Discussions Other

Does the age of the author matter?

I have heard lots of discussions recently about whether the race or gender of an author makes a book more appealing, but I feel both these factors are irrelevant. I have recently stumbled upon a more important factor: The Age of the Author.

I have discovered that I am far more likely to enjoy a book if the author is slightly older than me (I’m 31). If the author is younger than me then the book tends to lack depth and I find I have little to learn from reading it – I just don’t enjoy reading these simpler books.

If the author is significantly older than me then I struggle to connect with the themes in the book – older authors seem to produce more reflective and thoughtful works, lacking the complex plots and action I enjoy.

Connecting with authors who are of the same generation makes sense to me. In real life we tend to become friends with people who are of a similar age group as we have more in common with them. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally want to spend time with other generations, but that we share the majority of time with our own.

Catcher in the Rye was published when J.D. Salinger was just 32. It seems no coincidence that this book has huge appeal to teenagers, but fails to resonate with adults.

Stephanie  Meyer was exactly the same age when Twilight was published. This book is also a teen phenomenon, but seems to have a corresponding fall in popularity as the age of the reader increases.

Audrey Niffenegger was 40 when The Time Traveller’s Wife was published and Lionel Shriver was 45 when We Need to Talk about Kevin shot to fame. I loved both of these books, but have heard many older people (and younger in the case of We Need to Talk About Kevin) saying that they didn’t enjoy them.

At the older end of the spectrum, Marilynne Robinson was 65 when Home was published. I tried really hard to read this book, but it just bored me. It won the Orange prize, so some people clearly love it. I wonder if I am simply not old enough to appreciate the slow, reflective pace of this book.

Offshore wins the prize for the dullest book I’ve ever read, but with an author aged 63 my lack of passion for it can now be understood. Perhaps it will become one of my favourites in 30 years time?

All these numbers seem to support an optimal author age 10 years greater than the reader.

So I propose the formula:

For maximum reading pleasure:

Reader Age + 10 years = Author Age on Publication (+/- 5 years)


I’ve included this table of books, so you can see if my calculation works for you:

Book Author Author’s Age at Publication
The Solitude of Prime Numbers Paolo Giordano 26
Twilight Stephanie Meyer 32
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 34
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell 35
Fingersmith Sarah Waters 36
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell 36
Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes 39
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides 42
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry 43
Generation A Douglas Coupland 48
Possession A S Byatt 54
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel 57
Offshore Penelope Fitzgerald 63
Home Marilynne Robinson 65

These findings could have big implications for the judging panels of major book prizes. If reading taste changes so drastically over a life-time then I think it is important to have representatives of each generation on any panel. Following this theory only those under the age of 30 should be able to spot books that will appeal to teenagers and should be the only ones allowed to judge YA book prizes.

If the big literary prizes, such as the Booker and Orange, want to appeal to a larger audience then they simply need to include a full spectrum of age ranges on their judging panels.

There are of course exceptions to every rule. Saramago was 73 when Blindness was first published in Portugal. I put this down to his genius, one rarely matched whatever the age of the author. Or perhaps he is just young at heart?

What do you think of my theory?

Highly flawed?

….or do authors slightly older than you have a special ability to connect with you?

Has your reading taste evolved with age?

Do you now love books that you once hated?

Should we all start checking the age of the author before deciding to read a book?

I’d love to know your thoughts!!

100 replies on “Does the age of the author matter?”

Ooh, that’s spooky. According to your formula the three books I should enjoy the most are by David Mitchell, Harper Lee and Sarah Waters; ALL of which I have read for the first time in the last year and have LOVED!

What a fantastic idea! I have to say that although I liked Home a lot, I did enjoy more of the titles from the earlier part of your list, which would ring true as I’m 25.9!! I don’t know enough about the ages of my favourite authors to really apply the formula. I agree that Solitude of prime numbers would probably most appeal to teenagers.

Brilliant blog post Jackie!

Verity, I didn’t know the age of most of the authors when I started researching this post. I was actually surprised by how well they seemed to fit the formula!

