On The Seemingly Unread Authors of Amazon

Image by Public.Resource.Org via Flickr

Whenever I read a particularly unique and perceptive piece of writing, I always return to the start of the work to take a second look at the author’s name. But upon discovering that I had never heard of the writer before and then later seeing that their books had no reviews on major websites and searches for their name were drowned out by the many other anonymous people who were apparently just like them, I would feel a reflexive sense of regret that this writer did not have the fame and renown their work properly deserved. How unfortunate, I would think, that this person did so much and did it so well, and yet their work was seemingly for nothing since it goes unread and unappreciated.

But this perspective perhaps is not, and certainly should not be, the way these so-called ‘unread writers’ see themselves, and, more deviously, represents an inaccurate framing of what is truly significant and influential in the world. The publicity a viewer ascribes to an achievement is such a clear function not only of what the viewer values (for why would she pay attention to the publicity were she not intrigued by the work itself), but also of what the culture values, that it’s difficult to say conclusively that this recognition has any objective standard. And we are so surrounded by the external trappings of success — the money, the positions of power, the self aggrandizing, but myopic, cultural relevance — that we begin to believe these things are worthy of pursuit in of themselves, or that they are more valuable than their experiential antecedents.

There are many books* written by writers who you (and most people) have never heard of which have had profound influences on my life. None of these writers know who I am — a fact that exists at the core of doing any creative work that is eventually released to a largely anonymous public — but they have affected me. And thus the significance inherent in these works exists not in their number of reviews on Amazon, or in the number of articles written about them, but in the impact they have in the lives of individual readers, both readers who themselves may eventually have profound and well advertised effects on the world and readers who will live, what looks like from the outside, more pedestrian lives. And although this impact is sometimes evident in the standard media channels, it is no less diminished if it is not.

Moreover, having myself done work that only a few people have seen, it has become clear to me that if the inception and motivation for the work has its origins in a good place (i.e., a place which is not focused on obtaining the standard measures of success), there is typically a deep satisfaction in doing and eventually finishing the work regardless of any subsequent outcome. This satisfaction, I like to believe, is what these anonymous authors obtained by writing their books and articles; the sense of a personal need fulfilled and a good piece of work completed. Given this, why otherwise should they care what anyone thinks concerning the popularity of their work?


Robert Root Bernstein: Discovering

Elizabeth Garber: The Language of Physics

Karl Iagnemma: The Nature of Human Romantic Interaction

Silvan Schweber: QED and the Men Who Made it

John Holt: Why Children Fail

Jon Schmidt: Disciplined Minds

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated mobolaji’s story.