.  There is, after all, a separation of church and state in that McKinty’s books are fiction and in no way related to his daily conduct — it’s not like Russell Brand’s empty-headed misunderstanding of geopolitical influences and priorities being poured into a book that provides not a single answer and purports to be the solution to the Western world’s ills; McKinty’s 1970s-set crime thrillers are an unlikely vehicle to further his agenda on the cycle helmet laws of eastern Australian urban areas…surely I should just let it go, move on, and possibly get a great impossible crime in the process.  And yet…and yet…there is that undeniable nexus between the creator and the product which I find it difficult to sever or ignore.

It’s for this nebulous reason that I refuse to pick up the Inspector Zhang short stories by Stephen Leather — once again, impossible crimes, about which TomCat was complimentary recently, which is good enough for me — because of his involvement in sock-puppeting (the practice of creating false online personas to praise your own work and/or lambast that of your rivals) a few years ago.  This is a very different issue to McKinty, let’s be clear about that: Leather went out of his way to be malicious and to mislead people for, presumably, pecuniary ends, whereas McKinty is probably just expressing himself poorly on a matter of personal conduct.  Nevertheless, they’re symptoms of the same problem from my perspective.

I have in the past followed on Twitter some four (or possibly five) authors whose work I admire.  And, without exception, I no longer follow any of them because of the impression of themselves that came across 140 characters at a time on a very regular basis.  I don’t want to know what shopping they did and with whom, I don’t want to know that they disagree with press coverage of some political event — these are not the things I buy and read their books for, there’s Sophie Kinsella for that — and sometimes discovering how juvenile people can be is a distraction I can do without.  I read books for escapism, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m almost better off not knowing about the people who write them.  I very nearly didn’t finish a series I was hugely enjoying because of how their author carried on online, and had to take a sizeable break between books to put as much of that out of my mind as possible in order to get through them.


Inevitably, there are then some additional considerations.

The fearlessly intelligent Christopher Hitchens — a man sorely missed, devisor of the greatest insult in history with “If we had given him an enema we could have buried him in a matchbox” — famously said in his memoirs that, while having dinner with Agatha Christie and her husband, ‘the anti-Jewish flavour of the talk was not to be ignored or overlooked, or put down to heavy humour or generational prejudice.  It was vividly unpleasant‘.  I’ve just read my 71st book by Christie and count her among my favourite authors, yet anti-Semitism is not something I admire in people under any justification.  Am I happy to put this down to possible hyperbole or a misunderstanding in order to justify my continued reading of her books?  Hitchens has a well-documented love of controversy, but I see no reason not to trust his word on this, and so some accommodation clearly needs to be reached.

I suppose there are two main ways to come at this.  The first being that I’d already read and enjoyed a huge quantity of Christie’s works before I read this claim from Hitchens — whereas with McKinty and Leather I learned unpalatable things about them before reading a single word — and so there’s an element of Agatha Christie The Author already superseding Agatha Christie The Person in my mind; before having any personal knowledge of her, she was already first and so shall foremost remain the enjoyment her books gave me and it will take some quite significant evidence to undo that. There’s also an inkling of Famous Person Perception Bias about this; if you meet someone famous when they’re having a bad day and they’re rude to you, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life telling everyone how rude and unpleasant they were where you’d be more understanding of just some random stranger doing exactly the same thing.  One stray comment or action is easily escalated in the mind (and, yes,  I’m fully aware that I’m potentially guilty of falling into this trap with Adrian McKinty).

Secondly, I don’t believe from Christie’s writing that she necessarily was that much of an anti-Semite beyond the generational prejudice that Hitchens himself mentions, any more than she was a racist because she published a novel called Ten Little Niggers.  This second point is harder to contest because it’s very much my impression from untold hours reading fictions which, as I say above, aren’t designed to reflect the author’s personal state of mind.  I’ve written before about the importance of preserving these generational attitudes, and how a recognition and allowance of these attitudes from the time in which they were held is not the same thing as sympathising with or apologising for them.  It’s not something I expect to be able to resolve here, but the Christie point bears raising — as perhaps will the conduct of Anthony Berkeley, who I nevertheless interred as one of the four most important male authors of the Golden Age — because inevitably our experiences are never as clear-cut as we would wish.

