Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

The Age of Authors

After we had finished painting, N. and I decided we needed to shelve our books, but in a new order. After some discussion, we decided to do it based on the year an author was born.

Yes, we're that kind of geek.

I am sure there are people out there like us, people who organise their collections by the strange strands of association that exist within their head, and who are occasionally given to a bit of reorganisation for fun, and because of the new lines it draws in your head. For example, in organising our books based on date of birth, we have discovered that a lot of the authors we own were born in the 1930s and 1940s, in addition to a lot born at the turn of the century. Kathy Acker, 1947. James Ellroy, 1948. Lucius Shepard, 1947. Margaret Atwood, 1939. Umberto Eco, 1932. Michael Moorcock, 1939. Maya Angelou, 1928. Haruki Murakami, 1949.

And so it goes.

A lot of these authors, born really in the first half of the twentieth century, have relatively solid bodies of work and established names. By and large, their work is put out through major presses. Not all, mind--and some cross between the two, or began in independent presses or mainstream obscurity before becoming well known. Philip K. Dick, 1928, for example.

What's interesting to note, however, is that when authors become younger in the collection, much their work is published through independent presses. That's not to say that there aren't young authors out there making a tidy amount of major publishing houses. There is a batch of young adult authors in their twenties and thirties, if I remember right, but I have no interest in the work that they do (I know, I know, so many of you do, but I don't understand how you all dig stuff aimed at a teenage audience and their reading level). What this means is that, so far, in working through the books, the youngest authors are born in the seventies--and I am sure there are younger, lurking in the piles. But, at the moment, it's authors like Simon Logan, 1977. Catherynne Valente, 1979. ZZ Packer, 1973. The list is a lot smaller but the interesting thing to note is the amount that the author has published either in independent presses, or by his or herself.

I don't really know what to make of it, to be honest. Sometimes I am shocked by the year an author was born. For example, I own one L. Sprague de Camp novel, which I never really liked, but yet was still surprised to find he had been born in 1907 (and died in 2000). I must admit to being vaguely curious to read his biography of Robert E. Howard (1906, a year before Camp, but dying much earlier through suicide at 1936) and Lovecraft (1890), but I've never put much time into looking for the books. Both Howard and Lovecraft hold limited appeal to me. But as with de Camp, I was surprised when I saw that Raymond Chandler was born in 1888, and Dashiell Hammett in 1894, since for some reason, I had always thought of the latter as being the more senior to the first due to his voice, which I found much more modern.

Sometimes, I must admit, an author's age can be hard to track down. Ellen Kushner (1955) proved to be a bit difficult, mostly because I never scrolled down to the bottom of her wikipedia page and jumped to the ISFDB, where it is listed. Some of the small press authors I haven't got to, yet, will I suspect, be an issue--and I look forward to the emails I send to authors I know that have the line, 'What year were you born?' in it only. I may even do it to authors I don't know. Who will reply first, you think? Should I tell them that the older you are the more cred you have as an author? Do you think they'll like that?

Maybe, maybe.

Maybe, on the other hand, I'll be ignored.

Or chased down a road by elderly, wheelchaired authors. I look forward to that.

It's fun though, and it's also leaving both N. and I with questions on why we read so many older authors, why it is that younger authors, people our own age and generation, are not who we naturally drift towards and read as much. Is it that they don't speak to our world view? That they struggle to find outlets and avenues to get published? (This is, I know, true, though I would hesitate to say that it had a lot to do with age per se--that, by this, I mean that the age of an author is actively stopping them from being published) Is it that younger and younger authors are being drawn elsewhere, to different modes of publishing, to genres I find unappealing?

Or is it something else, entirely?

At any rate, I'm finding myself slightly obsessed and consumed by dates, without knowing what or where they go, or if they mean anything. I suspect that in the grand scheme of things, what they represent is certain social changes--post war births, rise in technology and education, an ever expanding life expectancy, but that doesn't diminish the joy of seeing the groups that emerge and the lines you can draw between certain age groups.

Because, like I said, we're that type of geek.

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