This is definitely not the case with me – in my teens I used to steal the Agatha Raisin books from my dad when he got them out of the library. Both MC and author were in their 50s at the time.

There was slightly less of an age gap when I read Atonement, and it’s a book I adore.

Tamora Pierce was in her late twenties when she published the first Alanna book. Now she’s in her 50s and I adore everything of hers from back then to now.

And of the circle of friends who I went with to see Neil Gaiman speak, all were less than half his age (including me at 23).

Catherine, Interesting! Perhaps it depends on the genre of books you read?

I enjoyed Agatha Raisin too, but she writes quite light, gentle books that I guess can be enjoyed by any age.

Neil Gaiman seems to write books which teenagers enjoy – perhaps he is just young at heart too?

I’m looking forward to seeing whether I’m the only one that supports my theory!!

What an interesting theory Jackie – you could do a PhD with this idea I think! I have a thing where if I read an author bio and I find out they were born in the same year as me I read the book no matter what!! I tend to find that gender actually impacts on my reading more so than the author’s age – I usually connect more with books written by women. For me sometimes the age of the author comes into play when I am looking at the subject matter of the book – something about that match has to feel right for me. Not very scientific I know!

Karen, LOL! Not sure I want to dedicate several years to researching this formula – a few days is enough for me!

I think I must be a tom boy, as I find the sex of the author makes little difference to how likely I am to enjoy a book.

I’m not sure I’ve read any books by authors the same age as me. I must have done, but have never been aware of it.

Sorry for being overly scientfic – the scientist in me always seems to bubble to the surface eventually!

Some interesting thoughts here Jackie! Am finding it difficult to work out if the theory fits me. I loved Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger (published when she was about 43?) and Wilkie Collins’ Armadale (published when he was 42) so that would make them 15 years older than me. Maybe I’m a bit old before my time 🙂

Perhaps there’s also something about when most writers generally come into their peak / become recognised, perhaps in 30’s and 40’s is the norm, which would mean a higher proliferation of people at that age…

I do think it would make sense however that we connect with people who are a bit older than us when writing. I used to read Just 17 when I was 12 and Cosmo when when I was 15 and they are supposed to be for older audiences 🙂 Perhaps we look for wisdom in those older than us but are still within the age range that we feel is relevant to us.

Novel Insights, My formula allows for +5 years so those book still fit. Perhaps the fact you prefer books at the top end of the age range just means that you have more mature taste than those of a similar age?

I would love to see the age distribution for authors. While I think it is true that there are less under the age of 30 I don’t think the number peaks in the 40s. I’d have thought that authors have an average age of 50+? I know nothing about that really though!

I love the mention of Just 17! I used to read that when I was about 12 too! I always used to wonder if any 17 year-olds actually read it. I think looking for the wisdom of those slightly older than you is exactly what most of us do, whether it is through magazines, TV or books – great point!

It annoys me when writers are pigeonholed by gender and ethnicity, most of my novels have female protagonists for example. While grouping by age is less pernicious, it’s not one that works in my case.

Also I never ever read YA literature when I was growing up. I have shown no development in my readering predilections! I anticipate reading the same challenging, ideas led literary fiction when I’m 60 as I do now.

I want to read contemporary writers who are producing novels now, no matte rhow old they are as they write them.

marc nash, I’m not sure there was any YA literature when we were growing up. I really struggled to think of anything that was regarded as YA when I was a teen – I think it is a new marketing phenomenon.

It will be interesting to see if you really do read the same books when you are 60 – shame we can’t look into the future and find out!

I’m not sure that’s right about YA. The equivalent would have been the Just William books or The Famous Five. They did exist (and I’m not that old!) but I never read them.

I was talking to a bookshop owner last week and he tells me there’s an amazing book coming out in August by a 20 year old American about teens, so the spread doesn’t quite stretch to fit him in.

marc nash, Aren’t they childrens books? I’m sure I read those when I was about 8-10? Not sure they class as books for teens?

The 20-year-old fits into my genius category – allowing for the occasional person of outstanding talent to not fit into my formula!

I could make the same assertion for the “Twilight Books” but I won’t. Oh, I just did!

