The Value of Author Mystique

“I’d never encourage anyone to be a writer. It’s too hard…” Eudora Welty

A little over a decade ago, a world-renowned author gave a much-anticipated lecture on his best seller at our local college.  It was (for this owl at least) a thrilling event. The lecture was brilliant and the author did not disappoint. And… just as this charming god-of-the-written word was wrapping his lecture up, he announced from the podium that he would be heading over to the local bar directly after the book signing session and anyone who cared to, could join him there for a beer.  Of course, being a huge admirer of his works, I was more than thrilled by the idea and was immediately chomping at the bit for an opportunity to meet him.  (The whole time I imagined the brilliant and raw conversation he and I would have about his works never minding the fact that there were 700 people in the audience that had also been invited to join him.) I  immediately envisioned how he and I would exchange email addresses and stay in touch with one another from that point on because in my minds’ eye we were now and forever “friends.”  It didn’t turn out that way. Something very different happened.  When I turned to convince a fellow owl (who is not only a voracious reader of all things books, but who had also very much admired this author’s works) that we needed to go hang out with this celebrity, he flat out declined. The reason?  My fellow owl simply said he didn’t like his authors to be “so accessible.”  My disappointment at the time was tinged with a bit of resentment towards my fellow owl, but the truth in the matter is, I never forgot the reason for why he declined this once-in-a-lifetime invitation.

I’ve thought about it a lot since, and the older I get in this world of instant accessibility, the more I appreciate my fellow owls’ insight.  You see, we all like an air of mystery. Not the mystery of the whodunit variety, but rather the sense of the unknown and the unexplained. We are intrigued by what is not said and by what is yet to be discovered and yet to be explored.  That, in my humble opinion is what keeps us all going. And when it comes to authors, celebrities, and our collective love of mystery… J.D. Salinger, as one of the most compelling examples I can think of, springs immediately to mind.  Protected during his lifetime by his own code of silence even years after his death, Salinger remains as famous for creating one of literature’s most beloved characters, Holden Caulfield, as he is for recoiling from the public eye.  We are still to this day intrigued by the mystery behind the man. Documentary filmmaker Shane Salerno’s new documentary, “Salinger,” tracks the writer’s monumental literary success as well as his abrupt retreat from it.

“Catcher in the Rye “ has sold well over 60 million copies and counting.  This enigmatic man and über-talented author declined interviews and avoided photographers for nearly half a century. He kept us guessing (often incorrectly), and he most definitely kept us interested.

I for one loved “Catcher in the Rye.”  I first read it in my teens and I can honestly say the character of Holden Caulfield changed my life.  Salinger’s novel opened my pathetic little teen world to bold new possibilities and through the snarky and bright Holden Caulfield, Salinger demonstrated the power of independent thinking and voice,  and  that oh yes!…even a snarky adolescent voice could have its rightful place in this world. I will always be indebted to Salinger for his creativity, and I don’t want it destroyed for me by foolishly bridging the distance between the man and the author.

Creativity is, (I think we can all we all agree,) a truly mystical thing. The ancient Greeks believed in the Daemons, the Romans believed in the Genius- and these days …well these days it seems, we’ve gone and reduced ourselves into believing in “celebrity” rather than believing in the mystical nature of creativity.  We’ve lost our safe distance.  In fact, celebrity culture is one of the hallmarks of twenty-first century America.  We  “know” so much about celebrities now-a-days (even things we might not want to know about them) that we are lulled into thinking we are on a first name basis with them.  We create nicknames for them: we hear about their romances, their escapades and of course their failures.  (Sadly, we loooove to hear about their failures.)  And heck, why not? Celebrity status does not necessarily require any unique skill or talent and in fact, often has very little to do with creative genius.  So how did we confuse the two?   Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject by author Elizabeth Gilbert:

So what in God’s name has happened to what was once the expected air of mystique that surrounded our favorite authors?  Can we blame the internet age for making everything about everybody accessible to the touch of our fingertips? Or do we need to take a little more responsibility in an age where everyone is clamoring for validation.


Is it because many of us are so desperate for validation because we’ve lost our sense of mystique?  Does it even mean anything to be a writer anymore?  I think so. And this is why: when I stumble on to a new book that I love, I can be okay with not needing to devour everything in the cult of celebrity.  I’m going to take the advice of my fellow owl and do my best to let an author’s work be all the mental architecture I need to understand them.  The world we live is a big and mysterious place… and so, when I  am curled up later this weekend and enjoying Brice Austin’s “The Afterlife Road and other stories”…shhh don’t tell me…just let me dwell in the mystery.



About owl canyon hoots

Owl Canyon Press is based in Boulder, Colorado. We publish fine literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, and works of literature in translation. Our mission is to support new voices and provide quality English editions of international literature. Our goal is to discover books that stimulate the imagination and publish them with passion. We pride ourselves on our detailed attention to every stage of the process, from editorial review and design, to marketing and publicity.
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2 Responses to The Value of Author Mystique

  1. Wendy says:

    Hey, hey. Catcher in the Rye changed my life too. I first read it as a junior in high school. The high school librarian suggested I read it. She was the only adult in my life who recognized that depression had attached its wings to me. She was and I hope still is a wonderful women. Anyway, Holden was a true companion for me. Before meeting him Jane Eyre was the one I felt a kinship with but she didn’t have the sarcasm, or let’s face it, the sense of humor that Holden voiced. I still think of mini skirts at “butt twitchers” and I cop to being a ‘secret slob” and use my razors way past the time I should. Call me a rebel, life on the edge and all. Anyway, thanks for the the thoughts. Without books and authors life would be a lot more puzzling. Oh, the other book that I count as a life changer is The Color Purple. It was the first novel that I fell in love with the voice of it, the cadence in the writing. I’d just gotten my b.a. in English and had read so many books and authors and The Color Purple seemed so fresh when compared with the rough and tumble of Hemingway and his perfect sentences and the poetry of Shakespeare and Wyatt. And here was a female writer who was telling what was in many ways a horrific story but all through it I felt that there was joy in the telling; an appreciation of the beauty of life and love. It seems like the women authors from Kate Chopin to Joan Didion all made me want to find the nearest bridge to jump off. They were wonderful writers and obviously effective ones too but I would never turn to them when I feel like a black hole of depression sucking everything in but there’s nothing there. To this day I avoid Tilda Swinton movies; Iris Murdoch books Margaret Atwood’s too. I have a whole list of one’s I’m too little for. Funny though, my avoidance doesn’t extend in the same way toward poetry. Love me some Sylvia Plath, Anne Seton, and Ezra Pound. Lately, I’ve been into Ryan Adams’ Infinity Blues. Love his music and appreciate his poems. Go figure

    • Thank you for your thoughts- very interesting. Chopin and Didion are indeed wonderful and effective writers, but we agree that they can also be very angst producing- Judging from your comments, we think you might very much enjoy reading German author Mariana Leky. Our publisher Gene Hayworth did a really great job translating her novel “The Gentlemen’s Tailor.” The protagonist in this novel of magic realism journeys through a depressive episode in her life with the wry humor and sarcasm of Holden Caulfield and the intelligence of Jane Eyre- and its a story of loss and recovery that we can all relate to. Check out our Facebook page for more info- and private message us for special discounts. Thanks again for your insight!

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