Back when I was a child, I used to read books with no real awareness of who the author might be. As I grew into a teen I began to wonder who was writing these books that I enjoyed so much. What sort of people were they? What was it that made them want to write books? What had been the starting point of this particular book and so on.
I was very curious, but there was no real way to answer to these questions. Authors in those days were not the celebrities that they are now. The author biographies that came with the books were no more than a paragraph long and author interviews were nowhere near as common as they are now.
All I knew about Agatha Christie, for example, was that she had written 76 books of detective fiction, her most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, she was married to an archeologist and she was made a Dame in 1971.
There was no way to find out anything more. So the books pretty much had to stand on their own, which is, of course, a good thing. I don’t think the author’s personality or their life experience should have a bearing on a book.
But what bothered me was that there was no way of connecting or engaging with an author and learning about their inspiration or their writing process…unless you could make it to a book signing somewhere, which wasn’t even a possibility for a lot of us.
Things are, of course, very different now. Most popular writers are celebrities and a simple internet search will tell you a good deal about any writer. Most writers have their own websites, they are on facebook and twitter and connecting with an author is easy enough.
I hear a lot of author interviews and author talks on the radio these days and I find that hearing an author talk about a book enhances my experience of reading it. An author will not make me like a book that I would dislike otherwise, but hearing an author speak about a book that I love, makes my experience of the book even better than it would have been otherwise.
And sometimes, hearing an author speak is enough to make me curious about their books at least. I heard Niall Williams on the BBC the other day. I had heard of him before, but I had only a vague impression of the kind of books he wrote and I had never really bothered to find out more.
What I heard was an interview about his latest book, History of the Rain. He talked about his book with so much charm and such engaging honesty (there is a personal story that inspired the book) that it made me want to go get the book right away…
This isn’t the first time that I have felt like this. There have also been instances where the author has turned out to be more charming than the book. Nonetheless, I think connecting with the author adds to the entire experience of reading.