You’re quite right that 30 years ago there was no YA catergory and distinction, but there must still have been books written for pre-adults? I don’t know as I wasn’t reading at all at that age, but probably adventure stories and war stories for boys – Biggles?

I consider some of the R.L Stine and Christopher Pike books YA. I’ll even add ‘literature’ to the end if we’re calling The Twilight Saga YA literature.

Ruth, You’re right – I do remember reading a few Christopher Pike books as a teen. I’ve just looked him up and his first book was published at the age of 31. All the ones I read as a teen were published before he was 36.

Really, Jackie, this is priceless. My thoughts:

1. When I first say the post’s heading, I thought no, no, no age does not matter, what about Saramago! Then I read it through and given your analysis, I have to concede that you might have a point.

2. Your theory is not flawed at all. In fact, if one accounts for outliers and exceptions for sheer genius (ie writers whose insightful genius far outway limitations due to age), your theory is spot on. The writers who are older than me whose works I enjoy are brilliant – Morrison, Saramago, Atwood, Mahfouz, Marquez, etc. Outside of that, it seems I tend to enjoy the works of writers closer to my age, now 40.

3. I think that we also need to consider writers and books from different cultures as possibly outliers. For me, seems I enjoy most Japanese and Czech lit no matter the age of the writer. What are the chances that they are all geniuses. So reading cultures different from one’s own can aslo be considered as exceptions.

4. I don’t know if my reading taste has evolved over the years as such. what I’ve noticed is that as I read more books, my tolerance for “difficult” texts has increased. I call this my “Beloved effect”. When Beloved first came out in 1987, I rushed out and bought the book, being a fan of Ms. Morrison’s work. I was 17 and I couldn’t read the book, i hated it. I didn’t touch the book for another 10 years. When I did, I read it twice in one sitting. Beloved is one of my all-time favorite books. What had happened to me in the intervening 10 years? Well, I’d read more, had matured I guess and could handle the work.

5. I completely agree with you on the issue of judges. Some people might cry ageism, but I think that judging panels should include younger judges all around. And more broadly, judging panels should reflect the audience or readership of the books under consideration.

6. Finally, I won’t say that we should check the age of an author before buying a book but we should probably keep it in mind.

Question for you then: what about books that just take a long time to write, say 10 years? example: a writer starts a book in their 30s but completes it in their 40s, any thoughts?

Anyway, good posts. I often tell people who like number and science to read more fiction because science and arts go together. You are literary mathematician!

Kinna, Thank you for such a thoughtful comment!

3. I have also noticed that writers from different cultures do not fit my formula as well. I think this is because we do not know as much about their culture and so have something to learn from them, whatever their age.

4. I have also noticed the “Beloved effect” – I love the name!!
I didn’t read Beloved as a teenager. I read it about 2 years ago and enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I’ve just checked and Toni Morrison was 56 when Beloved was published, so perhaps I need another 10 years before I’ll fall in love with it?

My formula is flawed in that the year specifies the publication date – not when they actually wrote the book. It could be that it sat around for years before publication, or it took them 10 years to write. To get a better formula I think you’d need to take an average of the date they started writing and the date they finished. So in your example the age should be 35. Interesting question!

If I look at my list of favourite books from last year, the ages at publication of the authors of my top five (from most favourite downwards) were: 23, 43, 38, 44, and 48 — so your formula holds true for three of those. The others on my list of twelve favourites are all in their twenties, thirties, and forties. (Not sure how that works out as a proportion of all the books I read, though.)

But… the author’s age really doesn’t make a difference as to whether or not I’ll like a book. I’ve read good and bad books by authors of all ages, and can’t say I’ve ever noticed a pattern. I also think there are other factors that inevitably come into play, like a book’s intended audience (e.g. Twilight is very definitely a book for teenagers, so it’s no surprise if older readers aren’t interested in it), and the time a book was written (personally, I’ve always found more recent books easier to get along with than older ones).

It’s great fun trying to work out how the formula fits with one’s own reading preferences, though!

