Writer and Reader, Bound Together

Tim Parks, in the New York Review of Books blog, writes on the always interesting, sometimes vexed relationship between writers and their readers, one made especially interesting by the blogger and his mostly anonymous readers and commentators:

As with the editing process…there is the question of an understanding between writer and reader about what kind of reading experience is being offered. Readers like to suppose that their favorite writers—journalists, novelists, or poets—are absolutely independent, free from all interference, but the truth is that if an author indulges his own private idiolect or goes on for too long, he can at best expect to divide readers into those who admire him slavishly, whatever he throws at them, and those who set him aside in desperation. At worst he will be left with no readers at all. Is there a relationship between a writer’s respect for these conventions and the content or tone of what he writes, the kind of opinions we can expect him to have?

The blogosphere, with its wonderful but dangerous flexibility, can ruthlessly betray an author’s attitude toward his readers. Does he respect their precious time and keep things tight? Is he sensitive to their expectations? Is he willing to read the comments on his post and perhaps even respond to them? Dickens, one suspects, might have spent many hours online discussing the fate of Pip Pirrip or Little Nell. As for me, I’m glad to listen to editors and produce an article, and eager to have it widely read. But I’m relieved not to be contractually obliged to engage with readers afterward.

My interaction with ‘my readers’ here has been a mixed one. I still get very few comments on my posts, but some who comment do so quite frequently. Sadly, I am guilty of often not responding to comments. There is a large backlog of them on this site right now, and I keep telling myself that I will sit down and take care of them. But parenting is taking up a lot of time, as are my reduced work duties, and of course, so does the rest of my life (and blogging itself). Ironically, sometimes, it is the really thoughtful comment that gets lost because I hesitate to reply too quickly and say something silly. More often than not, this results in that comment remaining unanswered (and on at least two occasions has led to readers accusing me of not wanting to address their critical commentary).  I hope I have not lost too many readers this way. I have also, as noted before, lost a couple of readers, frequent visitors to the comments space, who had grown offended by my political stance. (This will probably happen again.) Those were visible, but obviously, some show up here once, and then leave because they do not find my writings congenial to their politics. (This must have happened during the period when I wrote several posts on the BDS controversy at Brooklyn College.)

While I do not think I will be able to address the issue of offending people by what I write here, I remain committed to answering comments as often, and as thoughtfully, as I can. I hope you’ll stick around and take my word for it.

One thought on “Writer and Reader, Bound Together

  1. I agree with the following: “it is the really thoughtful comment that gets lost because I hesitate to reply too quickly and say something silly” – it is the same from the perspective of a reader of a well-written blog.
    Sometimes I “tag” a well written post for future commenting, e.g. by tagging the respective notification e-mail. But when too many great posts are in queue at the same time, I never comment on some of them.

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