Wednesday 26 January 2011

Age Shall Not Wither Her...

I know I've used this post title recently, but it seems so appropriate for tonight's post that I'm using it again. And you know what it's like - you wait months for a sketch, and you get two at once. I know my little cartoons aren't the best in the world, but I've missed doing them and I think it adds something a little different to my blog - so I'll try and remember to do more!

Anyway - this post was inspired by something a friend asked me the other day about the book I was reading: how old was the author when he wrote it? And I realised that I almost never know the answer to that question - unless it's someone like Daisy Ashford. So, my question to you (let's put it in bold, eh?): when reading, do you think about where the book falls in the timeline of an author's work, and do you think about the author's age when writing?

I'd love to know your answers. The only author I can think I do this with is Barbara Comyns - because her novels fall into two very different periods, separated by twenty years. Other than that, I rarely know whether I'm reading an author's first, middle, or last novel - or whether they were 26 or 86 when they wrote it.

Over to you...


  1. I really don't think about an author's age when reading a book. However, when I read Sophie's Choice last year all of the sex scenes made me think (and rightly I think) that William Styron was a bit of a dirty old man. If he had written it in his 20s or 30s I might not have felt that way. But he was 54 when he wrote it and and it just seemed so prurient.

  2. I don't think about it with books that are from decades ago, but moreso with recent books. I notice I'll see a picture of the author (either on bookjacket or from posting online) and then I usually go into the story thinking the age and gender of the author is the same as the main character/narrator. I probably should stop doing this to prevent this type of confusion when beginning a story I know very little about. Nice topic though. I think I probably paid more attention to this while reading in school, but I you're making me want to find out with my current reads!

  3. This is a really good question. I don't necessarily think of the author's age when I'm reading their work, more of how the writing conveys the time period that the book is set in.

    Maybe I should do more research into the authors, after reading their work.

  4. I certainly am aware of where a book falls in the timeline as I find that really fascinating -- how have the writers and their style developed/changed/deteriorated etc. I'm not as obsessed as Simon S about reading books in the order they were written in, but I do like to know -- for instance I was fascinated to find that At Mrs Lippincotes was Elizabeth Taylor's first novel as it is so very accomplished and mature. Age of the author is less important to me though it's often quite interesting, especially is they are very old or very young.

  5. No I don't except perhaps it is "obvious" when reading Colette as there is so much of her own life put into many of her books.

    I must say it is one of the many things that I really don't have any interest in knowing about when I read.

  6. No, I don't think about an author's age. And I onlly consider where a book is in an author's chronology if its part of a long series like the Discworld ones.

  7. I always check when a book was first published and quite like to know where in the writers career it comes. I think I'm becoming more aware of this, but couldn't say why - it might be I'm more obsessed with age as I get older, or because I question more as I read more.

  8. The short answer is yes, but probably ebcause I am a bookdealer and what came out first and when has become part of how I think. This has developed into a desire to read authors works in published order. Which is a bit OTT so I try and ignore it!

  9. Hmmm, maybe not age of the author so much as time in which they were writing and chronology. However, if I'm reading a modern book/book with a living author (which is rare) I do tend to be a little more interested in the author - how old they are, where they live, what has influenced them, etc. Good question.

  10. Great question. Thanks! I don't consider age or chronology regularly, but I do when reading classics or more "important" books, or if I know a bit about an author, or want to. In other words, I'm interested in those behind-the-scenes details only when a book inspires research. Fluffy books, no. Hemingway, yes. Or if my interest is piqued by something in the book (as Thomas said in your first comment, there).

  11. I usually do not think of the author's age but cannot resist going in that direction when reading Penelope Fitzgerald, and wondering if the calm, the equanimity comes with age and if she would have been a different novelist if she had started earlier.

  12. I'm usually not bothered. However, I am glad that I know that the wonderful Sybil Marshall (sadly R.I.P. now) didn't get her first novel published until she was in her eighties. (A Nest Of Magpies, out of print at the moment, but a "must read" for anybody who loves Norfolk.)And, of course, the glorious Diana Athill, is a literary lion in her nineties - go girls!

