Authors, readers, and the internet

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biman nathBIMAN NATH

Biman Nath is the author of two novels Nothing is Blue: 2009: HarperCollins India; The Tattooed Fakir: 2012: PanMacmillan India), and a few popular science books in English and Bengali. His first novel was shortlisted for the Vodafone-Crossword fiction award 2009. He was born in Assam, and currently lives in Bangalore, where he works as an astrophysicist at an institute.

At a recent literary festival, I heard a discussion on how different authors connect with readers these days. The connection has certainly become more noticeable over the years. Once upon a time, a reader would have said: ‘what really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.’ (Catcher in the rye) It is different now. There are Facebook pages where one can press the ‘like’ button and send an airwave of appreciation, however mute, or send a message right away. There are book readings, and there are lit fests. Writers have blog sites where a reader can drop in quick messages or engage in long discussions, that is overheard by all passers-by, whoever happens to drop by the site.

Like it or not, the trend is here to stay. Reclusive writers have always been rare, but now they are an endangered species. Soon the phrase ‘reclusive writer’ will be declared an oxymoron. But is it all that bad?

I think it is bad on a few counts and good on others. First the worrying bit. There are cases thetattooedfakirin which readers should keep a distance from an author, for example, when a reader is also likely to be a reviewer. Knowing the author well may make a reviewer’s job difficult at best, and a futile exercise at its worst. The review would likely serve no purpose other than filling the ether waves with unnecessary noise. It may also happen that most visitors to the author’s internet site are not typical readers but are curious authors, or friends of authors. In that case, writers may be deluded into thinking that they have made some real connection with readers after seeing their blog sites full of comments.  (See, e.g., http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/11/the-writing-community-insulates-writers/) Also, a bit of isolation helps the creative urge, I think, and this doesn’t only apply to writing. These days, however, most people tend to think otherwise, that working in groups and brainstorming can help them become more creative. I happen to be a scientist in my other life, and in recent years, there has been a surge in the style of working in large teams, which I don’t think always bring out the best in people. (Susan Cain has recently written in NYT about this, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html/)

At some level, it boils down to the question of who is likely to read the books of a particular author. If the author has this target readership in mind while writing, then one can go all out and design a blog site, or a Facebook page in order to attract those readers who are present on the internet. But what about an author who professes: ‘I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time’? (Borges)

But I think there are some rewards in this blurring of the gap between readers and writers. Writers are the loneliest of all people in the world, and an occasional interaction with a patient reader may do wonders to his/her craft. While writing my last novel, I started interacting with the members of an internet critique group, much to the dismay of a friend of mine who thought writers should practice their craft in pure isolation. However, I remember getting some feedbacks from this group that helped me enormously, and in once case helped me get rid of a subtle inconsistency in the description of a character that had eluded me.

So, like many other things in life, interaction in moderation may not be bad after all. And the internet has become the place where one looks for information these days, and that includes information about books and writers. It is slowly replacing old paper magazines and periodicals where one could learn about new books and authors. Turning away totally from the internet is, therefore, like going on a self-exile to an island. After all authors do need readers. Even the reclusive authors do.

Category: Guest Column

One comment on “Authors, readers, and the internet

  1. Your post, Authors, readers, and the internet |, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards from Antone!

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