I came across a really great talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (via Chekhov’s Mistress), which you can find here. She talks about what it’s like to have written a best seller and then to feel paralyzed because she may never write anything as successful ever again. And then she goes on to talk about creativity and genius and how to keep doing your creative work without driving yourself mad. She turns out to be a really great speaker — she’s funny and fluent and has great examples, and I found myself tearing up at the end. I really do like Elizabeth Gilbert; I realize her writing style can sometimes be a bit glib and that the very fact she’s been so successful might turn people off, and maybe Eat, Pray, Love is a little self-absorbed (I don’t think this, actually, but some people do — I don’t mind if writers are self-absorbed as long as they are interesting), and maybe her interest in spirituality isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but she’s just one of those people I’m ready to admire no matter what and I have a hard time understanding you if you don’t agree with me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought this about an author. There are some writers I feel absolutely loyal to, and I know this feeling isn’t a rational or a logical one — because even the best writers write bad things now and then, and why should I feel such loyalty and even affection for writers I’ve never met and who in some cases are long dead? And why should I care if someone happens to disagree with me? After all, disagreements keep things interesting, right? We don’t want to have all the same opinions.
And if you disagree with me about Henry James, I won’t take it personally. I happen to love Henry James, but I can see why people might find him insufferable and boring. And this is true for most authors — if you don’t like George Eliot, fine; if you don’t like Laurence Sterne, well, you’re missing out on some great fun but that’s your problem; if you don’t like Flannery O’Connor, then something may be wrong with your sense of humor, but I won’t hold that against you.
But there are some authors I can’t be quite as open-minded about. If you don’t like at least some of Virginia Woolf’s work, I’m sorry, but I have grave doubts about you (even if it’s just the essays — how can anyone not like this?) If you were to read Jenny Diski and not be at least a little charmed by her orneriness, I’m not sure we’ll ever really understand each other. If you aren’t awe-struck by David Foster Wallace’s essay on dictionaries, or thrilled by Nicholason Baker’s The Mezzanine, then I can’t help but suspect our friendship will always have its limits.
I don’t know. In theory, at least, I like the idea of civilized conversations about books where we can discuss the merits of this or that author and agree to disagree, but there are times when my patience runs out and I get tired of being open-minded and tolerant.
I recognize, of course, that you are entitled to have grave doubts about me because of books I like or don’t like. So — are there books or authors you are completely loyal to and don’t understand how anyone could possible disagree?