Does it make a difference that most of the authors I’m likely to be dissuade from reading are already dead?  If it turned out someone whose work I really admire engaged in sock puppetry in the 1940s I’d probably be okay with that (hell, frequent swipes were taken at other authors quite openly in their books — see Carr in The Eight of Swords (1934) and, uh, some others I can’t remember at present…); however, if they turned out to’ve been the Grand High Whatever of their local Ku Klux Klan franchise, I’d drop them like a hot…something.  A hot pot?  Not the meal, I mean; an actual pot that’s been heated well past a comfortable temperature.


This analogy brought to you by Google images.

Anyway, I run the risk of losing my point, and there should be enough there to stimulate some discussion.  Whaddaya say?  Does your impression of the author affect your interest in their books, or am I just a weirdo who needs to get over himself?  I mean…just in this case, obviously.  Not generally — that’s absolutely the case in my day-to-day life — but I’m asking now just in terms of the topic of this post.  You…you get that, right?  I’ll deal with my problems in my own time.

58 thoughts on “#205: Is it Necessary to Like an Author in Order to Enjoy Their Work?

    • Yeah, nah; the other guy was pointing out that McKinty — in full possession of a cycle helmet which he’s legally required to wear — was breaking the law. McKinty started the argument by not immediately going “You’re right, I’m breaking the law,” and putting thre helmet on. An important distinction, I feel!


        • Sure, but you’re exlcuding the second (and more important) part of my conditions; he then quotes Thoreau, gets in an argument, and comes across like a petulant man-child who doesn’t like being questioned when clearly in the wrong. That’s my problem!


          • I still think the other guy was being an officious prat. And, had McKinty truly been “a petulant man-child” trying to make himself look good, he could have easily missed off his own juvenile final line.

            Liked by 2 people

  1. Somewhere I read that if you like an author, don’t read about his life, since it will most likely disappoint you. But that’s something more easy said than done and to be honest I have some authors which I won’t read because of their facts or opinions. I do understand also that we can be pretty much unfair with some authors, but even if we reognise it, we do nothing to change that. Whether we like it or not, our judgement is heavily skewed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somewhere I read that if you like an author, don’t read about his life

      Ha, fantastic advice! I try to keep my focus on the books, but I think that’s largely because, as I say, there are so few living authors I read, and a lot of those who are dead we know very little about. When I’m able to find out about someone whose book I’m reading, it’s such a novelty that sometimes I can’t help myself. Maybe I shold learn from this and never look up anything about anyone ever again, though that seems like a weird position to maintain…

      But, yes, you’re correct: we’re always going to come up against things we don’t like in peoplem our judgement will always be a little skewed; I just wish there was an easy way to dismiss or resolve this 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, this is possibly my attempt at trying to reconcile my current view of the man with the fact that he’s written a book I would like to read; it’s like therapy, but free and with lots of counsellors chipping in to help…


  2. I don’t tend to read up on my author’s lives so I probably haven’t had these sorts of situations take place. I agree with how it is easier to not read an author’s work if you knew the bad thing before hand rather than half way through, than if you are half way through their novels. Think it depends on whether the bad things are transmitted into the texts and also what the bad thing is. If it is just arrogance or smugness then I can probably live with that as like I say I don’t read up on authors much, particularly modern ones, so I could easily miss out on knowing it anyways. A very thought provoking piece there JJ.


    • You raise an interesting point about arrogance or smugness in the text, and again it’s something that comes down to judgement: I find Sayers astoundingly difficult to tolerate because of her smugness and the disdain with which (I feel) she looked upon the detective fiction genre, but that comes purely from her writing and not from her life. I would probably tolerate a Sayers novel if I mamnaged to not know it was by Sayers, though — say someone changes the name, and takes out all WImsey’s vocal ticks (good luck with that job…), and tells me it’s a previously-unknown Ellery Queen…

      Ah, dammit, now I’m making myself think too much…


  3. I’m not saying you’re a weirdo, but you should get over yourself. If you allow personal opinions or political alliances of long-dead writers to influence your reading, you can pretty much kiss goodbye to a sizeable chunk of your wish list/TBR-pile.

