Books and Virtue

When I say that a book is good, people often take this to mean that I agree not only with every word of it, but with everything the author ever said, and also that I endorse every action the author ever undertook.

In reality, I mean exactly what I say: it’s a good book. A discussion of whether the author is a good person is of no interest to me. Books aren’t a product of spotless, luminous virtue. In fact, virtue is of absolutely no help in writing books.

9 thoughts on “Books and Virtue

  1. “In fact, virtue is of absolutely no help in writing books.”
    Exactly. Virtue turns very easily into sanctimoniousness when put into writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, gosh. I try very hard NOT to know anything about my favorite authors’ personal lives. If I’m emotionally or even intellectually attached to the book, I do not want to know. Learned my lesson after tracking down info on a couple of authors whose books I adored, like twenty years ago. Have never done it since. If I love your fiction, I do NOT want to know what kind of person you are (Forrest Carter), and I do not want to read your collected letters after your death (St Exupery). If I loved your autobiography (West with the Night), I do NOT want to know what other people who knew you IRL had to say about you. I’m much happier not knowing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is why Heinlein published books with contrasting viewpoints. There was a time when people were trying to ascribe his worldview to his books so he deliberately wrote books that contradicted what the public thought that he thought.

    I don’t know anything about his life or his actual thoughts (other than that he liked to make fun of the authorial intent movement). And I don’t want to. If more people took authorial intent as the fallacy it is, the world would be a better place.


    1. “he deliberately wrote books that contradicted what the public thought that he thought”

      I hope to god that that means that he wasn’t really a fan of parent-child incest…. really do hope that.


      1. Some people find it necessary to point out that that particular work was written when Heinlein had a brain tumor (they separate his works into three parts—early, affected by tumor, and post-surgical). I haven’t read this particular book but it sounds very much like an exploration as to why exactly incest is inherently uncomfortable and why it should remain so when all scientific reasons have been eliminated—since those reasons are often cited as the primary reasons for a society to avoid it. A lot of people don’t even think about it because it’s so uncomfortable, and so forcing them to think about it in the light of day means forcing them to acknowledge that this exists.


  4. All books are bad books.

    Yes, you knew that was coming, didn’t you? 🙂

    They’re all bad because they necessarily never finish the exploration of the subject.

    Aldous Huxley referred to the writers of books as “the great abbreviators”, and it’s with this sense of unfinished business that I regard all books as bad books.

    Once you accept that all books are bad books, you write them and read them anyway, and you are no longer bound to the concept of a book being good in terms of how complete or appropriate it is, let alone its aesthetics or its consonance with a particular reader’s forms of grievances in life.

    Instead, you look at your bad books from the perspective that they weren’t a waste of anyone’s time.

    Extremely bad and awful books are always a waste of time, and shouldn’t be encouraged.

    But being merely bad never stopped a perspective from getting across.

    Anyone who wants a novella idea, try this one: The Library of the Gods.

    The Library has an interesting quirk in its environmental makeup: it preserves life, to a point, but it does not cheat death, and so while you may not grow hungry or thirsty during your visit, you will still age at your normal rate.

    All of the books in the Library are complete explorations of their subject matter from all time periods, including future time periods from the perspective of the reader.

    Within the Library of the Gods may be found the dessicated bones of mortals who were foolish enough to pick up one of these books and attempt to read it in its entirety.

    Silly mortals, did you not know this was the Library of the Gods?

    All of the books in the Library of the Gods require immortality as well as a nearly immortal attention span in order to finish even a single book.

    The Library of the Gods was of course left unlocked as a trap for mortals who aspired to become Gods without putting in the effort to discover how to become immortal first.

    Of course, there are so many bad books you can read, but how many bad books can you read in a lifetime, and are you ever sure you’re reading the right bad books?

    Also, methylethyl: don’t ask, don’t even guess, and most certainly don’t tell. 🙂


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