Greetings, gentle readers! Welcome to the very first installment of Am I the (Literary) Assh*le, a series where I get drunk and answer your burning (anonymous) questions about all things literary.
When it comes to the writing world, it seems that everyone’s got an opinion. And sometimes we like to revisit those opinions online, usually in a highly cyclical manner—every three months or so, give or take—at a frenzied pace designed to drive people wild (see: are blurbs really necessary, come on we need blurbs, why is there so much sex in everything, why isn’t there more sex in everything, why are the classics so bad, why are the classics so good and why can’t anyone read nowadays, audiobooks aren’t reading, of course audiobooks are reading, why do adults read YA, why are you gatekeeping YA, libraries should do more, libraries are doing all they can they are stretched to the limit have you completely lost it, etc, etc, etc, hallelujah, forever, amen).
Before we dig in, it’s important that I point out the obvious here: generally speaking, I don’t ever know what I’m talking about. But much like everyone on the Lord’s internet, I do have some Opinions™! And I definitely have some beers. I think if we combine those two factors, we should get some satisfying results. At the very least, it should hopefully be funny. And laughter’s the best medicine! I learned that from the movie Patch Adams (one time I read the Wikipedia plot synopsis; medical laughter and Robin William’s in a red clown nose are all that I remember).
So lemme crack open a cold one—you feel free to do the same, buddy—and let’s see what we’ve got on the docket for today.
1) AITLA for thinking reading should never ever be a competition? Just read what you want and stop telling us how much you’ve read unless we specifically ask. I care more about whether one person enjoyed the one book they spent all year reading than Sharon who read a billion books this year and doesn’t remember any of them.
First off, congratulations to Sharon! A billion books! I knew you could do it. Total faith.
Second, and more seriously, I think we can all relate to this question—at least a little bit. If you’re reading this advice column, I’m going to assume a few things (I know, “you know what happens when we assume”—but hey, I’ve always been an ass-man): I assume that you’re a reader and I assume that you might be a writer. And as writers, it’s imperative that we read—anything and everything!
The biggest hurdle we face when it comes to books is how goddamn many of them there are in the world. It’s an uphill battle to try and read everything out there, and let’s face it: it’s a battle we’re going to lose. There are simply too many to get to all of them, folks.
But what’s at the heart of your question, I think (unless that’s just the beer talking), is the fact that you feel that people are competing when it comes to how much they’re reading. I think it’s easy for us to feel that way.
Sites like Goodreads (say it three times and she appears like Bloody Mary) impress upon us that reading can feel like mass consumption—more like pounding fast food than enjoying a nice, leisurely meal. But as a big fan of fast food, I think there can be room for both!
We can fly through books or we can sit around with them and take our time. It’s possible when people are posting about how much they’re reading, they’re simply doing it for their own pleasure—and that’s what reading is supposed to be about. Our individual enjoyment. I think we can say a hearty good for you to those people posting and keep on keeping on at our own steady pace.
Next caller… And next beer!
2) My question is: when we see writers we admire out at hotel bars, or really anywhere in public, is it okay to approach them? Is it annoying?
I genuinely love this question because I don’t think there’s one right answer. It’s going to come down to personality and occasion. I think we could put a few ground rules in place, though!
Is the person in question at a private dinner that looks romantic? Are they in the middle of a tense-looking conversation with someone? Are they talking on the phone? Are they walking into a public restroom? In any of these instances, I think you would take your social cue how you would in any other related situation: not today, friend, maybe another time.
On the other hand, is this person at a writing festival? Are they at a big, noisy bar? At a concert? At a big public venue? I’d say it’s probably fine!
Then there’s that tricky middle ground. Because there are some people, like me, who are natural extroverts and would welcome with open arms the chance to talk to you and hang out. But other people, more introverted people, might not skew in that direction.
I think it’s a wise idea to consider what you might already know about that author. What’s their online situation? Are they a person who interacts with others frequently or do they seem standoffish? Are they bubbly and talkative or do they seem quieter and prefer seclusion? Have they pointedly said they like to be left alone? Then pal, you’ve already got your answer.
Overall, I think that most authors (myself included) would be thrilled to have someone come up and give them the very nice compliment of recognizing them and talking about their work. If you’re feeling iffy, perhaps err on the side of caution—walk up, say a brief hello—and let the other party take it from there.
All this to say: if you ever see me at a bar, please say hello! And let me buy you a drink.
Last call! And last beer!
3) How many literary nemeses is too many literary nemeses? Is it okay to be creatively motivated by revenge?
Once again, we’ve cycled back. A classic literary argument, just like times gone by. In the good ol’ days of Twitter (RIP to a real one—except most of us are still there, clanking our chains and groaning in the mausoleum), we must have gone through this question at least fifty times. People have valid concerns and arguments for both sides of this debate.
I’m going to keep my answer simple, though. Have only enough literary nemeses that you can still keep track of them all (or else what’s the point). And if your writing feels better and fresher because it’s motivated by revenge? Then hey, more power to you.
Thanks for hanging out with me, friend. It was a good first day on the job.
And remember to send me your questions! I’ve got a lot more beers left in the fridge.
Are you worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at AskKristen@lithub.com, or anonymously here.