    For example, based on my occasional glances at your twitter feed, I assume you fall somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum, but Carr definitely was not a lefty – quite the opposite. He found the British post-WWII Labour government so offensive that he left his adopted homeland behind and did not return until they were voted out of power in the early 1950s. If you had an opportunity to discuss politics with Carr, you would probably agree on very little, but should that be a reason to dislike him or deter you from enjoying his work?

    Or what about Anthony Berkeley? The man you crowned as one of four Kings of Crime. From all accounts, he was not one of the most pleasant of individuals. Someone who I have often seen described as a misanthrope, misogynist (not the modern kind who happened to disagree with a feminist) and, according to some, a sadist. But does that alter your opinion on him as a mystery novelist and innovator of the genre? The very same qualities that made you decide to place a crown on his head?

    Just enjoy these stories and worry about stuff that’s going today.

    P.S. I had no idea about Stephen Leather’s shenanigans on the internet. I just saw a collection of locked room stories with an interesting backdrop and went, “Oooh, gotta try those.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, yeah, I completely acknowledge the Berkeley thing above — that’s part of my difficulty. As for Carr and his politics, while you may be right — and I’m not dodging anything here, I’m genuinely not sure how to classify my own political affiliations — I supose I get the impression from his writing that, of we didn’t agree, we’d at least be able to discuss it. But, yeah, I can see that there’s a slippery slope and I need to figure out where I stand, and inevitably conflating the author and their work will lead to many, many problems.

      So…is ignorance bliss? Shall I just read the books and ignore the people behind them? I’m not being facetious, I’m trying to fivure it out myself. For instance, I already know that Christopher St John Sprigg became a Stalinist in his later life (and was killed fighting for that cause, I understand) but my divergence with him on this point isn’t dissuading me from reading Death of an Airman…have I over-thought this?

      And, hey, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m judging you on the Leather; I’d’ve done exactly the same thing had I not known, I’m just citing the most recent examples of where my difficulties lie in this situation.


      • You actually did mention Berkeley in your post. No idea why that part did not register.

        Anyhow, I simply do not understand why you should shy away from certain books or authors, because they held opinions or believes that don’t entirely gel with your own. I’m not, what you call, a particular religious person and have encountered disparaging comments towards atheists in GAD stories, which amounted to a criminal doing what he did as a result of lacking belief in God, but that won’t stop me from sampling the work of Christian mystery writers. Just imagine I eliminated writers from my reading list based on whether or not they were religious. Bye, bye H.C. Bailey, G.K. Chesterton and Father Knox.

        The idea of having such a mindset horrifies me more than any so-called uncomfortable opinions or comments one is bound to come across in old books. They’re from a different era and should not scare anyone away.

        I mean, the only mystery novel I would label as genuinely racist is W. Shepard Pleasants’ The Stingaree Murders, published in 1932, which unabashedly and repeatedly gives its low, racial opinion on Asians and Blacks – which will, no doubt, horrify many of today’s readers. However, I did not lower my book, stare into the distance with half-closed eyes and mutter, “why those sneaky chinks!”

        By the way, despite its uncouth racism, The Stingaree Murders has three highly original impossible situations and, sort of, predicted the assassination of Huey Long. So the book has its merits as a detective story and locked room mystery. You might want to track down a copy, if only to challenge your tolerance.

        So, yes, you’re probably overthinking all of this. You mentioned Sprigg, who was a goddamn Commie, but that did not persuade me from reading and enjoying Death of an Airman. For the same reason, I still want to give G.D.H. and M. Cole a shot.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Oh, worry not, I’ve been looking for an affordable, decent-quality copt of The Stingaree Murders since you first brought it to my attention on your site; as yet no joy, but I remain hopeful (and undeterred by its casual racism).

          As I hope I’ve made clear, the bigger issue for me is working out how the author’s non-writing related conduct should, does, and will impact my enjoyment of their books. It is to be hoped that any intended indoctrination in a text will be clear and therefore provide clear grounds for dismissing them, but it’s more a question of how their other behaviour impacts my reading.