David, It sounds as though my theory is holding up quite well for you. I suggest that the 23-year-old is a genius of amazing talent who would be an outlier on anyone’s list. Who is it? I’d love to try their book!

I also find newer books more enjoyable, but that again leads back to who you are most likely to connect with – someone living in the same time as you, or someone living 200 years ago?

I’m glad you had fun testing my theory!

Oh, I’d absolutely agree that the 23-year-old is exceptionally talented. It’s Eleanor Catton, by the way. Though, to be completely accurate, I believe she was only 22 when she wrote The Rehearsal…

I think your theory holds true in a way, although I think I might want to raise your calculation and make it +15 or something. Or maybe it is just that there is a specific age group that doesn’t quite fit in. For example, I’m 22, but do read and enjoy lots of books that are written by authors that are older than 32. And even though I enjoyed Twilight when I read it last year (which would be a perfect fit according to your formula – and yes, I know Twilight isn’t well-written or anything and holds weird themes of unhealthy love, etc etc I still enjoyed reading it) I absolutely loved the Time Traveller’s Wife while I was 16. Now that I think about it, maybe your formula only works starting from 25-30 year-olds, because I know that a lot of the teen writing out there is done by authors in their 30s or 40s and not in their 20s.
I do agree with the general concept that books by authors in a very different period in their life (for example, 65+ dealing with looking back on their own life and thus being more reflective) are often hard to get into. Actually, I think it might be more related to life-stages kind of think than 10 years per se. There are some pretty interesting theories out there on how people think up their own life story and relate to others, related to age (for example: McAdams – The Stories We Live By). It would also explain some people relating to stories of different age-authors: people struggling with questions that either relate to problems that are usually located in an earlier or later stage of life.

Sorry for my long comment. I do get that 10 years isn’t meant to be completely exact. I just thought it was an interesting thought in general, but was struck by the inconsistency when it comes to adolescent years.


Don’t apologise for the long comment – I love it!

I think you might be right when you say that my theory doesn’t work as well for younger people. I think that authors can successfully write for those younger than themselves. If they are aiming for the teen market then they may well do a great job even if they are much older. Perhaps I need to expand the formula with a greater number of years at the beginning, so for a 20-year-old it will include writers up to 35?

Interesting theory. My reading tastes have definitely evolved but I think it has far more to do with the style of the writing rather than the age of the author. I’m 24 and among my favourite authors are Alice Munro, Penelope Lively, and A.S. Byatt – not exactly the youth contingent. Of course, at this point in my life, most authors are older than me, however I still tend to lean towards those significantly – thirty, forty, even fifty years – older than me.

Absolutely agree that judging panels need to better represent all age groups. The experiences and outlook of one generation are very different than those of another and each have a unique perspective worth considering.

Claire, I wonder if you share other tastes with the older generation? I know some people who don’t have much in common with their peers, preferring to spend time with the older generation. Do you prefer radio 4 to radio 1? (or classical music to pop if you are outside the UK) It is interesting how different everyone is!

Interesting theory, Jackie! It kind of rings true for me although from your list, I see a couple of exceptions: I loved Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but read it in my 40s. And like you, I thought Offshore was dull as dirt, but at 47 I “should” have liked it more.

Having said that, I’m pretty sure I would despise Twilight. 🙂

Laura, Cloud Atlas is an exceptional book, so I guess it is a poor example – David Mitchell must be wise beyond his years.

At 47 you are slightly too young to appreciate Offshore. Perhaps you’ll love it in 2 years time?!

Simon, I think the only way to see if it works for you is to check your favourite reads. I hope you don’t mind, but I decided to check your favourites of 2009. I thought it was very interesting to see that your favourite read, East Lynne was published when Ellen Wood was just 25
The others are older:
Armadale 42
In Cold Blood 41
Small Island 48

but they do seemed to be grouped together. I think I need to get much more data from other readers, but there does seem to be some truth in my theory, for some people at least.

