A passage on writers and their novels from the book I’m reading, Diane Setterfield’s “The Thirteenth Tale”:
“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink and paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”
I do not know if the entire paragraph carried though the metaphor for writers’ perpetuation, because while they seem ethereally alive in “their tone of voice”, in the end, we see them as “frozen corpses”.
It is true that a writer no matter how mediocre or banal, is preserved in some way through his or her writing. Great novels survive, but so do shoddy ones.
As a reader, I’ve always taken books at their face value, never scratched the surface to try and find the writers themselves. That was not important important for me–novels needed to stand for themselves, and be judged on what lay between their covers.
When I read Updike, I do not try to find him through his writing, nor do I try to reach at Shakespeare through his plays or sonnets. For writers that are alive, it matters little to me whether they live in mansions or apartments, with dogs or cats or spouses. What matters is what they have written, not who they are as people. I would not like to know V.S. Naipaul personally, but I like reading his novels.
This is a subjective opinion, I know, because when analyzing a text in college we found it convenient to have read the writer’s biography, or a memoir, if available. Keats’s odes become so much clearer once you know the circumstances in which they were written. For some people it adds to the poignancy of those poems. To me, it takes away the magic.
As a reader, when you read novels, short stories or poems, do you care who the author was or what sort of life they led?