          If an author is virulently anti-Semitic in a novel, that’s something I can put down and justify putting down; if an author writes amazinf puzzles that offend no-one but expressed strong anti-Semitic views in their private life…where’s the line? Hell, I came out in favour of not bowdlerising the culturally ignorant references out of GAD works as they get republished, so the contents of a novel are going to have to go some way to offend me. I’m just not used to dealing with living, breathing foolishness, I think.

          And, yeah, I also need to think less. Duly noted… 🙂


  4. The classic phrase, probably due to the influence of FR Leavis, is to ‘trust the text, not the author’ which was certainly the mantra of my high school English teacher. I think it is all very fair to discuss these things as part of the context and the truth is, to me, that some works are stronger than others and we probably make more allowances in those circumstances – and of course it depends if you can detect elements within the works themselves (I’m thinking here think about the anti-semitism of Dorothy L. Sayers or Wagner for instance and how it applies to their output). When ti comes to unpalatable views as expressed in works from say the Golden Age, my argument is always the same – there were authors who didn’t express such views in their works at the time, and some who did – that’s how you decide if they were probably prejudiced or not. Anything else is just wilful blindness, one that most people probably engage in …

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s an interesting way to break things down, isn’t it? The cultural bias (or perhaps blindness) of a lot of GAD works isn’t something I have a problem with because I see it being softened by history and/or ignorance. If I had experienced those issues first-hand, would I feel differently about it? Undoubtedly. So am I feeling more critical of current authors because I’m experiencing it first-hand or close to? It’s pretty likely, hey.

      There’s a wealth of great points being raised here, and I think trusting the text is the main thing to come out of it: Simenon, Berkeley, and others would probably offend us as people, but we can take what they wrote as being a separate part of their lives. Is their writing informed by who and how they were? More than likely. Does their writing suffer because of it? If so, that’s the point where we can chose to disengage.

      This is brilliant; you guys are brilliant. Hopefully you’ll read this and see how brilliant I think you all are.


  5. When it comes to writing, or nay form of artistic expression for that matter, I don’t really have a problem separating the artist from the work. Some of my favorite writers, actors, film directors etc are those with whom I would disagree very strongly on a whole range of topics and issues. But I put those differences to one side for a couple of reasons,

    Firstly, I don’t equate a prejudice or view I don’t share being casually expressed here or there as an attempt at indoctrination or suchlike. If, on the other hand, I came across a work where it was clear to me the primary intent was to push a certain view above all others, then I would be less charitable – but that’s not something I can say I’ve come across too much.

    Secondly, my relationship to these people is such that I don’t feel I need to assess them on those terms anyway. What I mean is this: I’m reading their stories or watching their movies but I’m not thinking of them as my friends, or even acquaintances. I have taken their art into my home not invited them and, as I said above, unless that work is saturated with or peddling ideas and/or viewpoints I actively object to then I don’t conflate them.

    And then there’s the related point, which I suspect is largely a modern phenomenon, that of feeling the need to know all about artists and thus idolize/worship them. I’m not sure if it’s down to the influence of social media and the consequent sharing of so much minutiae of lives but we do appear t have developed a kind of social immaturity, an unhealthily holistic approach to people where not only do we feel the need to be aware of every detail of their lives and each individual thought, but we must also be able to approve of them and store them away beside our own.

    Interesting question though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have taken their art into my home not invited them…I don’t conflate them.

      Some great points here, Colin, but I just want to clarify that I’m not conflating someone’s works with their personal opinions; my question is more whether the conduct of a person separate to their art is worth consideration when assessing what they do (be it music, movies, books, painting, whatever).

      However, I can’t deny that you’re spot on with the modern phenomenon of wanting to know everything about someone, and I think it’s this over-sharing that really gets to me — as much a product of the public asking as it is the rtist being willing to give. As someone who is very careful what they reveal about themselves online, I’m made increasingly uncomfortable by the willingness to just sign everything over as public property — the slippery slope towards selling their wedding photos in magazines, and being photographed with their kids at film premieres. I’m struggling to separate the two, possibly because of how profligate it seems to be, and it’s this lack of awareness that bothers me, I think.

