This past week, I had the opportunity to talk about Edgar Allan Poe with two of my teenage relatives. Both told me they’ve been assigned to read a couple of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”, which led to a discussion about Poe and my blog post about his brief time at UVA. I’m glad for their sake that they’re reading classic American literature, even though it’s a school assignment and they’ll have to write essays on them.
Our chats showed that the three of us had different feelings about Poe. It’s interesting to hear others’ perspectives on the same writer, though. Some people will like the writer and others won’t, depending upon their own point of view. I find it fascinating to discover the reasons behind someone else’s viewpoint on the same author, even if that view isn’t the same as my own.
This Poe discussion got me to think about how readers judge whether a writer is “read-worthy.” Do we base the decision solely on the critics’ review of a book or the past work that author has produced? That depends. I like William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” but I can’t stand The Sound and the Fury because I find it difficult to follow. (Faulkner fans, please give me a head start before you chase me down the library hallway and pelt me with literary magazines.)
Do we pay attention to what our family and friends recommend for us to read, thinking that we might enjoy it? I resisted one book my parent recommended for a long time, but then I liked it when I did read it. (Lesson learned: Mom knows best.)
Should we also take the author’s personal character in mind in choosing a book to read? Poe, for instance, had some personal issues (to put it politely), but that hasn’t stopped people from reading his work. I’ve also read two autobiographies written by an author who is a good writer but I can’t envision myself ever being friends with her in real life because she is too combative. (I’m more the mellow, try-to-work-problems-out negotiator type. Especially after chocolate.)
And should we judge a writer by the era in which they wrote? There are some books I’ve read that other readers may not like because of the way the author chose to depict certain characters as stereotypes. Should we pull out the “that author was a product of his or her time” argument?
Blog readers: Any thoughts here?