Saturday, May 02, 2009

Reading Books Through their Authors

Anne Michaels tries to stick to her guns about staying invisible for the sake of the text, while being interviewed by Sarah Crown for The Guardian:
"I really believe we read differently when we know even the most banal facts of an author's life," she says, leaning across a cafe table, taut with the need to put her point across. "I'm not being naive; I realise there's no such thing as a pure reading. But I'd rather keep myself as far out of it as I can."
Sarah Crown asks her about the time that a journalist asked her if she is Jewish, and she refused to answer:
"...yes, I did resist answering, because I really feel that to answer would be a cop-out... People would be able to say: 'Well of course she's interested in this, because she's Jewish, or her father was.' And it would diminish the enterprise. Because, you know, it's not about me. You spend your time when you're writing erasing yourself. The idea is to get out of the way of it."
It's a tricky one, though. I've written before on one my blogs about the reading of hers I attended where this did indeed happen (can't find the post now, though)*: a member of the audience asked her if she were Jewish. I may be wrong, but I got the strong impression that the questioner felt that Michaels only had the right to write her novel if she were, and that he interpreted the fact that she refused to answer as indication that she wasn't, and that for him the novel was indeed thus invalidated, diminished.

Honestly , if only we could return to that world (many light years across the universe) where books didn't have to be sold by their authors' personalities and lives, and texts were allowed to stand up for themselves. Michaels does a pretty good job in the interview of keeping quiet, revealing only one new fact, that in the intervening period since her last novel she has had two children, but one suspects that Sarah Crown was more respectful of her wishes than many journalists will be...

PS: More on my other blog about my own attitude an as author to this matter.

* As a result of the comment thread on this post, I've now found the reference: not a post, but a comment I made in the thread below a post describing my reading group discussion of Fugitive Pieces.


nmj said...

Hey Eliz, I find Ann Michael's stance interesting, especially as an absolute purity of text seems almost impossible to attain now. I admire her sticking to her guns so passionately. However, I hate to say that I could not read Fugitive Pieces, I tried several times, and even looked again at my copy last night - but it just doesn't do anything for me. This does not change whether I know of her Jewishness or not! Still, I guess this is the text speaking for itself.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Hi Nasim. I'm interested that you couldn't read Fugitive Pieces. I was absolutely bowled over by it when I first read it, but when I read it again fairly recently with my reading group I had a very different reaction. I wrote about it here:

nmj said...

hey eliz, just read your piece, v interesting that you could have such different reactions... one of my friends could't read it either.... for me, it's the language - maybe *too* poetic, maybe my concentration is too poor, maybe i just don't like the style. but i am going to try again!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Be interesting to see what you think this time, Nasim!

nmj said...

I promise, I will seriously try with FP again when I have finished my current library book, Maggie Gee's 'My Cleaner'.