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It finally happened to me last week. There was a spectacular wreck in my neighborhood two doors down from my house – the type that gets everyone outside to watch. (They are truly rare on my street, which is a half-mile long dead end, and this happened in the middle. How the driver got up to the required speed in an eighth of a mile is something everyone still wonders.)
You know some people in your neighborhood, and you do not know others. Introductions were being made among those who did not know each other. One guy who lived across the street and four doors down moved in about three months ago. We shook hands and exchanged names.
“Are you the author?” he asked. “My wife has some of your books. I really liked them.”
I admitted I was that Mark Lardas.
Authors are anonymous. I published my first book seventeen years ago, and this is the first time a stranger has recognized my name because they had read one of my books – as opposed to someone coming to a book signing or talk because they wanted to meet me. My sons told me that on several occasions they wee asked if there dad was “Mark Lardas,” the guy that wrote one of the books I have had published by Osprey. I kind of believed it because the one asking was typically someone in Boy Scouts or Civil Air Patrol. Teenaged males are the types who read the books I write. (Well, some of them do, when they are not chasing girls.) I had never met these guys so I could never be sure whether my sons were pulling my leg or trying to offer me some reassurance.
What got me was something my neighbor said after I admitted I was an author. He said it was nice to have someone in the neighborhood who is smart enough and wise enough to write. That was something I have encountered over the years: the belief that authors are somehow smarter and wiser than other mortals because they are published.
Want to add 10 points to your perceived IQ? Get a book published. It is a joke I have often told. It is funny because it is true. People really do think you are smarter than average and wiser than most once you have a book published.
But it has to be a book. I was a writer for 10 years before my first book appeared. I had written hundreds of magazine articles. No one was impressed with me. Once that first book came out, I was the go-to guy for advice among folks who knew I had published a book.
Why is that?
I think part of the answer is there is a lot of wisdom locked up in books. Especially older books that are still generally read: Don Quixote, Vanity Fair, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World. Folks like Cervantes, Thackeray, Twain, and Huxley have a claim on wisdom.
Yet there are a lot of foolish and silly books written: Mein Kampf, The Klansman (the inspiration for the movie The Birth of a Nation), Chariots of the Gods, The Harrad Experiment. And think of all the slapdash political biographies and celebrity books that get published every year. (Is there anything sillier than Princess Diana worship books? Except maybe anything written about the Kardashians? I am sure Diana was a nice person and all, but what did she do other than marry the wrong man? And let’s not get into the Kardashians.)
I think what happens are the foolish books get quickly forgotten, (except when there is a historical reason to remember them, as was the case with Mein Kampf). The wise books are remembered. When people think of books in their mental inventories, the wise books vastly outnumber the foolish ones. As a result, book authors get the benefit of that memory. Books contain wisdom. That means authors, who produce them, are wise.
If people wish to think me particularly wise, I am good with that. Most authors are willing to feed that belief. Who doesn’t want to be told they are wise?
But what wisdom I do have has nothing to do with my writing. It is more related to the accumulation of life experiences over 62 years on earth. As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” I have a lot of “experience.”
Authors are people, not fonts of wisdom. Anyone who makes their living by writing is a craftsman, every bit as much as a carpenter, plumber, or machinist. In my experience, most good craftsmen have wisdom. Especially in their field, but quite often in general life. They, too have acquired experience through their work.
I am not saying ignore what writers have to say. What I am saying is weigh they wisdom by what they say – and maybe weigh the advice of others based on their experience, rather than their job title.