Well, I have to say that I must be completely backwards. In college, and in my 20’s and 30’s I read all the heavy, hard literature and loved it, nary a chic lit or romance or sex book did I read. And for the most part I have stayed on that path. But I have found in my late 40’s that I went toward current fiction and in my 50’s I am even enjoying some YA books like Ruined. And I like more Paranormal that I did when I was younger. I find the heavy literature to be too much of a chore now. I could not get through Home or Possesion, but I read Gone with the Wind and Flowers for Algernon at 16, along with all of Thomas Hardy. So what is up with that?

Rebecca, You must be the type of person who doesn’t fit into ordinary boxes! It is interesting to see that your reading tastes have evolved, but in a different way to most. It looks as though you should ignore the author’s age and just keep reading whatever you like!

Well, I have never fit into any box. But I find my patience for getting into deep and complicated books is less than it used to be, and my comprehension seems to be waning too. Too bad, I really loved deep and serious books.

Interesting theory.

If age matters, I am sure I am in favour of mature writers. It is probably an unfair generalization, but some young writers seem to think of young people´s problems only and see everything from a young person´s point of view. Of course we need books about their problems also, but on the whole I prefer protagonists with a wider perspective.

Dorte, I think it is only natural for young authors to only look at things from the perspective of the younger generation. This is why the books they write are more likely to appeal to people of a similar age to them.

Older authors are more likely to convincingly cover a range of ages and so that is why they will be more appealing to us.

You always come up with such great discussion topics! Tastes definitely change over time, and it makes total sense that if you are young, you will relate to a younger author. Some authors, though are wise beyond their years, and older authors are just plain cool even to a younger generation. So there are many exceptions. The first exception that came to my mind was Normal Mailer. He was cranking them out in his 80’s, and I believe were some of his best, most enjoyable works. If I had the time (which I don’t, as I am “cheating” by blogging while at the book fair right now!) I could probably come up with a dozen more examples. But if we are looking at the law of averages, I guess I would have to agree!

Fabulous post and what a wonderful proposition – there is definitely a logic to your argument, but it doesn’t work for me!

I’ve always read books by authors of all ages at all ages, tending more towards mature authors than young ones though. However, in a few weeks I’m approaching the big *0 (can’t even mention it) and I think I’m regressing in that I now love crossover/YA fiction hugely and much, but by no means all, of that is by younger authors.

Annabel, It is interesting to discover a second person regressing! Perhaps there should be a fork at the older age range – one fork for those that want to reminisce about their lives and another for those who want to re-live some of the better bits!

That’s a really interesting idea. I have noticed that I tend to have problems with books written by younger authors who aspired to something huge- like Paolini- because I just see too many flaws in the writing, it’s just not matured. But young authors writing in a voice from their experience- like Salinger or S.E. Hinton- that works for me, even though I’m a lot older now I still enjoy their books. On the other hand, adult authors writing from a teen’s viewpoint, I often don’t like those books, so I’ve been steering away from YA lately. So I guess for me it’s not, does the author’s age match mine? but, does the author’s age match the character they’re writing about. Because then the voice feels more authentic.

Jeane, Great point! Having a realistic voice for the character is very important. I think most authors are able to realistically portray someone of a similar age to themselves, but I do notice when they are able to get into the minds of a wide range of ages – that takes real skill and impresses me a lot!

I don’t agree with the formula per se, although it’s very interesting to ponder. I DO agree that an older author typically has more in the way to share so therefore their experiences seem a bit richer, more well-rounded but of course there are exceptions to that as well.

So much depends on the reader too. I was forced to grow up quickly and because of that I gravitate towards heavier reads, ones that really make me think but I don’t think.

Interesting post though.

My reply got cut weird…

To conclude… I don’t think that it has so much to do with the age of the author as the age of the reader and the experiences he or she has had.

Ti, I think the experience of the reader also plays a part. For example, I think that people who haven’t had children will not appreciate We Need to talk about Kevin as much as those that have.

Sorry your reply got cut off – I have no idea what happened there!

I have friends of all ages, so maybe that’s why I don’t fit in the formula. But regardless, soon I’ll be too old to enjoy books because no authors will be 10 years older than me by the time they publish!

