All the recent publicity about W.W. Norton’s decision to stop distributing and publicizing Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth because of accusations of his inappropriate behavior with women, including underage students when he was a teacher, has made me begin thinking about what turned me against the author at the top of my love to hate list. That list isn’t very long, in part because authors who present a view of life at odds with mine don’t make it onto any of my author lists. It’s not those authors I hate. It’s their ideas. More often than not I’ll just pass by their books.
I do see books by many authors with viewpoints that contrast sharply with mine in my Little Free Library. And I don’t remove them simply because I disagree with what I assume is inside. I recognize that my Little Free Library patrons represent the diversity of my neighborhood which may include fans of those authors, so I leave the books there in the hope that someone will appreciate them. I didn’t set up the library to serve as a censor.
I also realize I should read books that espouse a different world view in order to understand the people the ideas appeal to. Understanding, not manipulation, is my goal.
But there is a very small group of authors on my love to hate list. Only one, in fact—the one at the top of the list. I won’t mention the name because I realize my reasons are personal and may not apply to anyone else. I’ll focus on the general information that informed my decision.
The author was my mother’s favorite. She always added her name to the waiting list at the library for that author’s new book releases. My mother’s enthusiasm made me pay attention to anything said by or about that author. And I began reading her books, all in a genre I enjoyed. During one television interview, however, the author so thoroughly dismissed her readers and anyone around her who the interviewer mentioned as helping the author that I began paying close attention to what I could learn about her from nonverbal clues. Her body position, angled away from the interviewer with very little eye contact with either the interviewer or the camera, gave me the impression she really wanted to be somewhere else. I know I did. Maybe it was an off day for her. Unfortunately for her, I decided never to watch or read anything more about her. I also haven’t read any more of her novels.
What have I learned from this?
First, I realize the author on my love to hate list got there while she was alive. She still is alive. My reasons for including her are visceral, generated by what I learned in real time about her. I am more likely to judge the works of authors who aren’t around to defend themselves than to pay much attention to what I learn about the individuals.
Second, if an author is comfortable publicly dismissing another individual or a group of individuals, my dislike radar strikes quickly. That means my list may grow as the norms of behavior change.
Third, if I ever complete my work-in-progress and succeed in getting it published, I know I need to be sure I don’t write anything, record anything, or agree to an interview if I feel I am not at my best. Mindfulness, positive thinking, attracting good energy: These will all be important practices then.
And that raises the question of whether I should wait to make those concepts part of my life. Why not begin now?
Fourth, now that I’ve learned from the experience, I plan to reverse my previous decision not to read or listen to anything about that author again. Maybe I’ll discover that interview really was one of the author’s bad days. And maybe I’ll thank her for the lessons I learned from her on that bad day.