Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where you live with who

This morning I conducted a scientific study. (How exciting!) A study which is made a bit questionable by the limits of my own library, and the fact that my library has many more books by women then men. But still, I looked through my contemporary novels at author biographies and found the following results.
- 50 books did not make reference to the writer's partner or family, and 24 books did.
- the 50 books with no reference were split evenly along gender lines.
- Of the 24 books that mentioned partners/families, 1/3 were by men, which was more than I had supposed.
- None of the authors who I knew were gay and lesbian made any reference to spouses/partners
- Writers with famous spouses who are less famous than the writers themselves mention their partners by name
- Writers with spouses who are more famous than they are either don't mention them at all, or don't name them

I've been wondering lately about this sort of information being included in author biographies-- why it is important or relevant? I understand why husbands/wives/partners are so gushingly regarded in book dedications and acknowledgements. (Author acknowledgements are my most favourite extra-textual feature). Of course the writer wants to give due credit, but is this necessarily important to the author biography? One might argue that readers want details of authors' lives, but these details are so vague, there's little point. They basically say, "Oh, and yes, she is married." Or is "...she lives with her husband and children" just another way to say that although she's smart and writes books, she's not turned her back on femininity altogether? Which would make me uncomfortable.

I've had to write three little writer bios this past while, and in none of them have I noted that I live in Toronto with my husband. Though I would have liked them to. If my novel ever sees its way into the world, I would like my biography to end just like that. But I am not sure why-- why does it matter to my professional life? (It is also important here to note whether or not authors actually write their own biographies on published books-- this I do not know). I suppose for many female writers, it's a question of marketing-- readers might like a writer they can relate to, and domestic details make an author seem more accessible. I think also that many writers would argue that their family is an essential part of their life, whose support makes writing possible, and therefore the family deserves a place in their life story. I would assume that a writer of children's books would note if they were a mom or a dad.

And so my scientific study was just as inconclusive as "Do Plants Need Air?"-- my famous experiment at the grade eight science fair. There are just too many variables, and so still I am curious. Why is where you live with who important? Is it really important at all?