Authors behaving badly: do you allow an author's personal life affect your reading or enjoyment of their books?

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of ABC Radio National's "The Book Show" in which a book entitled Writers Gone Wild by Bill Peschel was discussed with the author.

The books full description reads "Virginia Woolf is known for her modernist works: Orlando, Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. But something you might not know is that as an 18-year-old Woolf dressed up as an Abyssinian man and with five others duped the British Royal Navy into giving them a tour of one of its battleships. When it was all revealed in the press the navy was mightily embarrassed. This is just one of the anecdotes told in Bill Peschel's book Writers Gone Wild: the feuds, frolics, and follies of literature's great adventurers, drunkards, lovers, iconoclasts and misanthropes."

Toward the end of the interview, the interviewer Ramona Koval asked Bill Peschel a question to the effect of:
"are there any authors you can no longer read because of what you now know about their personal life?"

Before I talk about the answer he gave, I want to pause and consider the question first.

This is a question that most of us have considered at some stage; I know I certainly have and I have a good idea of what my answer would have been.

When I heard Romana Koval ask the question, however, my mind automatically jumped to an almost completely unrelated topic.


I know, seems weird, but bare with me. In Australia at the moment, there is currently a lot of debate around the all too common misbehaviour of National Rugby League players (the NRL, a national sport of Australia). There are constantly media reports and even criminal charges related to a variety of incidents involving players; players defecating in hotel corridors, drunken brawls, drug dealing, drug and alcohol addiction, wife beating and even sexual assaults. Many of these players face little to no professional consequences and are given chance after chance to keep playing because of their ability on the football field.

There is a debate about what impact their personal misdeeds should have on their professional career. Are their personal lives and their professional lives so completely separate that no matter what they get up to off the field, they should be respected for what they achieve on the field and be allowed to continue to play?

Or, does their position as a person in the public eye and as a role model for young children mean that the two cannot and should not be separated and they should face professional consequences for bringing themselves and therefore their team and the game into disrepute with their behaviour.

I personally have always been firmly in that second camp in relation to football players.

So, back to authors. 

When Bill Peschel was asked by Romona Koval whether there were any authors he could no longer read because of what he had learnt about their personal lives, his response was to the effect of "No, I think a great piece of literature will always stand alone." Before my mind drew parallels to the current debate around the bad behaviour of footballers I believe that I would have given the same response. Now, I am questioning myself.

Why would I excuse an author's bad behaviour because of the quality of their work, but not excuse a footballers bad behaviour for the quality of their work?

My initial reaction would be to argue that it is because a piece of fiction has the potential to have a greater impact on a broader scale than a sporting achievement. A brilliant piece of fiction might contribute something important to culture from which it comes. It might form an essential part of the development of a particular genre. It might even go on to inspire a new genre or a new style of writing. It might inspire other authors to other great works of literature. It might become a classic - with a message that is universal throughout the world and through time.

A good footballer is a good footballer. They're going to be great to watch on the field, and their achievements will mean a lot to the supporters of the team they play for. Otherwise, they are public figures who lack a broader influence on society.

Is that really a fair conclusion though? I can't help but wonder whether that argument lacks some perspective on what culture really means and just generally sounds a bit snobby and value laden.

There have been many magnificent sporting achievements that have gone into the history books as forming essential moments in their particular sports. In the example I used, the NRL is a national sport and undoubtedly forms a part of Australian culture. A brilliant player might go on to create new records, inspire new methods of play and encourage physical activity in an otherwise sedentary society (something that could have long reaching effects).

I should make it clear, that I am not talking about bad behaviour being swearing or even being drunk in public on the odd occasion. I am talking about more serious misbehaviour like drunken brawls, assaults and other criminal activity.

Am I being too judgemental to have different rules for authors and footballers?

As is usual for my posts, this has now spiralled into many more questions than I have answers for, or even that I have an opinion about.

What do you think? Do you allow your knowledge of author's personal lives affect your reading or enjoyment of their books? If not, why not and how/where do you draw the line? Would you feel differently if it was a sportstar or movie star who behaved in the same way that the author did? If you do allow your knowledge of the author's personal life affect your reading/enjoyment of their books, why do you and where you draw the line on what counts of misbehviour significan't enough to affect your reading of their works?

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Another week has gone by and here we are again at It's Monday! What are you reading?

Well, it's Monday… and I am currently reading a few books at once because I just can't seem to settle on any one thing. I don't know what it is. I think partially it's my pregnancy brain which I do blame for a lot but I also think it’s true. My concentration just isn't the same.

Also, I am definitely someone who likes reading what they are in the mood for and at the moment I am having difficulty identifying what I am in the mood for.

This means I have been all over the place.

Currently Reading

I just finished Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien, an old favourite that I just can't re-read enough.

At the same time I have been reading Talking About Detective Fiction by PD James; a fascinating look at the development of detective fiction by a wonderfully talented detective fiction writer. I had never read PD James before this year, but I heard an interview with her on the ABC Radio National Book Show and I have rarely heard anyone speak who I have been quite so enthralled with. So I have now read one of her books, and I thought that this book might be a wonderful follow up read to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. You can all expect a post from me about detective fiction as a genre in the future, that’s for sure.

Lastly, I am also reading Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie. Basically, I was lying on the lounge on the weekend after a terribly stressful day with baby dramas and hospital and all those bad things, and I needed something easy to sink into and distract me. Lord Edgeware Dies did the trick, and hopefully I will finish it in the next few days.

I did start The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde on Sunday but only got a couple of pages in.

Up Next

With any luck I will be able to identify what I am in the mood for. Otherwise I am thinking I might just have to go with The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien or maybe The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. But who knows.

Is anyone else suffering from a book choice lethargy at the moment?

Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden is a timeless story about the power of love, friendship and positive thought.

I fell in love with Mary Lennox and The Secret Garden as a child primarily through my love of the 1993 movie version of this classic. says of The Secret Garden: “Mary Lennox was horrid. Selfish and spoilt, she was sent to stay with her hunchback uncle in Yorkshire. She hated it. But when she finds the way into a secret garden and begins to tend it, a change comes over her and her life. She meets and befriends a local boy, the talented Dickon, and comes across her sickly cousin Colin who had been kept hidden from her. Between them, the three children work astonishing magic in themselves and those around them.”

It was this astonishing magic that held me enthralled as a somewhat older reader. It is easy to forget sometimes how strong the power of positive thought it. Sadly, I often find themselves having negative thoughts about myself and other things around me, and I am painfully aware that negative thoughts only prevent us from living a happy life.

What the children in The Secret Garden teach us is the importance of believing in yourself, believing in others and the benefit of leading a positive and fulfilling life.

Rather than go on too much about the important lessons I think we can all take from The Secret Garden, I am going to share with you two quotes that perfectly illustrate what I think the most important lesson to take from this story is.

"At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can't be done, then they see it can be done - then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts - just mere thoughts - are as powerful as electric batteries - as good as sunlught is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get it over it as long as you live." ~ Quote page 238
And my favourite:
"So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he a was hysterical, half crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the sping and, and also did not know that he could get well and stand upon his feelt if he tried to do it. When new, beautiful thoughts began to push out the old, hideous one, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins, and strength poured into him like a flood. His scientific experiment was quite practical and simple and there was nothing weird about it at all. Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and rush it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be done in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow." ~ Quote page 239
This is a book that we can all benefit from reading, regardless of age or country of origin. I hope everyone has an opportunity to read this delightful story soon.

7.5 / 8
Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing.

Did you take any important lessons from this wonderful children's book?