      Your point about the art and the artist being separate things is where I’d like to be; now I just have to work out how to achieve that!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure either how to get that separation if it’s not already there. I think, for me, it was just something I always did.
        Now, I’m not suggesting this is what you’re doing here, but I’ve noticed a lot more in recent times that people are becoming less tolerant of voices they disagree with. Again, I see this as being a result of the little bubbles we tend to create for ourselves (sometimes quite understandably given the hostility one can encounter) on social media, where we get the habit of hearing only those who share our views. That is not healthy, in my opinion. And I’d be concerned that if we give in to the temptation to say “I don’t like X as a person therefore I’m not going to read/watch etc anything by X any more” then I feel we’re taking our first steps down the road towards sticking our fingers in our cultural ears and shouting lalala.
        As with everything of course, your mileage may vary.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, I know what you mean; it feels sometimes that whenever we’re presented with any new idea you can guaranteee there will be a vocal minority who are determined not to like it no matter what. And the inter-connectedness of everyone and everything these days makes it very easy for such opposition to spread and, by sheer numbers, give it the appearance of repsectability without anyone having to really examine what they’re saying or whay they’re saying it.

          But then the same is true for brilliant things as well, and that’s the stuff I try to focus on; the world is dark enough at present!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I have to side here with those who judge artists by their art, JJ. As a Jewish gay man, I can’t help wincing when authors I admire, like Christie and Queen, present their awful depictions of aspects of myself. And let’s extend this to ALL art forms: the painters who screwed people over (literally and figuratively), the actors and directors who were demons! Jerome Robbins, Alfred Hitchcock, Barbra Streisand . . . I love their work, but I suspect having coffee with any of these people might reduce me to tears. Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett were a lovely couple: she ended up plagiarizing and he took thirty years to drink himself to death. But I love their writing. I love On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, but Elia Kazan sat before Eugene McCarthy and NAMED NAMES! Asshat! He was reprehensible, but I love his art. Ditto Roman Polanski! How do I reconcile enjoying his artistic vision with his views on the treatment of women?

    However, that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to strike someone off our TBR or watch list if they behave like an asshat. Mel Gibson has proven that he no longer deserves my attention. (It helps that he makes movies I have no interest in watching.) I think if I dug down, my principles would be as shaky as anyone’s. So I won’t judge you or anyone else. (And if I ever write a novel, I will try to behave myself on Twitter and not tell anyone where I’m shopping!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Waddya mean Eugene McCarthy? He was a pretty decent politician (for a Catholic 🙂 ). You mean our (non) friend Joseph, surely … Interesting that you mention ON THE WATERFRONT, for me that is a good example of a film that I no longer admire as I once did because it reads too much like an movie-long excuse for naming names (as did Kazan and its author, Budd Schulberg, a great writer whose THE DISENCHANTED I truly revere).


      • Oh, good grief, Sergio, OF COURSE I mean Joseph McCarthy! I have a new kitten and he wakes me up WAY too early to respond with any intelligence to these things. Thanks for the correction, and yes, I occasionally show my students ON THE WATERFRONT and ask them if they can figure out, based on watching the film, whether or not Kazan named names. The creepy thing is, whether or not they figure it out, they see Kazan as a hero, so I get your point entirely. And it’s a shame because it IS a great film.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hang on, I didn’t realise you were just one man; I had you pegged as some kind of autonomous collective…

      I struggle hugely with elements of what you raise above, Brad. Like, I really want to reread the Ender’s Game quadrilogy, but can I now do so knowing Orson Scott Card’s reprehensible views on homosexuality? Honestly, I’ve tried to put it out of my mind and it’s a struggle. I loved those books when I first read them, and pressed copies into about as many hands as I felt would take them, but I don’t feel I can look upon them wihtout the taint of Card’s reactionary beliefs (especially given the irony of Speaker for the Dead’s “Hey, we need to figure out how to get along even though we’re all so different and it seems insoluble” message, which sort of sticks in my craw now).

