Over the years, I have occasionally been surprised by a comment of a reviewer of one of my books, when something I have written has obviously pushed a button in that reader…sometimes with a good result, sometimes not.
The truth is that all readers bring their own history to the time they spend in the author’s world, and a writer cannot predict what the result will be.
I now have an example of the reverse happening: I am bringing my own baggage to the table, and it is affecting deeply the way I regard an author and his story.
The book is non-fiction, a winner of the US National Book Award back in the 1970s: The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. It remains a classic – the quintessential story of a physical journey matching a spiritual one – a man “in search of himself” or looking for meaning in life, in this case looking to Eastern philosophy and trekking through some of the most remote mountains of Nepal to a Buddhist shrine on the Crystal Mountain. [Hmmm – sounds almost like a fantasy cliche setting…]
The writing is often lyrical and moving; the story fascinating – yet I had a problem with it right from the beginning. Why? Because the author – having lost his wife to cancer – elects to go on this journey soon afterwards. He has children, including an eight year old son he leaves with friends.
And this is where my mother instincts kick in big time. He goes off to make what is a personal and therefore inherently selfish trip, from which – given the dangers and remoteness of the region – he might possibly never come back. Certainly he is out of contact with anyone back home for a number of months. And he does this to a boy of eight who has just lost his mother.
So when the cover blurb babbles on about spiritual adventure… soul striving … radiant and deeply moving, etc etc, the mother part of me is asking: yes, but how could you do this to your young son at this devastating time in his life? At whose expense was your spiritual journey?
I guess mothers tend to have a different perspective towards what constitutes an appropriate time for personal development.
I know my baggage is ruining the book for me.