Opinion: Author lifestyle does not affect book quality

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The Dusty Bookshelf made $5 off of me last week when they put some old science fiction books on the dollar rack. I’ll buy anything with Heinlein or Asimov’s name on it.

Having favorite authors is like that for a lot of people. We preorder their next books with no questions asked, we follow them on social media, we memorize their quotes and favorite stories.

But authors are not their stories. They are human beings, and they may not be as friendly as the things they write. If your favorite writer hated Jews, could you still read the books? If they were gay and that was against your religious beliefs, would you still quote them? How do you reconcile with the person behind the writing?

Nicholas Sparks is a great example of a beloved author with a muddied moral past. When Sparks became a successful author (his books have made him worth $30 million), he founded the Epiphany School for Global Studies in New Bern. While the school has no official religious affiliations, Sparks himself is Catholic and his books have a strong Christian following. Saul Benjamin, former headmaster of the school, accused the author of supporting a group of students’ “homo-caust” against another group of gay students earlier this month. The plaintiff also felt discrimination due to his Jewish ancestry and Quaker religion.

“I’m strongly conflicted now, because all his books are my favorite,” Victoria Stephen, junior in marketing, said. “I’m a hopeless romantic.”

Tao Lin, an author with a considerable online following on the “alt-lit” parts of the Internet, was recently accused of rape and plagiarism by a former friend. The ex-friend alleged that Lin had sex with a minor and lifted passages from emails his partner wrote and incorporated them into his own work, “Richard Yates.”

“Tao Lin literally copied and pasted my emails into his ‘novel,'” tweeted Ellen Kennedy, the woman who alleged abuse by Lin when Kennedy was 16. “He took credit for my words, for my painful memories, for my story. Every day Tao Lin continues to profit off me.”

Checking the histories of the books I just bought, Heinlein seems to have left a positive legacy. His estate began the Heinlein Foundation, which gives books to soldiers returning from war. Other popular authors leave great impressions too. J.K. Rowling gave away almost $160 million in charitable giving in 2012. Judy Blume talked body image, sex, menstruation, loss and death in her books in a way that made them accessible and comfortable to young girls. John Green of “The Fault in Our Stars” used to be a student chaplain in a children’s hospital and raised a Nerdfighter army against bullying. These authors have made a heartwarming impact with their wealth and fame.

But what if your favorite author is dead? Asimov died before I was even born, and our generation didn’t even make it close to the Bronte sisters, Tolkien or Steinbeck. Tom Clancy, the famous crime novelist, and Steig Larsson, of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” fame, will never write another novel. Their opinions have ceased to matter now that they do not have a platform to disseminate them. If they didn’t make it onto the page, they can no longer be shared. Just like most other people, they can’t extend much more influence beyond what they produced when they were living. Once an author has died, they have ceased to make an impact in the world except for the writing or foundations they have left behind.

The work authors produce is transcendent of the lives they lead. Maybe the love for a body of work doesn’t need to be reconciled with feelings for the author’s lifestyle. The author doesn’t sit down with you and read the book over your shoulder. A book is something an author produces and then lets loose on the world for people to read and interpret on their own.

The morality of the person does not affect the morality of the work. You can judge a person and still enjoy what they give to the world when they aren’t exercising that part of themselves. Whatever spirit or energy they expended created the work is not as important as the art itself. Authors are just people who wrote books. None of them are black and white as a printed page can be.

It would be better to just take in the art that authors have created for what it is: an expression made to be absorbed by the reader, independent of its creator.

Logan Falletti is a senior in mass communications.

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