I collected this Margaret Atwood quote because it makes me smile every single time I read it. I imagine it was triggered by the exasperation of a successful author who had been inundated with inane questions from earnest fans one too many times. Without exasperation, would you ever equate an author to a duck or a book to paté?
Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté. — Margaret Atwood, novelist and poet (b. 1939)
When I step back and look at this quote seriously, however, I wonder if she’s right. Is the connection between a duck and the paté made from it a good analogy for how a writer is connected to her work?
Bits of the author’s life become part of her work, but they are usually so transformed by the creative process that the reader doesn’t even know they are there. The best fiction is rarely autobiographical and the chasm between the author’s life and the book’s story can be immense.
In addition, the author is made of various parts — imagination, experience, curiosity, determination, skill — just as the duck is made of organs. The book, like the paté, is only made from part of the source, not all of it. The enticing flavor comes from selecting a piece of the original and making it into something concentrated and savory. A book that was truly as the author is would be full of the boring, mundane, and uneven events that fill any human life. While it may be recognizable, the flavor of the full organism isn’t as distinctive because it includes a much larger range of ingredients.
The more I think about it, the more I think Atwood’s quote is funny and right. So I guess I’m a duck.
How about you? Does this analogy make sense to you, or is it just a meaningless joke?