The Moral Responsibility of the Author

By Arnon Grunberg

There are so many book fairs out there that you could keep yourself busy for one year traveling from one book fair to the next.

Last I weekend, I was in Turin, Italy for 48 hours at the Turin Book Fair.

At every book fair there is this moment that I ask myself: What is the purpose of the book fair, again?

Yes, for agents and publishers the purpose is to buy and sell rights. However, I believe that most rights are sold outside the various fairs nowadays.

But for authors, what's their purpose on a fair?

To meet readers, I have been told.

I observed that most of the readers who come to the Turin Book Fair first buy a slice of pizza and then a soft drink. Then they walk through the various halls without ever touching a book. If you want to meet readers, you might as well go to McDonald's.

But there are also serious discussions organized at these fairs.

Sunday evening at seven, I was supposed to discuss my last novel with an Italian journalist.

The audience consisted of at least seven people who were directly or indirectly part of the publishing house that brings out my books in Italy, and five readers.

It's not a miracle that many people outside publishing have problems understanding publishing in economical terms. I myself have problems understanding this.

After a few minutes, the interviewer asked me what I thought about the moral responsibility of the author.

My intuition was to answer that the moral responsibility of the author is limited to writing the best possible novel.

One should even be aware of novelists who think that they should teach moral lessons to their readers.

But this might have been an easy way out of the question.

So I answered that the concept of beauty in a novel is very much connected to the idea that truth can be found in the novel. The moral responsibility of the author is not to hide unpleasant truths in order to be socially accepted, or even to be liked.

The moral responsibility of the author is to accept that there is something more at stake than the number of copies sold.

But I admit, with five readers in the audience: what else could I have said?

How many readers does a writer need? I would say 10, at least.


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