Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do We Believe Good-Looking Authors Write Better?

In a New Yorker article about Albert Camus (“Facing History,” 4/2/12), Adam Gopnik puts forth the intriguing theory that we, the reading public, give more credit to good-looking authors than to those who are less so. He begins by noting that Camus “was a terrifically good-looking guy whom women fell for hopelessly” and that this was part of his appeal. He goes on to assert that “when handsome men or beautiful women take up the work of the intellect, it impresses us because we know they could have chosen other paths to being impressive.” The rest of Gopnik’s article on Camus focuses on more usual literary and political topics, but the introductory assertion caught my attention and made me wonder about its validity. What IS true is that writers’ appearances -- especially those of women writers -- are often mentioned in reviews, biographies, and other works about them. Just recently, in Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker article on Edith Wharton (about which I posted here on 2/22/12), he made the point that Wharton was “not pretty” and speculated about how that affected her writing. Another woman writer whose lack of beauty is often pointed out was George Eliot. Some writers who have been romanticized, such as Byron and Kerouac, are known for their looks (and life styles) as well as their literary work. Photographs of writers on book jackets often appear to be somewhat glamorized. Maybe there is some truth to Gopnik’s assertion; who doesn’t like to look at beautiful people, whether writers or others? But I resist believing that we readers actually give attractive authors more credit for their writing. Surely we are not that shallow?

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