Thursday, 16 April 2015

Do Authors Influence Us? A Reaction to the Time's 100

Time's list of the 100 most influential people is out.  The fact that only two authors have been included has caused a mild stir on the internet.  One particular criticism was over the fact they are not really called authors.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is listed as an artist and her description' references the fact she is quoted by BeyoncĂ© (listed herself in 2013, 2014) and Adichie's TedTalk.  There is a mild reference at the end to her books through Adichie being praised for her ability to create good characters.  The second author, or icon, is Haruki Murakami, who has a far better summary written by Yoko Ono.  The other disappointment over the fact that there is only two authors.  

If I am honest, I think the whole debate has been a bit oversimplified and I don't think that books are getting that bad a deal overall.  Is it not true that Thomas PikettyJanet Yellen and Pope Francis have written books?   None of these have been acknowledged on the LA Times as authors.  Are not all books worthy of merit and being classed as influential?

Also, what is it the reason for authors making the list?  Are they being listed for their visibility, their book sales, how many followers they have or the actual content of the book (writing style, themes)?  Donna Tartt was listed in 2014 but her books are not groundbreaking.  That isn't to say her books aren't good, but why not include other writers of just plain-old good books too then? John Green, who also was listed in 2014, has a few million followers on various social platforms and so his influence isn't solely from his books.  It would be great to have more authors listed, but only for the right reasons.  Content should take priority over book sales or followers but saying that, we already have lists dedicated to the most influential books.  One thing I have noticed, authors tend to be included if they had a successful book published/film-adaption that year.  (Who knows, maybe Harper Lee will make next years list if all goes well.)

Futhermore, there is a subtle difference between the influence of a person who is an author and the influence of their book.  Consider this example.  To Kill a Mockingbird has had considerable positive influence over civil rights.  Harper Lee on the other hand has chosen to remain private, as is her right too, and so Lee as a person doesn't use her own voice to influence people.  Let's consider it further.  Compare Lee with J.K. Rowling.  Rowling has much more influence as an person due to her social media presence, charity work etc.  This list is a list of people, not books, so it is harder for authors who just write to make the list.

Let's not forget that books are not all about authors.  Celebrities also influence book sales.  Oprah Winfrey's book club has a phenomenal impact (i.e. influence) on book and has encouraged people to read.  Films adapted from books also encourage reading.  Julianne Moore who won a Best Actress Oscar in a film adaption of the book Still Alice is listed.  I am sure Moore has brought a lot of much needed publicity to the book.  Whilst they haven't written the book, their influence includes bringing awareness to books.  I personally find a lot of book recommendations through actors etc. and this is overlooked.  It is OK to write a book that could profoundly impact someone's life, but if no-one knows about it then the book isn't going to impact many people.  The criticism of the list doesn't take into account the books that have been inspired by people on the list.  The list still has a place for books.  Shouldn't they have some praise too?

Also, it may not be a bad thing that authors are not listed.  One, authors have the benefit of being a household name without being recognisable on the street; they are able to keep a private life if they want.  Two, with fame comes pressure.  Being listed isn't necessarily a good thing for a person.  A lot of authors feel pressure over whether their next book will be as good.  Three, there is also the issue of whether a person wants to be defined as an author - perhaps Adichie wants to be seen as a feminist first and foremost.

Basically, the Time's list is just that.  A list.  A list of people who have had little direct influence on our lives.  I think the main issue is the lack of disclosure over what is classed as being influential.  What is it that is influencing?  The book itself or the author?  Is this list measuring qualitative or quantitate influence too?  What are your thoughts?  Do you even care?  Look on the bright side, the list includes people who have either positive/negative influences so at least we don't have to debate about E.L James' 2012 listing.


4 comments:

  1. This is a great piece of ' thought ' about authors and Tiime list of influential people.
    I think it all comes down to exposure in the media.
    If you, your book or film adapted screenplay from you book is mentioned on social media, talk shows or just nominated for an accolade....then you are half way there. Sometimes I discover a great author like David Foenkinos via his book 'Charlotte'. He is an established French writer but I never see his prize winning book (Prix Reaudot 2014) anywhere! It is a great read.
    Another point I enjoyed was the reference to Donna Tartt. I agree with you....her books are great but not groundbreaking. I read one and that was enough for me. This was a great discussion you started and enjoyed it very much!

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    1. Thank you! I haven't heard about David Foenkinos before; I agree some great authors get no exposure, even in bookstores. I remember when South Riding by Winifred Holtby was adapted by the BBC for a TV series and it was still difficult to get the book.

      Did you find Tartt's books overly long? I read The Goldfinch, some parts were excellent but others could do with cutting out.

      Thank you again :-)

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  2. I read her first best-seller " The Secret History". I had to start the book 3 x and then just pushed myself through it. Murder, students and Ancient Greece do not make me put this book on the outstanding list of books. There is always a lot of 'hype' when she publishes ( 1 book every 10 years!). She gets 5 stars for marketing!

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    1. Her plots don't seem to be particularly new. I don't get the hype either.

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