Author & Friend: the Moment of Truth

Detail of an image by Christoph Michels via WikiCommons

Detail of an image by Christoph Michels via WikiCommons

So you have this friend, the author.

He’s writing a book. Or so he says. He spends years of working away in solitude honing his craft. While others are at music festivals or taking holidays in Laos or having kids and buying houses, he’s working on the book. This book is his whole life. He wakes up in the darkness to find time to write it. He churns through relationships but there’s always the book. He knows he won’t make much money from it, but he does it anyway, much to the bewilderment of his friends and family.

He finally gets it published. You’re invited to the launch. You are one of the family and friends who buy the book. You ask him to sign it in case, you know, he gets famous and the book might actually be worth something some day. You take it home and it lies on your bedside table for a few days. You promise yourself you’ll read it just as soon as you find the time, but the time never seems to want to be found. Meanwhile, it’s well received - you read the review in the paper with a slightly guilty conscience - but sure enough it’s no bestseller. Your friend is going to have to keep waiting tables/answering customer complaints/[insert menial labour here] for another few years while he writes another book.

Finally the time comes when you know that you’re going to be bumping into your friend the author somewhere. Maybe your friend the author asks you to have coffee next weekend. You remember your friend the author knows you bought his book because stupidly you asked him to sign it, and you feel like you have to read it because he’s going to expect you to say something about it and you know you can’t just pretend to have read it because you’re just not that good a liar

So you start reading the book. Maybe it’s because you’re reading in a rush, maybe it’s because you’re reading it out of a sense of obligation, but for whatever reason you’re just not getting into it. You think, maybe it’ll settle down in a while, but after reading a few more pages there’s no denying it: you are hating this book. It’s all you can do to even finish the thing. So you start skimming through the book, but that just makes it worse: now it’s a mindless jumble of words and names and random lines of dialogue. You read the last couple of pages, hoping that might clarify things somehow, but the ending makes no sense. You close the book. You ask yourself how long you’ve been friends with the author. You remember some fun times you had together. You realise how much you like and respect this person, your friend the author. And you remember that you’re having coffee with him tomorrow.

What do you do?

Update: @rcwalsh, a Wheeler Centre Twitter follower, sent us this link, adding, “Lots of attitude but good points about reading ‘friends’ work.”

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