There is an Irish saying that means, roughly, "What one person writes, another can never truly understand. Others can only interpret."
I stumbled across this the other day as I did some research for some St. Patrick's Day writing, and it really made me pause. As an avid reader, and an almost equally avid reviewer, I spend hours of my life each week trying to understand what others have written. Trying to see what is on the page, and why and how it is there.
In hindsight, I believe this is why I find author interviews and author biographies as fascinating as I do. After listening to an interview with Mark Helprin included at the end of the audio version of Freddy and Fredericka, I suddenly realized that the Mark Helprin I had concocted in my head was actually nothing like the Mark Helprin of real life. And knowing that changed my understanding of his writing, somehow. His claims that he does not, in fact, write--or even like!--magical realism made me pause, as I have always considered both Freddy and Fredericka and Winter's Tale to be books of magical realism at its very finest.
And upon reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, a history of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I found that my annual re-read of the classic Christmas story was changed, not necessarily for better or for worse, but changed nonetheless.
Part of me loves this change, feeling as though I am coming closer and closer to understanding what the book was intended to be, rather than what I have made it for myself. But the other part of me, perhaps a larger part, believes that I am losing something in this act of understanding, as I have lost the ability to define for myself what I want to take away from my latest read.
At the end of the day, I think the old proverb may be on to something; do we, as readers, really ever know what the author has written, or can we only know our interpretation of it?
I wonder what you all think: Is it important to know the author, or the history of a book, in order to come closer to understanding the books true meaning, or does it not matter--should the book stand on its own, open to the individual interpretation of its readers?
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