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September 23, 2007

Where you live with who

This morning I conducted a scientific study. (How exciting!) A study which is made a bit questionable by the limits of my own library, and the fact that my library has many more books by women then men. But still, I looked through my contemporary novels at author biographies and found the following results.
– 50 books did not make reference to the writer’s partner or family, and 24 books did.
– the 50 books with no reference were split evenly along gender lines.
– Of the 24 books that mentioned partners/families, 1/3 were by men, which was more than I had supposed.
– None of the authors who I knew were gay and lesbian made any reference to spouses/partners
– Writers with famous spouses who are less famous than the writers themselves mention their partners by name
– Writers with spouses who are more famous than they are either don’t mention them at all, or don’t name them

I’ve been wondering lately about this sort of information being included in author biographies– why it is important or relevant? I understand why husbands/wives/partners are so gushingly regarded in book dedications and acknowledgements. (Author acknowledgements are my most favourite extra-textual feature). Of course the writer wants to give due credit, but is this necessarily important to the author biography? One might argue that readers want details of authors’ lives, but these details are so vague, there’s little point. They basically say, “Oh, and yes, she is married.” Or is “…she lives with her husband and children” just another way to say that although she’s smart and writes books, she’s not turned her back on femininity altogether? Which would make me uncomfortable.

I’ve had to write three little writer bios this past while, and in none of them have I noted that I live in Toronto with my husband. Though I would have liked them to. If my novel ever sees its way into the world, I would like my biography to end just like that. But I am not sure why– why does it matter to my professional life? (It is also important here to note whether or not authors actually write their own biographies on published books– this I do not know). I suppose for many female writers, it’s a question of marketing– readers might like a writer they can relate to, and domestic details make an author seem more accessible. I think also that many writers would argue that their family is an essential part of their life, whose support makes writing possible, and therefore the family deserves a place in their life story. I would assume that a writer of children’s books would note if they were a mom or a dad.

And so my scientific study was just as inconclusive as “Do Plants Need Air?”– my famous experiment at the grade eight science fair. There are just too many variables, and so still I am curious. Why is where you live with who important? Is it really important at all?

4 thoughts on “Where you live with who”

  1. Erin says:

    So I pop in from time to time for get some reading ideas… and I couldn’t resist responding to this post. I supposed that including more quotidian details makes the author seem real. Living somewhere with someone makes them like us. Maybe?

  2. Kerry says:

    Mrs. S! Glad to hear from you. And I agree that these details make the author seem real, but why these ones? Why not “She lives in Winnipeg and drives a Toyota”? Though I admit that knowing a writer’s marital situation does inform my conception of them, somehow. If I didn’t care, I would pore over acknowledgements as I do. But I think it is interesting that I do care, and interesting further that this info is made so front and centre.

  3. patricia says:

    I agree with Erin. For me, there is something magical and mysterious about writers – they are somewhat different from the rest of regular folk. I truly do think of good writers as being magicians. So they appear so often to me to be unreachable because of this amazing talent that they are blessed with, almost as if they live in castles on top of clouds or something. So to know of any ‘humanizing’ elements of their lives, helps me to realize that they are indeed just ‘regular folk’. They live in old leaky houses, take out the garbage and have to pay taxes, too. It kills the magical image a little, but yeah, I like to know if a writer, male or female, is married, and where they live.

    And for me, I like to mention whenever possible in any of my bio notes that I am married, because my husband has a very large part to play in any of my successes. I could not imagine not mentioning him. Or my two wonderful cats.

  4. Rebecca Rosenblum says:

    I agree with what’s been said: *any* information about the author is interesting to an avid reader, because if we (well, I) love the book, I want to know the person behind it, and I’ll take whatever information I can get.

    However, the *kind* of information I can get is I think very conservative. You see “lives with spouse” or “lives with spouse and children”, rarely “lives with partner.” It’s the year 2007, and yet “lives with children” without mention of spouse is rare and brave in author bios, and despite the commonness of such situations, no one ever says, “lives with parents,” “lives with roommates,” “bounces precariously between living arrangements” or, heaven help us, “lives alone.”

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