Monday, March 28, 2011

Dear Author: A Reader's Letter

Dear Author,

I am in awe of you. Google gave me this definition when I searched for you, “writer: writes (books or stories or articles or the like) professionally (for pay)” - but you and I both know it’s not just for pay, is it? You work at McDonald’s for pay; you don’t undergo the tedious process of writing a manuscript and then go through the painstakingly laborious act of editing it, and then having it published, just to get paid. You do it because it matters to you. You are a nightingale with a song in its breast that you sing to the world, in the form of your words. I understand that – as a matter of fact, I cherish it, I appreciate it, respect it and am amazed by it. But I think it is time that I introduced myself to you.

My name is X. I am nobody – just a face, behind a laptop screen, that you know nothing of. And yet, I am everybody. For my eyes are the ones reading your work, taking it all in, deriving pleasure from it and sometimes seeking comfort and/or escape in it. Sometimes I am astounded by the words you write, and at times, I am disgusted by them. Sometimes they make me laugh, and at other times, they make me cry. Sometimes I cringe, sometimes I sigh, and sometimes I stare blankly in complete incomprehension. But regardless of my reaction to your words – I am still nobody, and everybody, and I am still your reader. Unless, of course, you write only to please yourself, like me, but then I assume that you would not take the pain to publish your work.

I know that it is not easy, putting yourself out there for the world to judge. Not yourself or the beloved characters that you take years and years to develop. But in the event that I end up feeling not-so-strongly about your characters, it has taken many, many more years to develop your own character, so please don’t tarnish it in their defense. I also know that it is no small task, in this vastly connected yet psychologically detached world of the internet, to find you face-to-face with articulations of dissent. Senator William J. Fulbright said, “We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent.” – for I hope you understand that they only serve to challenge you to improve, hurtle you towards advancement.

I want to make it clear to you; I do not pick up your book just so I can disagree with you. Just like I would not put salt in my coffee, rather than sugar, only so that I can spit it up and exclaim how awful it is – I take NO joy in acts of complete futility. I will not read your book if it does not seem to be something that appeals to me – I have no shame in saying this because I know there are going to be many others who will find it to their liking, and pick it up. In the case that I do pick up your book to read, I assure you that I expect it to please me, I expect it to be good, and in the event that it is – I will give it the praise it deserves, and the credit you are due. I will praise you for years to come, recommend you to everyone I see (on the bus, in the park, at funerals, in public bathrooms – you name it!), or to whichever poor,unfortunate soul who is within hearing-distance. I will tweet it until Twitter inevitably gives me the “give it a rest, sheesh” by showing me the #FailWhale. I might even name a few kids after you or your characters (I’m currently in negotiations with Mr. Reader-man to name our future daughter Sayuri and our future son Darcy – to which he says, we are not Japanese and that he refuses to name his daughter after a geisha [snob], and that Darcy is a last name, not a first name. Thank God, I didn’t tell him about my love for the heathen Heathcliff – that’s a discussion he’s not going to want to have!).

In the event that I find it NOT to be to my liking – as a reader who has invested time in it, time that I thought would be well-spent in your book, I feel like I have a right to state my opinion, and I hope you will respect that. Sometimes I do it in the form of a blog-post, sometimes as a review on a book-vendor’s site, sometimes in the shape of a tweet (and for the advanced nobodies like me, all of the above) – but regardless of where and how I state my opinion, I feel like I’ve earned my right to express my 2 cents worth because I have given my time to YOUR words, to YOUR characters, and to YOUR world. And before you issue a verbal (or written) anathema against me, try and understand that I am merely stating my opinion. To allow me to opine about your work, is the utmost form of respect that you could show me.

Let me also clarify, I know that on the journey to being published – you are constantly seeking approval. Approval from a literary agent, after he/she accepts your manuscript, then from an editor, publisher – there are a million people telling you a million different things, so that when your book is finally published, you are hoping that you have laid that need to rest. And then comes a negative review, and it is as if Pandora’s box has come unhinged, and all that negativity comes flying out, sending you reeling back to that past you, with the needling voice inside your head going, “Please don’t tell me you hated it.” I didn’t. Hate it, that is. I may not have liked it, but I could not possibly hate your book. Hate requires a personal vendetta – and I have nothing against you, or your book. And like you have faced dissent, so will I – there will be many others to counteract my dislike.

The advice to you, Author, is a quote from a poem by one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He says, "Let us forget with generosity those who cannot love us." If my words have cut you under your armor, then forget me, and forget what I have to say – just do not forget that you were once a reader too. As a matter of fact, I’d like to hope/think that you still are one. And that I may one day be where you are. Remain within the dictates of decorum in the face of adversity, and I promise you will never lose readers – you will only gain respect. I’m a reader, a book-lover, who has a compulsive need to read books the way that Octo-mom has a need to have children, like a crackhead is addicted to crack, and like Charlie Sheen is addicted to controversy – so I need you. But let’s face it, Author, you need me too – don’t forget that.

That being said, now that we have been introduced – I hope we will harbor a friendlier, more congenial relationship, and I hope you won’t be a stranger. Drop in for a slice of pie, any time – just make sure you’re bringing the pie with you! If you ever want to borrow a cup of sugar, come waltzing right in. Need help with that flat tire? You know who to call. Just don’t let it be at 2 o’clock in the morning, or else I’ll throw a book at your head – quite possibly your own! I know we’ll get along just fine, Author – for I am nobody and everybody, and I am your friend.

Sincerely,
Your Reader.