      For my part, I’m starting to feel an appreciation of gradations opening up: someone behaving foolishly on an isolated occasion (McKinty, say) is very different to someone expressing long-held and questionable views (Card, say). Everyone else has figrued this kind of thing out, I know, but I legit did not have to think about this kind of thing until recently (usually work keeps me too busy to worry about such fripperies). This is what the phrase “growing up in public” means, I feel — and I remain hugely grateful for everyone’s patience while I, an adult male with lots of life experience, wrestle with these fundamentals… 😀


        • In this context, I don’t know if you know that John Irving (The World According To Garp, etc.) is an enthusiastic wrestler. I mentioned to him at a dinner party that I had been involved in organizing wrestling classes for gay men and … well, he didn’t actually SAY that the idea made him want to vomit but the look on his face was enough for me. I’ve disposed of all his books and I’m not buying any more.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Which is funny because I had heard there was a decidedly bisexual streak to his nature. However, after reading (and loving) Garp, I became less and less enamored with his kinky yet repetitive universe and gave up on him altogether. Your personal experience, Noah, only makes my own decision sweeter.

            And those classes sound mighty tempting. I would suck at actual wrestling, but it wouldn’t really matter . . . 🙂


  7. I have to agree that my personal feelings about authors have coloured my enthusiasm for their work; I have been boycotting Orson Scott Card’s work for a number of years and intend to continue to do so, for the reasons of homophobia and political asshole-ism mentioned above. He’s quite entitled to be whatever flavour of ignoramus he wishes, but I won’t contribute to him financially for doing so.
    I wanted to mention that it works the other way also. I met a LOT of mystery writers during my years behind the counter at mystery bookstores and some of them were so charming that they actually got me to buy books in sub-genres that I don’t care for. Some of you may know that I don’t care very much for the work of PD James but she herself was just delightful in person; similarly the late Elmore Leonard’s work is not my cup of tea, but I’d have been delighted to have dinner with him and his wife again because he was just a great conversationalist. Margaret Atwood’s work mostly bores me to tears, but she herself is wonderfully warm and intelligent and kind; the same thing with Mary Higgins Clark. Carsten Stroud writes two-fisted adventure novels, which are certainly not my thing, but he’s such a great guy I bought everything he ever wrote.
    For me, what it boils down to is, if I buy a paperback of Ender’s Game, OSC gets a couple of bucks, and I don’t want my couple of bucks to be used for the causes he supports. For me it’s all about the money.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thanks for this JJ. And I’m glad my recent post inspired you to write this as it’s such a brilliant and interesting discussion, I mean look at these comments!

    I think where you seem to be in your last comment sums up so much. The difference between isolated instances that can be examined, and long held beliefs propped up and profligated by the art itself is definitely worth considering. And therefore each troublesome passage, or difficult thing we learn about the author has to be viewed in context each time. Some stuff of course you can see straight away as being ‘of the time’ but some may need deeper analysis.

    Viewing each instance for itself I think helps us not to be polarised as well. For example thinking that we need to have a system like, ‘I will always separate the text from the author’ or ‘I’ll never see the text as separate from the author’, can get us stuck. And can lead to echo chambers, as Colin was saying above.
    It seems like viewing it in situ, context by context, author by author (if need be!) is a great way to work.

    And I respectfully disagree with TomCat that we shouldn’t think so much about these things, I think go for it! Think away! If it makes a richer fuller experience when your values are aligned with your passions then that is great. However I also respectfully totally agree with TomCat in that we can totally overthink things in a way that leaves us unable to enjoy anything at all, and that is just as problematic. That’s where the Anita Sarkeesian quote from my post you linked to – about enjoyment of cultural works while being able to be critical and informed – comes in strong. That plus context is a great method to work from.

    What a great discussion! What a great bunch of people we have in this community!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I think if anyone were at the point of turning their values into a hair shirt before allowing themselves to experience or encounter anything there’s be something amiss there — the idea of flexibility, or perhaps unrigidness, is very important. It’s applying consistency inside of that where I think many of us would come unstuck — but, again yes, taking it case-by-case and not being too hard on oneself is the main tenet here.

      It’s interesting (to me) just how inured I’ve become to so much of the casual racism of the 1920s-1950s when I read it in a book from that era. In a conversation at work I wouldn’t tolerate it, but someone drops something into conversation over the port when The Women are in the other room in Lord Fontletontle’s ancestral pile and it has (c)1932 in the front and I don’t blink. There’s probably a fascinating discussion to be had around that, but I might leave it up to someone else…!

