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Unconditional

I don’t know about you guys but I have a handful of authors that I love unconditionally.  Yes, that’s right.  I love them beyond, despite, because.  Rationally and irrationally.  I’d buy one their books even if it was a technical guide to taxidermy.  Needless to say, this kind of unconditional love is exceedingly rare and requires much more than mere skill, talent or even genius in order to blossom and thrive.   Really, authors have to earn that I’ll-forgive-anything feeling about their work and not just because of how brilliant one or two or even a dozen of their books are.  For me, it’s a combination of their writing and the subjects that obsess them, their public persona, their ability to surprise, rabble rouse, or consistently awe (this last is the hardest).

There is, of course, no subjective measure for who is worthy of unconditional love.   For instance, I’ve read enough Joyce Carol Oates to have developed great respect and admiration for her.  But love, much less unconditional love?  Uh uhn.  On the other hand, Toni Morrison could fill a notebook with crayoned squiggles and I’d add it to my collection.  Don DeLillo?  Admiration, respect, deep like.  Jonathan Franzen?  Unconditional love.  (I know, I know.  Don’t judge.)

This is, of course, a longwinded way of telling you guys about my unconditional love of Jeffrey Eugenides, newly bolstered by this ridiculously charming essay in The Millions.  I haven’t read The Marriage Plot yet, but I will because this is an author whose failures I’d probably find more interesting and moving than other authors’ successes.   Does that make sense?

In fact, is there a place for unconditional love in literature?  Should we allow ourselves to blindly champion an author no matter how flawed, offensive, or just plain lame his/her work becomes?   Or should we be driven by our critical faculties and let the work in front of us be the sole basis for affection or dismissal?  Do you guys ever love writers unconditionally?

4 Responses to Unconditional

  1. Sadly, I think I’d have to go all the way back to grade school to find an author I felt quite that unconditionally about. The author was Herbert S. Zim and he wrote these short books about various subjects in science. I read anything I could find by him, partly because even as a second grader, I could read one from cover to cover in about a half hour. Since then, I’ve come close a few times, but eventually, I start seeing the seams and my affection becomes decidedly conditional. I was that way with John Irving until “The Fourth Hand,” and David Lodge until “Think!” A writer I used to work with at Wayne State in Detroit, Charles Baxter, came the closest of anybody, although his last one, “The Soul Thief,” really seemed to unravel toward the end for me. When all Frank Conroy had out was “Stop Time” and a collection of short stories, he was golden… but then there came “Body and Soul,” which I couldn’t even finish. Tom Robbins I liked until “Jitterbug Perfume,” and even J.D. Salinger wore out his welcome with “Hapworth 16, 1924.” I’d second your nod to Jonathan Franzen, but the truth is, I’ve only read “The Corrections” and “Freedom” — both magnificent — but I haven’t read the earlier works. Hell, I don’t even feel that way about my own writing… which is probably a good thing, come to think of it.

  2. I’d argue that very little of human love is truly unconditional, and that much of it can be broken in extreme circumstances, and this is probably more true of our love for authors than for people we actually know and…well, love. But there are a few authors I will advocate for without reservation unless someday they do or write something I find deeply offensive. When I was a kid, it was Scott O’Dell. Nowadays, it’s Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Charles Wilson. I don’t have to think they’re perfect, but I imagine I’ll defend them as long as I can! With Vonnegut, it’ll be easy, since he’s dead and can’t do anything to offend me anymore. I can’t imagine Robert Charles Wilson doing that either, unless he does a sudden 180 somewhere. Even if he did, though, I doubt I’d let the one work be my sole basis for judgment. Using those critical faculties means being able to separate what is good from what is bad, even if both are created by the same person. In that case, I’d probably defend the earlier works and lament the latter. I’ve seen people who disagree with, for example, Orson Scott Card’s personal views do the same thing for ENDER’S GAME. How someone is in the present isn’t necessarily a reflection of how they were in the past (or how they will be in the future), and you can love the one but dislike the other.

  3. MS says:

    I thought I loved Stephen King unconditionally. Guess not.

  4. Lynn says:

    I loved Lawrence Sanders’ Deadly Sin series from back in the 70’s and 80’s and then his Commandments, but by the time you got to his McNally’s series it didn’t even seem like the same writer. They were just being spewed out for a quick buck as far as I was concerned.

    I also have every single book written by Maeve Binchy because I fell in love with her first novels, Light a Penny Candle and Echoes. She has fluctuated through the years, but I’ve remained a steadfast fan.

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