  13. If I know the author's history well, I can't help but think of their age & what's happening in their lives at the time of the book I'm reading. F. Scott Fitzgerald springs immediately to mind.

  14. Oh dear, nobody mentioned the sketches! This is why I worry about whether or not to bother with them... but thanks for your replies so far, everyone - fascinating how different people are as regards this question.

    Thomas - that's an interesting point, and one I hadn't thought about. Maybe because I rarely read books with sex scenes in them!

    Short Story Slore - that's interesting - I always think the narrator is the same gender as the author, until they say otherwise, but I suppose most of the books I read don't have the author photo, revealing their age. Although some authors now seem cannily to use the same photo for decades!

    Spangle - thanks! Yeah, I always think about the period first and foremost.

    Harriet - I knew somebody would think about this. I must do it more, as it can yield such interesting comparisons - especially, as you say, with first novels.

    Peter - and you are the opposite of Harriet! I can't remember a question which provoked such disparate answers.

    neeuqfonafamai - Does it matter in the Discworld books? Oh dear, I think I've started in the middle...

    Hayley - I do check the publication date, but seem to imagine all the authors I like wrote exclusively in the 1930s... always surprised if they started before WW1 or went on past WW2.

    Catherine - I would be interested to read authors in publication order, but I do prefer my reading for pleasure to be as spontaneous as possible... plus it would mean buying many more books!

    Susan - Yes, I think I'm in the same position as you. Now I've thought about it, I'm going to do a little more research when I read an author!

    Julia - thanks; nice answer!

    Frances - that is interesting - I wonder how it would affect an author, being in print from an early age or not... I would be keen, incidentally, to read Ivy Compton-Burnett's first book, published a decade or so before her next, and which she later disowned.

    Alison - I had no idea Sybil Marshal was that old when her first novel was published! I read Once Upon A Village years ago, and have a few others by her waiting on her shelf. I think I'm completely indifferent to Norfolk, though...

    Erik - I am determined to notice this sort of thing more in future... so many events in an author's life could affect their writing, and I rarely know any of them.

  15. Henry James - when young = comprehensible; when old = incomprehensible (or so dense as to be incomprehensible).
    What is that on the ground next to Barbara Cartland's grave?

  16. I do tend to find out how old the authors were when they wrote what I'm reading, especially if I'm interested in them. If it's a book I just pick up on a whim, I may not do the research, but then again that rarely happens!

    And I loved your sketches!! I was just thinking the other day, I wonder if he'll ever sketch again?

  17. Sorry Simon, of course it was a typewriter!
    I must get new glasses ;-)

  18. I always think that I try and do this and think when an author wrote what or how old they were and then I find it goes out the window.

    An example of this was the other day when I was writing about debut authors and used Atwood as an example of an author I had read the debut of after lots of others... I then had to delete that as I haven't read her debut novel yet at all, I just thought 'Surfacing' was hers, then fortunately checked on wiki and was proved wrong!

  19. I like to know how old the author of a book I'm reading is because it helps me imagine what they're thinking a little better. Same way that I like to know a little bit about them. But it's not something I'm obsessive about following. If I don't know their age... well, okay.

    I typically only care when it's an author I've read before. I like to place each book on a time line in comparison to each other.

  20. Daniel - aww, thanks! That made my day :)

    Simon S - it really is interesting to read the debuts of successful novelists, and see whether their style changed over time. Although I can't see myself bothering to read any more Margaret Atwood!

    Biblio - so many people *do* think about this, that I feel quite foolish for rarely considering it!

  21. I definitely think about the age of an author and where a book comes in her/his life. Recent examples are the two I chose by Rosamond Lehmann for Virago reading week. RL's work became ever more intense as she got older. She was quite a difficult woman but so understanding about love that it doesn't matter at all - and anyway, one doesn't have to know all about an author to appreciate the writing.
    About the sketches: please keep on with them. Don't know what I enjoyed the most - the B Cartland one or your exchange with your Mum. It was your Mum, wasn't it?
    New to your great blog. Thank Rachel for that!


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