Seriously, though, I question the formula. I loved Taroko Gorge, and that author is 33 years younger than I am. I haven’t read the books by the two oldest authors in your list, but theoretically, I should love them. I have HOME here waiting for me, so I’ll let you know.

Beth, Perhaps the fact you have friends of all ages means that you are able to enjoy a wider range of books? Knowing younger people really well might make you have more empathy for younger characters in a novel?

I’ll be interested to see what you make of Home!

What a neat concept, but I’m not sure if it holds true for me. Being at the lower end of the age range, I’ve found that books, such as Catcher in the Rye, written by authors within my range are pretentious and so stereotyped that they’re unrelateable. With this said, however, I have found quite a few wonderful books written by the give or take 32-years author group. The same holds true for the over 60 crowd. I have found a few that I really like, but like you, I’ve found some that are absolute borefests. I don’t know. Perhaps I am just all over the place. I’ll have to keep this in mind the next time I love a book!

She, I’m not sure how old you are, but it sounds as though you’ve matured above the Catcher in the Rye level and should concentrate on books written by people slightly older. I think I’ll be checking the age of the author for the next few books I read – I hope you find looking at author’s ages interesting!

Very scientific of you! Overall, I agree with your formula and have tested it myself with some of my favorite books. There is an indicator which often correlates with age – topic of book – which I think heavily influences whether or not I like a book. For example, many books by younger authors cover topics for a younger audience – high school life, teenage romance , etc- and that does not generally appeal to my 36 YO self. Some younger novelists, however, can write brilliantly about topics that appeal to a broader age range.

Collene, Great point! It seems that authors of a similar age to you will write about topics that interest you too. This is just an added reason why you will enjoy them. There are exceptions to every rule, but it looks as though there are more reasons that I thought about why my theory is true in a lot of cases.

Ha! I love this post. While I read mostly older-than-me authors (and I’m 29), there are those rare exceptions to the rule: young authors who wow me! Examples: Simon Van Booy, Miranda July, Lucy Knisley. Oddly, these are writers in the short story and graphic novel areas, so maybe there’s something to be said for these types of writing other than the straightforward contemporary novel.

Andi, I think that graphic novels could well be an exception. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about their authors, but I imagine it requires a very different talent to novel writing – relying more on comedy and art? which are less age dependant?

I think you are on to something, with wide exceptions. I have noticed this trend in myself with movies. I connected it with what I feel is quality. I liked the very popular stuff when young, flashy, without depth. Older and I became an old movie buff, noting depth of character and nuances I never saw before.

With books– I loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ thirty years ago, and love it still.

CurtissAnn, Interesting comparison! I don’t watch many movies, but have moved away from the Hollywood blockbusters as I’ve aged. I think you are more likely to notice the characters flaws as you age, as the special effects start to mean less.

That is an interesting idea. At first I thought you were stretching but maybe you have something. The thing is though, I don’t read much fiction and I’m sure it doesn’t matter as much with nonfiction. I have never paid attention to the ages of authors I’ve read though either.

My favourite author (Alice Hoffman) is currently 58 and I’ve read many of her books over the last 8 years. I’m only 26.

My fav book not by her is The Giver by Lois Lowry and she was 56 when that was published. So so far I don’t fit your theory, but I have been told I’m mature for my age and maybe because I read mostly nonfiction your theory doesn’t fit. I don’t know.

Callista, I don’t think it matters as much with non-fiction. I think all you need to be a good non-fiction writer is the ability to write and a passion for your subject and you can have that at any age.

For to add another data point, I don’t think this formula works all that well for me. I’m 37 now, so the 42-52 year olds would be the range for me Just looking at your chart, I’ve only read one of the books that do fall into the range for me–Middlesex–and I didn’t like it much. On the other hand, I adore Marilynne Robinson, and I enjoyed the Mantel, Byatt, and Fitzgerald books. I also loved Fingersmith, which is well below the range and liked Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. (I’ve read most of these in the last couple of years, except for Mockingbird.)

Of course, that is a small selection. I’d have to have a look at my favorites list from recent years to see how many other authors fit or don’t fit. Really, I think because I like reading about and hearing from people who are different from me, I don’t think it would.

