Saturday, January 12, 2008

Love the Book, Love the Author?

Have been pondering this aside in a post about the Singapore Writers Festival on Raman's blog some time back about not especially liking writers.
I know several writers who are now my friends, and they are wonderful people let me assure you. With some people you connect and become friends, with others you don't. When we communicate we communicate as friends, like normal people. Don't you want to know the person behind the book you enjoyed so much, someone asked? No, not really. Orhan Pamuk says that he prefers to read books by dead writers 'so there is no little cloud of jealousy to cloud my admiration'. In my case, I would say 'so there is no little cloud of reality to mitigate my enjoyment' of the writing. Good example, VS Naipaul: I know many who simply can't sit back and enjoy his prose because of all the other things (they think) they know about him. For me it is the song not the singer, all the time. I used to hugely admire Led Zeppelin when in college. There was a reunion concert recently and I would have liked to attend for it would have been interesting to hear what they sound like now after all these years. Would I also have liked to meet one of them personally after the show, if it was at all possible? Not really. I have organised two Literary Festivals for Malaysians to meet the writers. I got a huge buzz, both times, out of seeing people enjoying the events, mixing and mingling with the authors. But, in both cases, I was not particularly interested in meeting any of them besides doing the obligatory handshake routine. Does that make sense?)
Does it indeed make sense?

Me? I fall in love with authors all the time, when their words have moved and changed the way I see the world in some way.

I used to be so starstruck that at the first literary conference I ever attended, I got completely tongue-tied when talking to these folks who actually had *gasp* written novels. Isn't creativity the next thing to ... godlikeness?

Organising the first KL literary festival and dealing with all the practicalities and personalities cured me a little ... and also made me realise that the love you feel for the author of the book sometimes translates into real life as well. How could I not love Oscar Hijuelos playing piano for me (oh yeah, and one or two others) at Carcosa or Paul Bailey letting me into the lives of his characters in the Renaissance coffee shop? These were moments of special magic.

I've really relished the opportunities I've had to interview authors for Starmag. You can't, of course, afford to be overawed - there's a job to be done, information to be obtained, soundbites to be recorded. But in nearly all cases, those interviews have morphed into a really enjoyable conversation with someone who loves books and with whom I feel I have a lot of shared ground.
I still think I'd have had to be scraped of the ground if I had been in Silverfish the day that Peter Carey walked in. Vikram Seth is going to be at the Ubud festival this year, and it's going to take a lot of effort not to melt into a little puddle of admiration in the presence of someone who has given me so much I have loved.

Literature festivals of course, give you the opportunity to fall in love with authors before you read their books. I'm hook-line-and-sinker gone for Richard Flanagan and Patrick Gale, in that case, even before I pick up their books.

And the last Ubud festival gave me one of my most-magical meet-the-author moments ... wandering around Antonio Blanco's museum late at night with Tan Twan Eng and Kiran Desai. Yes, was on the far shores of groupiedom then and pinching myself. (Don't you just love the picture, on the right? I dwarf poor Kiran.)

Authors are just ordinary blokes, of course, of course. There's really nothing rarefied about them. (I was talking about this to Rob last night, and he directed me to this post on Susan Hill's blog about a woman who met J.K. Rowling and was disappointed at her ordinariness.)

But sometimes I have this strange and unsettling thought as I talk to them - that inside their heads (tardis-like) are these parallel universes and the characters I've loved going about their daily lives.

This is a long-winded way of returning to the question Raman asks - if you really love a book, do you want to meet the author?

My answer in every case, is that I do.


Anonymous said...

I think another question to be asked is, "If you hated - HATED - the book, do you want to meet the author?"

And, what happens if the author turns out to be very nice despite the craptacular (to use Bart Simpson's word) book he/she's written?

Gette said...

If I loved a book, I do want to meet the author and tell them that I enjoyed it, even if they have probably heard it hundreds of times and from more eloquent people.

Like during the KL Litfest, I waited around for Tash Aw to have two minutes free so I could tell him that his book got me interested in reading Malaysian writers again after refusing to touch any of that for 5-6 years.

And then, there is one author (who shall remain unnamed) whom I have no desire at all to meet because he is the reason why I stopped the first place!

I've also had instances where I'm more interested in reading an author after meeting them, maybe cause I find that they have a personality that I like and hope it translates into their writing.

C-va said...

I would definitely love to meet the author who's book has impacted my life. For instance, Sidney Poitier's autobiography 'The Measure Of A Man' It is one of the best books i have come across. Not forgetting Ugly by Constance Briscoe. These are the few individuals i dreamt of meeting. Then again, there are writers i abhor meeting, just because i didn't like their writing. =)

Jordan said...

