We all have our favourite authors. Writers whose works we revere and cherish and connect with parts of our own lives. We build up images in our minds of what we think they’re really like.

But how skewed are these subjective projections? How far removed are they from what an author’s like? Even with social media, it’s difficult to discover what an author’s really like, but not terribly so. Some authors are heavily linked to their Twitter or Facebook, others interact with fans on a regular written level, and some shun these ideas completely.

So does finding out what an author is like as a person affect your perception of them as an artist, and could it affect your attitude toward future works and the author themselves?

Over the past month, I’ve had two distinctly different experiences facing these questions. One has had a positive influence, whereas the other has been negative.

I may as well start of with the positive one because today it’s sunny and 27˚C.

Post Office was the first prose I read by Charles Bukowski, upon the recommendation of a good friend. His style had me hooked in no time. Then, after a while, I started reading his poetry and its formlessness was a breath of fresh air. His world was almost uncomprehendingly removed from mine and the insights he gives are eye-opening.

As his works are, to a very high degree, autobiographical you can take away a lot from the content. How Henry Chinanski acts and lives is pretty close to how Bukowski lived, and that kind of bohemian life he led seemed pretty enticing as a writer: living day by day, writing at every spare moment, —maybe not so much the whoring but you get the picture. And then I watched Born Into This.

Born is a documentary on Bukowski’s life and it affirms a lot and gives glimpses into the depths of his misogyny and alcoholism. His life wasn’t as desirable as I’d believed. After watching I realised I was more a fan of the author, Charles Bukowski, and not so much of the man, Henry Charles Bukowski Jr.

However, even after discovering a whole lot about Bukowski, I can separate my personally constructed author-image from the person he really was. His works still inspire the same amount of awe and jealousy in me. It’s easier to feel this way because he’s no longer here. And I have enormous respect for him because he didn’t fuck around. I always got the vibe he was never fake and constantly walked the walk. Impressing people was about important as meeting the queen of Monaco.

Unfortunately this can’t be said for the other author in this piece. (I’m not going to name them because the internet is fickle and I’m keen to avoid any kind of repercussions). So, let’s call them ‘X’

X writes in a genre that’s a bloated cash cow for those ardent enough to pursue it. The kind of tales that you read when you can’t be fucked reading anything literary that has a complex plot or difficult language; if Cormac McCarthy is at one end of the spectrum, X is at the other. It’s escapist reading.

Having said that, it’s helped me throughout different stages of life, and I’m thankful for that. I made my way through most of X’s work before offhandedly joining an online community of fans, more to be in the loop about any publications than anything else. After a month or so I found out X chimes in from time to time and gives their opinion on things. So glimpses of who X is as a person—their thoughts, biases, opinions, etc.—can be ascertained through X’s responses to fans.

‘Hmm,’ I thought. ‘This might be interesting.’

My disdain came to a head when I realised how much of an arrogant, self-righteous mongoloid X is, possibly as a result of his legion pumping hot air up X’s arse just to gain some kind of standing in X’s eyes. For example, even if nothing was targeted at them, X would roly-poly on in and correct mundane facts, as if to solidify their standing as the supreme overseer of this online supplicatory community.

Safe to say, I hate on X as a person. This opinion, extreme as it may be, is derived from every message response X has made over a period of time and I’m happy with my conclusion. But unfortunately I have no desire to read any of X’s upcoming work or anything from the past, including what I already own. And I’ve bailed on the online community. It infuriated me and I was constantly apologising to my MacBook and iPhone for having such filth appear on their screens.

So has anyone found themselves in the same boat? Have you ever discovered something about an author that’s irrevocably changed your opinion of them and their work is never the same? I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

But perhaps there’s still hope. X might do something so out of character that I’ll find a foothold on the side of their bandwagon again. From now on I’ll just avoid online communities that entertain authorial input.

SDH

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