I love chatting with my fellow writers on Twitter. The ability to do so is what turned me from a Twitter dabbler to an enthusiast. Being able to reach out and let an author—and the world at large—know how I loved a book or piece of writing in one click is a singular joy. Sometimes it has other benefits—the person follows me or reads my work, sometimes we even become friends—but just being able to send them this low-key, non-intrusive love note feels good in and of itself. The connection I feel with a book I love can been stunningly deep, this gesture of reaching out to the author is small, light, but still meaningful.
These days, when I go to write something to an author on Twitter—say Maria Semple—and they’re nowhere to be found, I feel in some tiny sense unmoored and disappointed, like I’ve discovered they’re no longer living.
I’m thirty-three, a peculiar age in that I’m technically in—but in many ways not of—the millennial generation. It means that most of my life happened entirely without the presence of social media and smart phones. I didn’t own a cell phone of any kind until I was out of college. I talked to other teenagers (or “teenagers” *shudder*) in AOL chatrooms (scree-errr-chhhh), I bought wagon axles in the general store on Oregon Trail.
For most of my life I read books without updating anyone other than the next friend who asked me for a reading recommendation. It was a given that the act of reading was a solitary, one-way experience. You’re only option was to write an author you loved a fan letter—which it never occurred to me to do. Once I worked in New York publishing, I met lots of authors in person. Some of them were deeply charming, some were downright off-putting, but there was always something surreal about being faced with a person you’ve become so intimately acquainted with on the page.
Once, when Ian McEwan was visiting the Doubleday offices from England, I drilled my friend Chastity—his publicist’s assistant—for his whereabouts in the building. I contrived to be carrying something to the copy machine the moment I knew he’d be arriving on our floor. When I saw him—kind eyes behind signature spectacles—I stood stunned for a brief moment, before booking it off down the hallway towards the copier. His work was too dear to me to risk having a moment of awkwardness. What if he was dismissive? What if he was, like several distinguished male authors I’d met, an unabashed ogler? (I have no reason to believe that Mr. McEwan is either of these things, by the way, he has a sterling reputation). I could easily have asked his publicist Nicole to introduce me, but Ian McEwan the artist was too important to me to risk it on a moment in the presence of Ian McEwan the man.
The desire to connect can cut both ways. One of the most buzzed about authors of the last few years is Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, who is not only not on Twitter, but completely anonymous: with people speculating that she is everything from a male to a group of authors writing together. The mystery seems to be working for her—though it’s earned her some scorn from the press—and she represents a particular fantasy: that of being able to produce one’s work entirely in peace. The hustle of trying to promote yourself a writer, of putting yourself out there, can be wearing.
The way we read—the way we interact with art and artists as a whole—has fundamentally changed. Social media provides a cozier connection to those we admire than was ever available to us previously. No artist should be feel beholden to this—you don’t owe anyone access to your personal life—but insofar as reading and writing is about making a human connection, I can’t help but think that the ability to share the love with the click of a button has improved the experience. What do you think?