On authors’ lives influencing their works

I enjoy reading about writers’ lives, especially when I come across a book I really like, for I feel that the circumstances they found themselves in must have contributed greatly to what and how they wrote.

There is no denying that a good imagination, a talent for story telling and writing, intelligence and having a way with words are all key elements for writing a great book. But what about circumstances?

Had Jack London not spent a year in the Yukon, would he ever have been able to write The Call of The Wild (read my review) in the manner he did? Had Hannah Kent not visited Iceland as a student, would the idea to write Burial Rites (read my review) ever have come to her? Did Sylvia Plath’s depression not find expression in some of her greatest works? What about Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Anne Frank?

Sometimes in fact, I feel a book is made even more enjoyable by learning about the author’s life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some books don’t make sense or lose their meaning, when we don’t know anything about the author’s life. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for example, which I read a long time ago, is, by itself, a great book. But when you learn about Jean Dominique Bauby and the circumstances under which he wrote the book, it becomes a truly remarkable achievement.

So, whenever I come across a good book, it is always interesting to me to know what made these writers who they were – what motivated them, from what perspective they looked at the world, what experiences helped them become better writers – I guess the list could be pretty long!

However, I usually don’t like to read about their lives before I’ve read their book/s. I like to enjoy a book unbiased. I like to enjoy it for what it is and once I have finished, only then do I like to understand what made the writer ‘tick’.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about a writer’s life before you embark on his/her books? Or after? Or do you just like to enjoy a good story and leave it at that?

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14 thoughts on “On authors’ lives influencing their works

  1. Like you, Gitanjali, I prefer to find out more about the author after I at least start the book. It does help me better understand the author’s intention and perspective in writing the story I’m reading. Also, by that time I care enough about the story to delve more deeply. 😉 xoxoM

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  2. Having prior knowledge or not I think both ways give a book a certain feel and the reader an insight into the book. It is an intriguing point that I had never considered. Too many footnotes is off putting so I like to try and know a bit about the era if reading a classic so I can ignore them for the most part.

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  3. I am always curious about how their mind works and usually wonder about how much of their lives influence their work, especially when a work blows my mind like the brothers Karamazov, the god of small things, kafka on the shore or Zakes Mada’s the heart of redness. However I have restrained myself from trying to find out more about them because the books are my magical worlds and I try not to ruin that for myself.

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