Books you savor/Authors and fans

Another week without a review! I feel like a terrible slacker, but I have a slight excuse. I’ve been slowly savoring not one but two excellent books: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m a quick reader by nature, but these two books are rich and complicated enough that I have to take them slow. Scratch that. I want to read them slowly, to put the book down and know I’ll have more to read tomorrow.

Since I’m not writing a review, why don’t I write about author-related social media drama instead? I follow author John Scalzi on Twitter, and today I saw this pop up on my feed:

Obviously I had to learn the backstory behind that incomprehensible yet awesome piece of Twitfic. It turns out that there’s a scavenger hunt called GISHWHES running right now, and one of the tasks is to get a published sci-fi author to write the team a 140-word story about the actor Misha Collins, Queen Elizabeth, and something called an Elopus. And some of these hunters have not been very polite when turned down.

Huh. A couple of thoughts. First, I’m guessing the hunt is done in the spirit of good fun and camaraderie, but it seems like the organizers didn’t think some of their tasks through. (Apparently people are also begging @NASA for mentions and have asked @NeilHimself for both a short story and to do a dramatized reading of Canadian DMV rules.*) Writers, from what I understand, are in fact real people, who have families and mortgages and editors yelling at them for copies of their latest drafts. This scavenger hunt ended up siccing dozens of (or, in Scalzi’s case, over a thousand) people on every famous and semi-famous sci-fi author with a Twitter account or a blog, all begging for them to do extra work for free. Assigning a task that requires other people to do extra work for free seems like kind of a jerk move, IMO.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s “just good fun,” “they don’t have to do it,” “they’re lucky to be so popular,” “Famous Author X didn’t mind,” etc. I’m not swayed. I’m going to guess most authors find it more annoying than fun.

Twitter creates an interesting sense of immediacy between authors and their fans — one that still takes me by surprise sometimes. (Did I mention that Cherie Priest re-tweeted my review of Boneshaker? I’m still kind of gobsmacked!) The ugly flip side of that interaction is that sometimes fans act as if they own the author — as if the author, by virtue of being on social media, becomes someone who owes them favors.

And you know what? Authors don’t owe readers a damn thing. Well, OK, they owe us something under one condition. When I pay money for a book by John Scalzi, or Ilona Andrews, or Donna Tartt, I am owed the book that I paid money for. I am not owed a sequel to that book, or a better ending if I didn’t like the book, or a short story for a scavenger hunt, or answers for a class assignment that asks me to interview an author.**

In short: if you decide Neil Gaiman is a jerk for not filming himself reading from the Canadian DMV rules, and you are therefore not going to read his next book, it’s your loss. Also, maybe be extra-polite when asking strangers for a favor. Just a thought.


* As someone who had to get a Canadian driver’s license I think this is a horrible scavenger hunt task. I found the Canadian DMV so Kafkaesque that I sincerely believe reading aloud from its rules might turn your favorite celebrity into a giant roach.

** Fellow teachers: No. Just no. It is deeply uncool of us to assign things like this. We can assign students to interview their parents or a friend, or an expert we’ve acquired prior permission from. No making students bother people unrelated to the student or the class, especially if you know that 120 out of your 125 students are immediately going to go bug the same person.


2 comments on “Books you savor/Authors and fans

  1. Oh the assignments where you have to go interview someone, those assignments are iniquitous. We had to do one in high school where we interviewed a Vietnam war veteran, and it was awful, and I feel mortified and miserable thinking about it. ON TAPE, we had to do it. I didn’t know what to ask. The guy had been to war. Blaahhhhh, I am in a shame spiral from that memory.

    Poor sci-fi authors. This is no fun for anyone, and I am in great sympathy with John Scalzi’s outburst.

    • I can’t believe your high school teacher made you do that, what a stressful assignment! (Better idea: get a willing Vietnam veteran to come to class and talk with the students, not make students harass a vet one-on-one.)

      Someone on Twitter suggested that Wil Wheaton should read the audiobook of Scalzi’s GISHWHES story/tweet. That, I’d pay for.

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