Do I like the writing because of the words, or because of the writer?

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?

6 thoughts on “Do I like the writing because of the words, or because of the writer?

  1. Ms Mac says:

    Hmmm….. I was half way through reading Harry potter and the Deathly Hallows and I think I actually enjoyed the ending of it more after I saw the A Year in the Life thing with J.K. Rowling. She just seemed a lot funnier and took herself less seriously than I thought she would (and even a little bit inspirational) and I’m sure it had an effect on what I was reading at the time.

    On the other hand, I love having a bop and pretending to sing along with Kylie Minogue’s pop tunes but when I see Kylie being interviewed, she bores me so much makes me want to stab myself to get the feeling back. But I don’t think that because I find Kylie the person as boring as batshit that it makes me enjoy her pop songs less. I don’t think.

  2. Squander Two says:

    I find it happens with music. I don’t care whether a musician’s boring, but I can go right off their music if they turn out to be an arse, and I can become fonder of music if the band turn out to be nice guys. So I’ve got a lot more time for Reef, for instance, than the quality of their music should allow, ’cause interviews reveal them to be fun and nice; I’ve got a bit more time for the Kaiser Chiefs since seeing their lead singer on Never Mind The Buzzcocks; and, having supported them once, Laika can fuck off.

    Never found it to happen with writing, though. I think.

  3. Ronnie says:

    >> So I’ve got a lot more time for Reef, for instance, than the quality of their music should allow, ’cause interviews reveal them to be fun and nice.

    Wow, almost exactly the same sentence I was about to write.

  4. Tony Kiernan says:

    I began to like Elroy more when I realised just how much of a fuck-up he was. ‘Creepy’ is a good description.

    I don’t really think there’s a rule here. Sometimes you take another more favourable look at someone’s work when your find out something about them that appeals to you. But, I have always enjoyed seeing Noel Gallagher interviewed. Comes across as someone that appreciates all that he has ‘achieved’. You still wouldn’t get me listening to one of his records.

    Similarly, when it transpires that I writer I like is a misogynistic redneck fuck, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’ll suddenly start to dislike their work.

    I’m having problems with the realisation that a lot of artists I like don’t appropriate gospel in an ironic fashion at all, but becasue they really want to praise the lord.

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