      And, yeah, this community is the best. The absolute best. And no cat pictures, either, if you don’t count Brad 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hold on, I never said that we shouldn’t think too much about these things (see my comments), but when you start to wonder whether the personal views of (long dead) authors should affect your enjoyment of their work, than yes, you’re probably overthinking it.

        However, I already had my say and won’t start repeating my previous comments. I’m just baffled anyone would avoid books on account of certain opinions therein or held by their authors.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m just baffled anyone would avoid books on account of certain opinions therein or held by their authors.

          When you start doing that the danger is that you can end up existing in a self-created bubble, afraid to venture out in case you encounter an opinion you don’t agree with.

          This is unfortunately becoming quite common these days.


          • When you start doing that the danger is that you can end up existing in a self-created bubble, afraid to venture out in case you encounter an opinion you don’t agree with.

            This is unfortunately becoming quite common these days.

            Without wishing to drag politics overtly into the discussion, yes. And it’s visible on left and right – Trump screaming at reporters and encouraging supporters to blank and disbelieve anything they don’t like is just the latest example of this trend.


  9. I think this group will be amused by this, and I think it contributes to the context … You may not know there’s a category of publisher’s reps called “walkers”. Their job is to collect Famous Author at the airport, drive him/her to a hotel, get them settled, drive them around to bookstores and radio shows, etc., and then get them to the airport. As you can imagine, some authors are perfectly delightful and some are horrible rude boors.
    Internationally, the walkers from all publishers got together and established an award for the “worst” author on tour. I’ve forgotten what it was once called, but my understanding is that after Jeffrey Archer won it a number of years in a row, they renamed it after him … that is, at least, until Patricia Cornwell started doing the book tour circuit. I’m not involved in such things any more but I gather they hardly even bother doing the voting any more — she’ll win it until she retires. Not only do walkers find her hard to deal with, I can testify from experience that booksellers and, most problematic, customers do also. She personally turned a bunch of readers off her work who had been enthusiastic fans before they met her.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I mean, it’s difficult not to believe that the award given out by the Walkers for being an arsehole wouldn’t be called the Wanker…but I have no evidence of that…except that it’s awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This conversation is devolving in the most delightful way! If you can’t say something nice about these authors, come sit next to me . . .

        Let me say here that I met Elizabeth George twice, and she was thoroughly charming! I got to interview the author Michael Chabon for a big event. I was nervous, and he put me at ease. His interview was a delight.

        If I ever become a world-famous author, I want to be the one all the walkers fight over to carry about! 🙂


  10. Interesting thread. I think the only golden age author who really makes me want to throw up / book against the wall on occasion is Dorothy Sayers. What a horrible smug detective with a liberal dashing of anti Semitism and an all pervading snobbery. The trouble is, she wrote some very good detective stories so sometimes I hold my nose and jump in and read them. Elmore Leonard’s crime stories do nothing for me but he wrote some very good western short stories in the 1950s (310 to Yuma among others) and they have been collected.


    • Sayers is difficult for me just on account of the unavoidable feeling that she’s writing detective fiction to prove how above it all she is. Baseless, I know, and nothing close to an actual reason, but oh my how I struggle to get anything out of her prose (even if I do admire the wrinkles she added to Wimsey in not just making him a generic aristocratic sleuth — her characterisation of him is very good indeed).


  11. I find I’m able to separate an author from his work, but when I encounter casually horrific things *in* a text, I am much less able than some to dismiss it as ‘oh well, that’s just *in character*’, especially if it just dropped in there and no further comment is made.
    There was a moment in one of the Roger Sheringham novels where Berkeley commented on Sheringham’s ‘two least favorite things, Jews and tapioca’ and I literally spluttered. It was very hard to continue to read Berkeley after that, though I did continue.
    It actually hurt me. (I know there were a few other such moments in Sheringham novels, and I remember one from Gaudy Night, too).
    I think that what gets me in GAD novels is that these casual attitudes helped the vicious anti-Semitism (and racism, and homophobia) that genuinely killed people… in a period piece, it wouldn’t bother me as much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, wow, I do not remember that ‘Jews and tapioca’ line — though, interestingly, I think this might be because I do kind of take an opposite view, that a lot of these things were seen as acceptable attitudes at the time and so can be seen as characters making the sorts of (half?) jokey comments that would have been acceptable in context.

