The Importance of Authorship

Dear Reader,

It seems silly to say how important it is for a book to have an author. How could it not? Maybe there truly is one out there generated by random key-punching monkeys? But the truth is many books these days, particularly those we use to educate pur children, do not have an author. Do you see the difference? It is not about “Did some human have a hand in creating this?” It is about “Is there a mind behind this? Is there some one person with ideas he or she wishes to communicate?”

I was reminded of this fact recently as I was reading through Anthony Esolen’s book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (see my review here). He uses the phrase “peculiarities of authorship.” Actually the whole sentence is a good one. Esolen tells us that to destroy our kids’ imagination “Textbook manufacturers should flatten out all the peculiarities of authorship” (p. 103). He is correct, but I almost think just pondering over that one phrase,  “peculiarities of authorship,” is enough. I have been rolling it around in my mind, and here is what I have come up with: When we read a book, we connect with the mind of the author (this I have learned from Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy); if there is no author, there is nothing to engage us, no one to connect with. I realize this is not an utterly profound idea but this is the first time I have really thought about it this way, about why it is so important that a book not be written by committee. As Esolen says later in his book:

“Five people can have a conversation. A thousand people can only make noise.” (p. 206)

Have you ever listened to someone who has a passion? A friend of my mother’s once invited us over to see his train paraphernalia. I didn’t think I was interested in trains and railroads but his passion was infectious and made me feel at least for a time like trains were the most fascinating thing around. That is the sort of experience, whether live or in writing, that you can only get when an individual mind is allowed to shine through. That is the power of authorship.

Now a book written by two people is still much better than once written by ten, but I imagine that even then there are more compromises that have to be made. One person doesn’t quite like the way another has put something so they haggle over it and come up with a phrasing they can both accept. Perhaps the book is better for it, but perhaps also something is lost. I am a little in awe of authors, not so much that they are able to write, but that they allow so many people to glimpse the interior of their minds. They open up this most private place. I think this is probably even more true of fiction writers who cerate a world for us or allow us to see the world as they do. I would think it is a very humbling thing to open oneself up in that way and allow others in, knowing they might not like it, might disagree or be critical. But I am very glad they do let us in, and if there are odd bits, it is because they reflect a unique human mind. Those are the peculiarities of authorship.


One response to this post.

  1. […] of Your Child, Anthony Esolen speaks of the “pecularities of authorship” (p. 103; see this earlier post). I don’t know how the textbooks Oppewal advocates were written, but many have multiple […]


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