Are Authors Celebrities?

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Ian Rankin – I think this is the same picture he’s used for years.

Thinking about my impending visit to Bloody Scotland, I was imagining finally seeing (and maybe meeting) Ian Rankin.

For many reasons, that is a terrifying prospect.  For one, I spent a couple years of my life intensely studying some of his books, which is evidenced by all of my copies being heavily marked and littered with Post It flags.

Second, nothing I could possibly say to this man would not come off as extremely embarrassing.  Most likely.  As well as my initial meeting with Denise Mina went, I have to say I am about ten times as terrified/excited to meet the man behind Rebus.  The fear won’t prevent me from going to the festival (I did already book my tickets) or from seeing Ian Rankin speak, but I have to say that I will probably anticipate that Friday evening more than any other I could think of.  (Minus my own wedding of course.  Which happens to also be a Friday evening.  Luckily the Scottish fiance doesn’t always read these musings, which just might save our marriage down the line.)

All of this anticipation and hype got me thinking – Do we view authors as celebrities? Or do we look at them differently than we would a movie star?

I would have to say:  yes, we look at them much differently. We fall in love with their talent, not with their faces or ability to make us swoon.  Look at guys like Stephen King; great writer, but not the most handsome guy in the world.  Now think about the celebrity you find most attractive, like the Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) or Chrises (Hemsworth and Evans) of the world.  When you think of these actors, you generally first think of how beautiful they are on a movie screen, second how talented they are.  Not everyone does that and yes, I admire many actors for their talent (Jennifer Lawrence or Gosling again), but as a very superficial society we do look at actors and judge them on how attractive they are.  After all, the ones that look like Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman are considered “character actors”, and hardly ever are given the lead in a blockbuster film.

This is what is so refreshing about the book world.  No one cares.  It might be an added bonus that your favorite author is good to look at, but how many authors are there in the world that really look like Nathan Fillion’s Castle?  I might not think every author who is loved deserves the accolades, but where our tastes differ we can all agree on the same thing – we love our favorite authors because of what they write.  Because they bring our favorite characters to life.  Or simply because they paint a picture with words so vivid that you almost forget what you are reading is fiction.

So, back to my main question – are authors celebrities?  No, not really.  Not in the traditional sense anyway.  You are not really getting to know them (as you can fool yourself into believing with the traditional celebrity), but you are getting to know their writing style, their talent, and maybe a little piece of their own reality.  You see the inner workings of their brains in a way that is so unique from any other art form, and yet they are all distinct from what they write.  It is actually frowned upon in the academic world when you bring an author’s background into the literary theory, unless there is just that unmistakable connection.  Whatever the author has gone through has been channeled into their work, without a doubt, but what we are reading is something wholly different from what they might actually believe or have lived through.

This is I think why it is almost nerve wracking to meet your favorite author.  You know that they are not the characters they write, and yet you sort of want to believe it.  So you stress, because you do not want to come out to a signing sounding like some nutter who believes the fiction is real, and yet you want them to know how much their work has touched you in whatever way.

And here’s the main question:  would you actually recognize your favorite author on the street?  Most of us would have to say no, unless your favorite author was J.K. Rowling, and I would have to admit even she might be hard to recognize in a crowd.  Question answered with this one, really.


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