Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Late last week, literary Twitter exploded with one of the stupidest arguments that I’d ever seen and, as the Russian saying goes “a pig will find mud”, I decided to wade in.
Apparently, what all the brouhaha started with was someone claiming that if the author hasn’t hooked them within the first 20 pages, then they immediately drop the book. Granted, this is a completely arbitrary cut off that doesn’t give legitimate slow burns a fare shake. I’m not going to defend this particular opinion. But the rebuttal to this that ended up getting retweeted into every corner of the universe basically said that not finishing a book is an insult to the author, and the least you could do is finish whatever you started.
Of course, this is literary and writing Twitter we’re talking about, where people say the most asinine shit for engagement. My two favourite examples are “Am I the only one that gets excited when I sell a book?” and “My friend told me they think only people with blue eyes make good authors, do you agree?” However, this accusation of insulting authors struck the perfect balance between being outrageous, and sounding perfectly serious.
That tweet really packed a two-for-one punch. Form the perspective of readers, it reeked of snobbishness – as if because you managed to commit to the whole of War and Peace after getting ten pages into, it somehow makes you a more respectful reader. All it does is further discourage those intimidated by such pieces of literature because it makes them feel like they’d be looked down on if they don’t end up finishing it. Well, if a cockroach looks down on you, does that really affect your day?
And from the perspective of authors, this seems to have both arrogance and insecurity all wrapped into one – like a reader owes it to you to finish your book as long as they started it, and if they drop it, well, that’s not your fault, it’s the reader bestowing upon you a great dishonour. How utterly rude of them. Or you could think about it this way – at best, there’s no such thing as a book loved by everyone, or at worst, don’t write a garbage book and people might be less likely to put it down in the first ten pages.
I really do have to hand it to that inflammatory – it was some kind of provocative work of art in its own right; based on a completely ludicrous premise. How would the author even know that I didn’t finish their book that I bought in order to even be insulted by me. The tweet managed to illuminate so many ugly opinions when it comes to reading. One rebuttal to people saying that their time is too precious to waste on books they don’t like was “Well if your time is worth so much to you, what are you doing on Twitter?” Apparently, we’re not allowed to have fun until we’ve finished torturing ourselves with hundreds of pages of writing we don’t want to read.
It’s like if you went to a nice restaurant and your food came way too salty, and you didn’t want to finish it, and then I accused you of being rude to the chef, and you said “But I only eat food that is good” and my rebuttal was that I saw you eating at McDonalds last week.
The amount of people who seemed to be extremely emotionally invested in how other people spend their time is astounding. Makes me think that it all boils down to some misplaced sense of superiority – these people don’t read books because they enjoy it or because they get something out of it, they read because they think they can lord it over someone who didn’t.
“Well I am on a whole other level, for I have read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and you have not.”
Well I read it in the original Russian, and it was an awful experience, so go hang out at the kids’ table you thought you were setting up for everyone else, and I’ll hang out with the people who don’t have sticks lodged up their butts. And this is coming from someone who insists on finishing every book he opens; not as a matter of principle, but more as a result of a deep person flaw. I just don’t think it makes a difference if you start ten and finish ten or if you start ten and finish one. Same as it doesn’t make a difference if you read two books a year, or fifty two, or if you’re reading genre fiction off the shelves of your grocery store, or the greatest Lithuanian authors of the pre-Soviet era.
Read what you want, read what brings you joy, and don’t let any Twitter gatekeepers make you feel bad about any of it.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.