Do you judge a book by its author?

Poll results:

Do you judge a book by its author?

Never            6 %

Sometimes  40 %

Often             28 %

Depends on what I know  25 %


I am sure most of you expected this post would be about serious issues such as abuse, suppression, racism, Neo-Nazism or the like. But no; I have taught English literature for ages, and if you go back in history, most authors had outrageous views and prejudices judged by our standards. As a teacher, you read – and teach – those stories and novels as a matter of course, and when it is relevant, you discuss the attitudes of the author with your students.

So the petty ´offence´ that inspired my poll was a writer who stated that he didn´t like Scandinavian crime fiction. I may shake my head when American and British publishers try to brand new (or even well-established) Swedish writers by calling them ´the next Stieg Larsson´, but this comment struck me as even worse. Fair enough (perhaps) if the writer had tried a dozen authors or more, but he based it on two or three books. What if I read one Dan Brown and one Patricia Cornwell and concluded I didn´t like American crime fiction?

I didn´t exactly throw his book away, but while CrimeFest in May made me want to try several new series because the writers seemed to be engaging and interesting people, this remark had the opposite effect.

Thank you for all your interesting and thought-provoking comments, and for participating in my poll, but I suppose the lesson I learnt this time was that while social media are a must for post-millennium writers, they may also backfire: if you come across as too pushy, too narrow-minded or too arrogant, it might have been better for you to shut your big mouth for once.

About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
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13 Responses to Do you judge a book by its author?

  1. Maxine says:

    I agree, but author arrogance, etc, is not a new phenomenon with social media- they have been writing articles for ever, sometimes quite offensive and needlessly so, in newspapers, magazines etc. Also at some book conventions, I hear comments made by speakers about “why is crime fiction read mainly by women over a certain age”? Well, probably because people below a certain age have jobs and/or young children (these meetings are usually held in term-time) so although they are reading they do not have time or inclination to attend author-ego-massaging or sales-improving conferences – it does not mean they aren’t reading 😉

  2. Or maybe after years of looking after kids/hubby/home and, more often than not, doing a full time job, the women are feeling a bit murderous by the time they get to that certain age 😉

    As for the author in your anecdote well they don’t know what they’re missing out on…there are good and bad writers everywhere and I for one am pleased to read the good ones wherever they come from (just as long as they’ll translate into English because I am too old to learn another language)

  3. Maxine: but if you are an obscure Danish writer over a certain age you only have to behave well online. None of my friends in real life buy any of my books :O

    Bernadette: there are indeed wonderful writers from all places, and once you have joined friendfeed you find far too many of them for your own good.

  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Dorte – I have to admit I have a real pet peeve about those kinds of categorical statements. No wonder you were put off. I sometimes wonder if people like that have any idea of how arrogant those statements seem or worse, if they care…

  5. Kelly says:

    Those are the same type folks who often make broad, sweeping, opinionated statements about life in general. I try to be more open-minded.

    I’m going to just assume your friends in “real life” just don’t read crime fiction at all. 😉

  6. I’m guilty of this. I truly am. Because I write British fiction, I tend to stay away from American and other countries. However, I would never say ‘I didn’t like it’. Perhaps I don’t read it as much but each person had their favourites. That being said, I joined your challenge this year and have stepped outside the box to read novels from various parts of the world and voila! I actually found some wonderful writers. It’s wonderful that you posted on this subject. Ignorance should be stopped.

  7. Margot: I know that it was just meant as a casual remark, but it did come across as *very* arrogant, and from a person I think should know better.

    Kelly: you are sweet. And perhaps my friends are justified as very few of them read ebooks, and there are not that many who can read a whole novel in English 🙂

    Clarissa: oh, but I also prefer British crime fiction. Or to be more accurate, I prefer traditional police procedurals to fast-paced thrillers. But there are several exceptions of course: brilliant American crime novels with excellent characters, and British novels which are full of blood and gore. So I am as prejudiced as anyone, but like you, I try to vary my diet, and I try not to judge a whole region based on one or two books.

  8. Bill Selnes says:

    Dorte: When looking at a book by a new author I generally try not to learn anything about the author until I have read the book. I prefer to reach my conclusions on the book without being influenced by the author’s history.

  9. Patti Abbott says:

    Of the Scandinavian literature I have read, most of it seems awfully good. That would include Fossum, Lackberg, Sjowahl and Wahloo, Mankell, and quite a few more.

  10. Bill: I don´t look for information about the authors on purpose either, but as a blogger, I meet so many crime writers that I can´t always help it. Many of them make me want to read their books, but there are these very few exceptions…

    Patti: and I would say that those writers are so different that there should be something for most lovers of crime fiction 🙂

  11. Barbara says:

    This strikes me as just as self-limiting as deciding not to watch movies because the actor happens to be an ass in real life. I don’t care what writers, artists, or actors do in real life as long as they are good at what they create. There are limits, of course; if a person is a pedophile or something horrible like that, I wouldn’t care to encourage him/her by buying their books or seeing their movies.

  12. Barbara: I don´t disagree, meaning that I wouldn´t *consciously* limit myself to read books by authors I like, and as I state in the post, I admit that it was a petty offence – I just happened to remember it when I saw his name on the cover 😉

  13. Interesting results. I’m definitely in the minority. (6%) But I suppose that’s because I don’t really follow authors’ personal lives. I have no idea what their political views are, what kind of statements they have/have not made etc. I’ve never been in your situation where I heard an author make a ridiculous comment like that.

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