I do, however, agree that our tastes change over time. I’m a lot more patient with, slower meditative prose and experimental storytelling styles than I used to be, which I think has come with experience reading those kinds of books and getting used to them.

Teresa, It sounds as though you enjoy authors of all ages, but older authors weren’t enjoyable until you started to get closer to them in age? That makes sense too, as you have lived through all their life stages.

What an amusing post! Looks like your theory has merits. But what I thought first was about how some books are written for long period of time, and for some the year it is published could be a bit far from when it is written.

I checked all my favorite books and they seem to fit nicely with your theory. To disprove it though, I need to read books that were published by much younger author or much older than me (50s). I don’t seem to be drawn into books from authors in that range of age (another point to confirm your theory?) Though I haven’t tried Saramago!

mee, Yes my theory does have some flaws! The publication date is the oldest the author could possibly be on publication – they will probably have been at least a few years younger when they actually wrote the book.

Interesting, but it doesn’t really apply to me because in my teens and twenties I was loving books written by authors while they were in their 40s and 50s heheh. I also love some books written by younger writers but to me the age doesn’t factor in so much as the author’s style of writing. But your theory made me stop and think!

This discussion is fascinating but also very discouraging for me as a writer. I will be turning 50 this summer. I have no interest in writing what seems to be perceived as an “older” person’s novel or series of books. I write urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I also have two teenagers and I have been working on a YA project. To think that because of my age I would be considered boring to the 15-35 age group is very disheartening.

Moonsanity, I’m sorry to have disheartened you. On a positive note I think that my theory may not apply as much to genre fiction. I think literary fiction might have stronger age related factors than other areas. As an author you will have a better idea of your fan base than I will. If a large age range are interested in your work then my theory obviously isn’t true for you.

Wow, I really like your theory. I’m just a few years younger than you, but The Time Traveler’s Wife and We Need To Talk About Kevin are actually two of my favorites, which pretty closely fits your age theory. I am curious to see if I would appreciate books like Catcher in the Rye now that I am 13 years older than when I read it the first time. One author who is way older, yet I still really enjoyed reading recently was Alice Munro. I think she’s now in her 80’s, but her writing really connected with me. There are always exceptions to the rule, but overall I think your theory is pretty darn acurate!

I find your theory intriguing … but I don’t know if I believe it fully. I’ve read books by young authors that I’ve loved and older authors that I’ve loved. But now I’ll be thinking about it more.

I think age does play a part which is why I tend to not want to know about the author any more than I have to. I have never given much though to ‘older’ writers (those older than me – it’s a subconscious thing I suppose) because there’s so many different writing styles, genres and topics that I can relate to some but not to others. Age obviously doesn’t really play a large part in my readings since I read a lot of classics. Perhaps there should be an ’emotional maturity’ scale? 😉

Having said that, I find I am adverse to ‘precocious’ young writers. I find their work, while entertaining, lacking in depth and substance and some simply shouldn’t have been published.

Mae, Most of the time I am unaware of the author’s age. I was actually surprised by how well my favourite authors clustered around certain age points. I won’t be looking up author’s ages before reading in the future, but it is interesting to look in hindsight.

I’ve never given a thought to the author/reader’s age disparity in relation to reader satisfaction, but I’m tempted to start looking up ages of authors for books I’ve enjoyed. I suspect that I have quite a few outliers, and probably skew older, but I won’t know until I check. I guess you have about fifteen years to go until you can tackle Wolf Hall again!

Mome Rath, It will be interesting to see what I make of Wolf Hall in 15 years time!

Let me know if you come to any conclusions when you investigate your favourite authors a bit more.

