One of my great ambitions is to meet PJ O’Rourke (although I’m sensible enough to know that it’s an ambition that must remain unfulfilled. It’s not because I’m scared he won’t live up to my expectations; it’s that I have the amazing ability to make a complete and utter tit of myself at the slightest opportunity, to the extent that it’s a miracle I ever leave the house), one of my favourite writers. However, I’m trying to decide whether of late it’s his words I like or the sound of the words. Because I’ve seen him on TV and heard him on radio and in audiobooks, I can’t read his stuff without hearing him deliver it.
It’s the same with (unintended Guardian pluggery ahoy) Stephen Fry’s tech column, Jon Ronson or Charlie Brooker. Moving away from the Graun, it also applies to anything written by writers I’ve got drunk with; motoring writers I’ve seen on TV; people like Ian Rankin who come across as decent types and so on. So for example I love James “Captain Slow” May’s writing, but I wonder how much of that is the actual words he writes and how much of it because I’m amused by the doddering, fogeyish persona he has on TV.
Does that make sense?
I get it with authors too, good and bad. Time for another example: I’ve kind of gone off James Ellroy of late after seeing him in a documentary, because he seemed a lot less tough and a lot more creepy than I’d imagined him in my head. Conversely seeing something with Kurt Vonnegut many years ago reinforced the image I had in my head, and I suspect it made me like his writing even more.
Do you get that? Do you find that you enjoy things in a different way once the writer has been revealed? If a commanding writer came across as an arse on TV, would you develop a dislike of the books, or do you screen out that stuff? Could you enjoy, say, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if you saw him interviewed and thought he was a tit? Does a public persona put you off someone’s writing immediately the way the very thought of another Ben Elton book or musical makes me want to buy a gun?