Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Researching an Author

Research the author and take a few notes on important aspects of their lives, including: when and where they lived, how they were raised, what their education was like, what belief system they professed and taught, what their awards and accomplishments were and what others said about them. This doesn't need to be time-consuming. It can usually be done on the internet in under an hour. But this information will be invaluable to you as you strive to truly understand classics and find principles in them. Here's why:

“…you should keep in mind that every work of literature is presented to you by some other human being with motives of her own. Though it may seem natural to identify with the characters in a story or to assume that the speaker in a poem is really the author in disguise, you should try to keep in mind that the author is controlling what you get to see and when and how you get to see it. That is, a work of literature is not a neutral presentation of the facts. Indeed, because it‟s not a report but an opportunity for social practice, literature is almost always just made up. So, while you should think about the work of literature 'from the inside,' you should also think about it from the outside. Why is this author telling me these things in this way? What does she want me to conclude? About what? If the nature of this task seems hard to pin down, think about how the gossip you hear from your friends often tells you more about them than it does about their intended victims. Literature works the same way: there are surface meanings in the story itself and meanings one step back, in the author‟s mind. It‟s good to keep all these possibilities in your mind.”

That is why, the more you know about the author the easier it will be for you to look for their biases and opinions; to be aware of what it is they are trying to teach. Especially in fictional writing, where the entire story is “made up,” the author can say or do anything and it works because it‟s not real life. If the author has a strong handle on true principles and human nature, their story will enlighten and inspire you, if not, there will be a great need for you to be careful and discerning. 

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Victor Hugo was a family man, highly educated and politically active, he lived during a time of political upheaval and wrote Les Miserables while in exile. It was an instant success and upon his return to France his countrymen hailed him as a hero. Les Miserable has remained a powerful national classic ever since. 
  • Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, actively denounced the market system while he supported his family on the charity of a friend who inherited his fortune from his father‟s successful business ventures. 

Taking time to understand the author is great practice for real life. Most of the people you meet will not share many of your opinions and will not necessarily know or understand the truth themselves. When someone wants to give you some “good advise,” you will be better equipped to discern their biases and beliefs and weigh them against what they are is telling you because you have developed this skill. You will notice that over time the truth in others‟ opinions will become clearer and you will be deceived less often.

Also remember that learning about the author is every bit as important when reading non-fiction and histories as it is when reading fiction. To learn more about this read point #1 in the histories section. Just remember, studying the author before you read any book will give you insights you could not have otherwise.

--- From the article "Getting the Book Through You" 
By Audrey Rindlisbacher and the Ten Boom Institute

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