When I first read this post I immediately thought this didn’t apply to me because I like such a varied range of authors, have no preference for gender and never even think about race when I am deciding on a book. So, rather than just accepting that, I set out to put your theory to the test.
1. I took ten authors that I have read extensively (i.e. more than 3 of their books) and who I really enjoy. I worked out their age when they published their works. 7 of them fell into the same age range (all the authors ages fell within 6 years of each other, believe it or not), these were an older group and older than me – the other three, however, were within 2 years of each other, and were a younger group, younger than me. When I applied your measurement and calculated my age when I read them, only 3 fell in with the theory. However, I was really surprised by the striking clustering of the ages of my favourite authors and think you are onto something here, I’m just not sure exactly what, though.
2. I do think that judges awarding literary prizes should be of varying ages not least of all because this is likely to bring a different perspective to the table.
3. My taste in reading has changed dramatically over time. Surprisingly, these days and for the last three years or so I have selected much more light hearted fiction, whereas when I was younger all the way through until I did that big switch, I read only business books, autobiographical/biographical works and travel books……which seems to be the other way around from what you suggest. I don’t know what that means either!
Great post, Jackie. You always think of such interesting things to set everyone off talking. Thank you.

Kim, I had no idea it was true until I stated checking my favourite authors. I think some people will be surprised by the findings if they carry out a similar exercise. I’m pleased I managed to make you think about something and I hope you enjoyed your little investigation!

I’m a 30 year old librarian and a huge fan of YA lit, and I have the same feelings towards the generational gap when it comes to authors about five years my junior. The slightest mention of TV shows and fashion (in books about teenagers) that pop up will irritate me because they’re not familiar. At the same time, authors who write completely for my year tend to over cite pop culture. But Megan McCafferty, who is about seven years older than me, writes the most amazing series (the Jessica Darling books) where the lead character is in a more “now” generation, but Megan writes with the wisdom of having lived those years as part of a different generation.

I have to say that the first types of books that came to mind when I saw this article are the books written by young people. For example, Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” books. Tweens loved them, but I thought the writing was terrible. I kept wondering, though, that if I hadn’t known he was 15 when he wrote the books, would I have judged them so harshly?

And, sadly, when I see a much older person in the author photo for a somewhat romantic (literature, not romance novel) book, it kinda creeps me out about the intimate scenes because it brings my parents to mind, and that’s just icky! 😉

Jenny, I have to agree with you on Eragon – I don’t think I got past 50 pages!

I hadn’t thought about popular culture – that will be an additional barrier to understanding books written by a different generation, but also something that bonds a book with those of a similar age.

I loved Black Swan Green by David Mitchell as it brought back memories of the TV shows, food and clothes of the 80s. I think that would be lost on people who didn’t grow up in that decade.

Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time!

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that disliked Eragon!

After I posted, I realized that I should have said that in terms of pop culture, I think some authors don’t get it right when they’re not writing for their own generation (by adding too many references), or it’s just a little too close to my age but a little young so it doesn’t mesh well with my adolescent memories, but then some people like Megan McCafferty write about a completely different generation from her, or me, and it rings completely true.

Jess Riley (“Driving Sideways”) is just a couple of years older than us, and her references to the protagonist’s youth were tons of fun.

Maybe it’s easier to deal with pop culture that’s your age or a few years older, because if you have older siblings, you’re going to become immersed in it at a younger age? But you don’t really pay attention to the pop culture items from a younger sibling’s generation.

Looked through your blog and love the books you’ve selected and the reviews!

Jenny, I’m afraid I’m not familiar with any of the authors you’ve mentioned, but agree that having siblings of a different age will help. I have a friend with brothers and sisters 10 years older than her and she knows much more about their music, films etc than things released when she was a teenager.

Thanks for the kind words about my blog – I hope you decide to come back and comment again!

Hmm, not sure I agree. Sorry! Again, I am under twenty-five, so maybe my opinion doesn’t count that much! I love Catcher, and Fitzgerald was only 29 when Gatsby was published.

Maybe this is something I should come back to in six years time?

Very interesting concept. It certainly made me think about what have been my favorite books lately. Both as a reader and as a writer. I’ve had three books published over the last eight years, starting when I was 40. And I’ve found that as I try to write another one what interests me has changed. In fact, I’m working on one book that revisits the characters of my first book ten years later and will, of course, deal with different issues. So I imagine it won’t appeal to most 20 or even early-thirty year olds. I’d never really thought much about age in publishing before. But I think you’re on to something…. Thanks for the great posting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *