The Disappointment of Authors

In my paper last week (sorry, can't remember which one) there was an interview with the author Michael Frayn who says that he always avoids literary festivals, as a punter or as an author. His point was that he doesn't want to meet the people who write the books he likes, in case they turn out to be less than he hoped they might be. "Authors are so often disappointing in person" I think was the quote.

It's an interesting thought. When we read a book, especially a novel, as well as entering into the created world of the book, we also create a world of our own in response. If we are impressed by the book, it's often the voice of the narrator that we warm to, and we can invest a lot of affection or respect in that imagined person. If the author, incarnated, turns out to be less than we hoped for, does this spoil the book for us? Many great authors, of course, have been less than saintly, but that is not necessarily a blow to the reader. What is more fearful is the minor disappointment of mediocrity. When the person whose humane observations of life you so admired turns out to read the Mail and share the same prejudices as your next door neighbour, it can be a blow. W. H. Auden, who enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, was famously appalled to discover that Tolkien lived in an ordinary suburban house with "hideous wallpaper". I recently saw Louis de Bernieres on TV and was mildly put out to find that he comes from London.

Perhaps the same thing might apply to bloggers and other internet word-grinders. Bloggers are particularly prone to creating personas specific to their blog. I wonder how many of the most popular could really match, in person, the impression they give online (and would it matter if they couldn't?).  I love Twitter, and often some jovial soul will tweet, "must have a drink together some time", to which of course I say yes, but perhaps a small part of my mind fears mutual disillusionment if it should ever happen. When reading "great tweet-up with X, Y and Z last night", I find myself wondering how many other gatherings were happening where everyone was glancing furtively at their watches and wondering how soon they could get back on to Twitter.

You might even be one of the select group that enjoy reading this blog. But would you want to meet me? For that matter, would I want to meet you? Or is the written word sometimes enough?


Lay Anglicana said…
Well, I for one would love to meet you. And, although you were relatively safe in Cornwall as a destination only for those headed to Cornwall, now you are to be in Portsmouth, I fear you are considerably more vulnerable to tweeters who would like to tweetup. Be afraid, be very afraid...
Charlie said…
So my efforts to put you off failed? ;)
Ray Barnes said…
It is an interesting thought Charlie.
I think one of the better things about blogging is the anonymity of the blogger.
We can be as personal as we choose but if our blog persona creates a different picture from the one we intended there is always a danger we might attract unwanted attention.
Luckily for me, I do not drive and am old enough to use that as an excuse should the need arise.
You, however, are quite another matter.
As Lay Anglicana says "Be afraid".
Perpetua said…
An interesting post, Charlie, but I think blogging might be different, if we're the kind of bloggers who write about our own lives and experiences. I actually met up with a fellow blogger recently and it was an extremely enjoyable experience. We read each other's blogs and so already knew something about each other.

If I were to meet an author the experience would be different as we would be meeting as total strangers with all that implies of potential mismatch.
Emma said…
Good questions. On the one hand I want to say you can read something without knowing the author; especially given that what we do know isn't necessarily fact, (eg; journalist's interp of writer etc). Even with our closest friends we wear masks - so perhaps a blog is just a variation.

At the same time however,reading presupposes a relationship of some kind - even if it's one-sided. And can we really divorce 'our work' from ourselves? I'm not so sure.

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