      I think the inability to separate work and writer and the inability to separate writer and work are notably different things, depending on the order you encounter them. If we read of an author being a dick, we’re likely to find evidence of this when we come to read their book; if we read an anti-semitic or otherwise offensive thing in the work first, we’re then more likely to comdemn (or perhaps doubt) them as a person as a result. Maybe they can’t win, huh? You’e raised an interesting quandry in my mind there, for which I thank you; I may return to this topic once I’ve mulled this over some more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad that this is a topic people are thinking about, it’s hard stuff. And I certainly don’t think it’s wrong to hold a different view.

        The tapioca thing is from Layton Court Mystery, btw. I also see that in ‘Silk Stocking Murders’ Sheringham goes all TS Eliot* about the ‘hybrid’ Jew ‘letting the race down’ as opposed to the ‘pure Jew’ — a line of thought that was popular, and extremely pernicious, at the time. As a ‘hybrid’ Jew myself, that was really hard to take.

        Sheringham is supposed to be venal and stupid, but it’s very hard to read these moments as ironically distanced. I think that Berkeley really thought that way. Do I have proof? No. But I actually think it (the passafe from ‘Silk Stockings’) sounds *too* sophisticated to be character-work.

        I think what I struggle with is this: these smart, sophisticated people had characters talk about this, because *they* were talking about this. I really think that’s undeniable. Does it mean they should be condemned? I don’t think so, but I don’t think we have to shrug our shoulders and say ‘oh well’ either.

        * who is a perfect example of an author I greatly admire who I believe was a despicable person and who was absolutely an anti-Semite. I don’t *forgive* him for it, but I’m able to overcome it in order to enjoy his work, outside of the few explicitly anti-Semitic poems.


        • It’s an interesting point, because I’m in the middle of Berkeley’s Trial and Error (1937) (reading it for the second time) and early on there’s a line about how killing Hitler would make life easier for millions of German Jews, a sentiment expressed with genuine sympathy doubtless expressing the mood fo the time (Goebbels had already sanctioned the public burning of books deemed “Jewish propaganda” by this point, and Germany had been forced to resign from the League of Nations at least partly because of this), so the attitude of the regime was at least acknowledged on an international level. Thus, in keeping with the prevailing mood, there’s a definite sympathy there, as I say.

          But then the character Fischmann is described as something like an “American German Jew, and the worst of all that implies”…and you sort of want this to be a joke about Americans, or an era-inspired statement about the tererible things happening in Germany, but it also has to be at least partly a semitic thing too. The question then comes down to whether this is Berkeley’s own personal perference or simply the kind of joke that was deemed socially acceptable (and prevalent to at least a small extent) at the time — like jokes about chavs that were circulating without question about five to ten years ago.

          My inclination is not to put this on Berkeley, however. Not because I know much about the man’s personal beliefs, but just because I know how tempting it is to conflate an author and their work and so I figure give the guy the benefit of whatever doubt remains. The Sheringham lines elsewhere are…troubling, to say the least, but, as you also point out Sheringham was supposed to be something of an arse; the difficulty then is that I really don’t know where that leaves us…!

          Liked by 1 person

          • It leaves us in the tough spot of enjoying a wonderfully clever, charming, often brilliant slice of historical genre fiction brought to us by people with some horrendous personal beliefs. Berkeley, Sayers, Christie – all of them included anti-Semitic comments by characters as ignorant as Roger Sheringham and as lovable as Midge Hardcastle in The Hollow. Helen McCloy had some less than enlightened views about African Americans. I was going to celebrate 1937 by reviewing Charlie Chan at the Olympics, but I’ve been grappling with what to say about a series of films that I love but must acknowledge are hurtful to friends of mine. The same can be argued for Shirley Temple movies -heck, MOST films from the 1930’s! – or Huckleberry Finn. As boojummystery say, it’s hard stuff!


  12. Pingback: #225: Rain Dogs (2015) by Adrian McKinty | The Invisible Event

  13. McKinty comes off way better in that small convo that the cycle nazi he met. Why have a blog if one can’t rant to their heart’s desire, especially when it’s about hilariously self important lycra fiends?

    just passing through, found your blog whilst idly searching for true crime-related blogs.


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