The Most Private Authors and the Most Public Authors
As folks who categorically shy away from public attention, reclusive authors can be surprisingly adept at stirring the pot when they decide to enter the spotlight. This falls sees no less than three notoriously press-shy authors capturing the public's attention. A documentary, biography and news about five forthcoming posthumous books have made "The Catcher in the Rye" author J. D. Salinger a hot topic yet again, while "the world's most reclusive author" Thomas Pynchon and the similarly press-averse Donna Tartt are each set to deliver an anticipated book—the first, Pynchon's "Bleeding Edge," lands in September (four years after his previous book "Inherent Vice") and the second, Tartt's "The Goldfinch," comes a few weeks later in October, 11 years after her last book, "The Little Friend."
In our current social media-dominated era, it's less common (and more difficult) than ever to win fans without maintaining some kind of active online presence. Readers are now accustomed to hearing from their favorite authors even when they don't have a book coming down the pipeline, whether in the form of an interview responding to come recent event, a blog post or an off-the-cuff Tweet. To honor publicity-shy and publicity-embracing authors alike, we've named our favorite reclusive authors along with their contemporary (read: Twitter-obsessed) counterparts who seldom fail to entertain.
J. D. Salinger was as famous for his aversion to media attention as he was for his generation-defining fiction, which included the novels "The Catcher in the Rye," and "Franny and Zooey" and the short story collection "Nine Stories." He published his last story in 1965, gave his final interview in 1980, consistently blocked all further publications or adaptions of his work and lived most of his adult life in small-town New Hampshire, where he passed away in January 2010. His disdain for publicity, though, has done nothing to deter readers and critics from discussing his work and speculating on the details of his post-publishing life. This fall is proving to be season of Salinger if there ever was one: "Salinger," a new documentary film directed by Shane Salerno that premieres September 6, sheds light on the author through interviews with such notables as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Wolfe, while a comprehensive new biography, "The Private War of J.D. Salinger," co-authored by Salerno and literary critic David Shields, hits shelves September 3. Add to this the revelation by Shields and Salerno that five more works of Salinger's will be published between 2015 and 2020 and you have a full-bore return to the spotlight (albeit a posthumous one) for an author whose lifelong wish was to stay out of it.
Modern-day opposites: John Green and Maureen Johnson
Leading a new class of YA sensations, Green and Johnson have picked up Salinger's torch in recent years by creating stories that, like "Catcher in the Rye," capture legions of young fans with their relatable protagonists and frank, openhearted dialogue. Fortunately for their readers, these authors are much more media-friendly than Salinger, willingly offering dispatches from their daily lives and answering questions about their work on Twitter (@realjohngreen; @maureenjohnson) and across other media, including Green's YouTube series VlogBrothers and Johnson's website.
With the exception of starring in a voice cameo on The Simpsons and narrating the trailer for his novel "Inherent Vice," Thomas Pynchon has evaded the spotlight almost completely throughout his 50-year career as a novelist. As with Salinger, rumors about his identity and life know no bounds (until a few years ago, there was even a theory that Salinger and Pynchon were the same person). Now, the author is coming out with a new novel, "Bleeding Edge," and it promises to be just as convoluted and wacky as the books that made him the literary bee's knees of the 1960's and 1970's, such as "V.," "The Crying of Lot 49" and "Gravity's Rainbow." Will Pynchon, now 76, take this opportunity to reveal a little more about himself? It's unlikely. But fans and sleuths alike can feast on a recent spate of stories about the author and the decades-long effort to track him down.
Modern-day opposite: Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's books, such as "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys," are intricate, wide-scope works that pull readers in with a Pynchonesque mélange of comedy, dark prophecy and absurdism. He has a massive following on Twitter and makes regular public appearances. In fact, his graduation speech at the University of Arts in Philadelphia in 2012 became such a viral sensation that HarperCollins released it as a book.
The author of modern Western classics such as "All the Pretty Horses" and "Blood Meridian" had never given a television interview until 2007, when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss "The Road," which Winfrey had selected for her book club. In the interview, he explained his reluctance to make media appearances, saying, "I don't think it's good for your head. When you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn't be talking about it, you probably should be doing it."
Modern-day opposite: Ree Drummond
While members of the Western-fiction vanguard (McCarthy, McMurtry, Cather) are known for their reticence, bestselling author of "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" Ree Drummond lets readers in on her frontier lifestyle through her Twitter, website and show on the Food Network. Unfortunately, she's too late to the fame game to best McCarthy with an appearance on Oprah. Point, Cormac.
Ever since the 1960 publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird" transformed her into an international celebrity, Harper Lee has remained in her home state of Alabama and consistently declined to speak publicly or give interviews. Though she does make occasional public appearances—she went to the White House in 2007 to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom—she does so on the condition that she won't have to do any talking.
Modern-day opposite: Margaret Atwood
Like Lee, Atwood is known for writing fiction that sparks conversation about social issues (in Atwood's case, feminism and the dangers of too-powerful government), and she's not afraid to share her opinions on politics and current events with her fans. Atwood, whose new novel "MaddAdam" hits shelves in early September, maintains a giant following on Twitter and regularly gives interviews, offering insights in her work and sharing thoughts on science, technology and her life as a writer.
From the age of 18 on, Emily Dickinson almost never left the grounds of her family home in Amherst, Mass., though her time there was certainly well-spent. Her oeuvre, most of which was published posthumously, includes some 1,700 poems whose fierce originality and occasional mordancy speak to the intensity of her introversion.
Modern-day opposite: Susan Orlean
If Emily Dickinson had had the use of Twitter, she might have amassed a following much like that of Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer known as much for her 140-character witticisms as for her books including "The Orchid Thief" and "Rin Tin Tin." Really, is this Orlean tweet from August 13 not a Dickinson poem of the 21st century?: "A supermom almost punched me out at Staples today because I bought the last two-pocket folder. School supplies bring out some fierce sh*t."
The man behind modernist classics including "Endgame" and "Murphy" was so cold on the idea of appearing in public that he skipped the reception ceremony for his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. We imagine this must have plunged audiences who'd been waiting for Beckett into a woeful state of existential malaise and fruitless expectation.
Modern-day opposite: Gary Shteyngart
In his novels "The Russian Debutante's Handbook," "Absurdistan" and "Super Sad True Love Story," Russian-American writer Gary Shteynghart has continued Beckett's tradition of exploring modern despair with absurdist wit. Unlike Beckett, he's not shy about it: In addition to being active on Twitter, Shteynghart created and starred in one of the best book trailers of all time for "Super Sad True Love Story." Recently, he filmed himself using Google Glass for the New Yorker. Plus, he blurbs more than probably any other author on the planet.