I'm with you, Sharon. I was giggling for hours after meeting Karen Armstrong last year.

marineko said...

For me, it mostly depends both on the author. I loved the Harry Potter books, but I'm not very interested in meeting Rowling. Neil Gaiman, however, would probably be interesting to chat with.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding ? would I want to meet the kind of people who think up ingenious ways to kill other people ? :)

Animah, one half Groupie of Hari Kunzru said...

I'd be gobsmacked. I mean what could I say to Kundera or Murakami, short of drooling or getting all giggly?
Now if I could be stuck in the lift with them (not at the same time), for half an hour and sufficient ventilation, we could possibly have an intelligent conversation.

Anonymous said...

a big NO!
most authors lead generally boring life and the good ones are dead or quite old or not too pretty or handsome.

their only strength is their imagination.

ah pong

June said...

I've had my own embarrassing fangirl meet-up with the late Stephen Jay Gould although to be fair, I was a wee young starry-eyed graduate then. Fared better with Terry Pratchett but didn't really say a word than a high-pitched HI I REALLYLIKETHEDISCWORLDNOVELSTHEYARESOCOOL

So the answer is no, perhaps I shouldn't meet authors of books I love.

Although I still kick myself for not taking the trip to Singapore to meet Neil Gaiman. :(

Now, if Gabriel Garcia Marquez was coming into town...

kam raslan said...

This seems to be an opportunity to do a bit of name-dropping. I actually met V.S. Naipul once. He asked me about my parentage and I told him I'm half Malay and half Welsh. He really wasn't listening to me but he replied, "That must be nice." To which I replied, "Er..." I really wanted to know that I had said something intelligent to V.S. Naipul, but what could I say to that?

Meanwhile, to Kiran Desai (at the Ubud Festival) I said, "I think that car is going your way." Oscar Wilde would have been proud.

Meanwhile Richard Flanagan (also at Ubud), who was perpetually surrounded by a cloud of female admirers (Sharon included, for shame!) I eventually met. He shows that writers can be fascinating people. He had a mesmerizing quality and I found myself wanting to say, "You're the greatest writer in the English language!" even though I'd never read any of his books.

Writers are just like everyone else. They just want to be loved, cuddled and fed nothing but eucalyptus leaves. But never feed them after midnight!

animah said...

Kam, I'm not feeding you after midnight.

Lyrical Lemongrass said...

I met my favourite Malaysian author last friday. I was so euphoric, I told my drugdealer to stop my supply for a week.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes I love meeting the authors, and two Malaysian authors I met last year have not been a let down at all. And to bump into Tan Twan Eng at MPH(and see recognition on his face when I say hi), now that's happiness for me. Moreover I liked his book. It's nice to know that authors are regular folk like you or me, and that's enouraging for writer wannabes.

kimster said...

on the hand, I think meeting the authors would spoil it for me - maybe because a small part of me wants them writers to remain a myth. you know, heroes you read about in the papers and admire from afar.

on the other hand, I've met a number of authors who turned out to be very decent and interesting people and they are really just one of the blokes. so it would be a pity not to meet them because they are normal people and very nice to boot.

long-ish answer to short-ish question:
I'm leaning towards YES.

Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity to meet Shyam Selvadurai 3 times. I was studying in Winnipeg at the time, and by good fortune Shyam is based in Toronto, and through various cultural programs and book fests ended up twice at my university, and once at the city library. I'd enjoyed all of his books, but was utterly unprepared for the reality of his person. He was Sri Lankan, charming, funny, self-deprecating, and so unbelievably loveable. And kinda cute. And openly gay. Being Sri Lankan myself, I fell in love with him immediately and could never bring myself to just go up to him and smile and shake his hand. At every reading I hung about in the background and willed myself to just go talk to him already. By the 3rd one I think he recognized me... and seemed a little concerned.

The same thing happened with Farish Noor a year or so back. A friend walked up and confidently asked for an autograph while I stood in the background and stupidly goggled.

And when I had the *extreme* good fortune of attending a Ngugi wa Thiong'o reading at university once, I stood in line (a looooong line) and hoped to say something meaningful and memorable and intelligent and only managed a constipated smile.

We could call this shyness in the face of great writers... or social retardation.

So in THEORY... yes, would love to meet writers whose works I enjoy.


bibliobibuli said...

i know i'm going to say something totally inane when i finally get to meet vikram seth and all i want to say is ... i love you!

Anonymous said...

If I met Vikram Seth, I'd swooooooon.

For the giggly Seth-groupies among us:
Three Poems Inspired by George Herbert

Found this quite by accident a moment ago on Amitava Kumar's blog.