Readers Should Be Ruffled

Sep 12 2013 @ 12:52pm

In a wide-ranging interview about contemporary literature, novelist and art critic Katie Kitamura remarks on the temptation for writers to want to be liked:

The desire to be liked is acceptable in real life but very problematic in fiction. Pleasantness is the enemy of good fiction. I try to write on the premise that no one is going to read my work. Because there’s this terrible impulse to grovel before the reader, to make them like you, to write with the reader in mind in that way. It’s a terrible, damaging impulse. I feel it in myself. It prevents you doing work that is ugly or upsetting or difficult. The temptation is to not be true to what you want to write and to be considerate or amusing instead. I’m always trying to fight against the impulse to make my readers like me.

It’s difficult. Fiction always reveals a lot about the person who is writing it. That’s the scary thing. Not in a straightforward autobiographical sense. But the flaws in a piece of fiction are, unhappily, so often also the flaws of the writer.

And blogging in real time with a readership as sharp as the Dish’s presents this quandary even more starkly. You don’t want to piss readers off unnecessarily or gratuitously, but you also don’t want to be subtly seduced by the idea of popularity, and fall into the trap of pandering to readers in any way. I learned this the hard way in the first years of this blog, when I went from passionate (and blinkered) advocate of war against Saddam to horrified spectator and then opponent. I turned on the war and on Bush. I lost almost a half of the Dish’s traffic in a few months as a result. And the Dish is much stronger in the long run for it. And what I have in the back of my mind – especially now that I am, along with my colleagues, entirely dependent on you, the readers, for a pay-check – is that if I have to, I must be willing, if my conscience and mind tell me so, to risk such a collapse in support again.

To wit, one ruffled reader of the Dish:

Okay … I’m done with you. Finally. It looked like you grew a conscience after the Bush years but really you haven’t. There is nothing mysterious or unexplained or hidden about what happened in Laramie that night. It’s all in the court transcripts and the news record of the days following the murder. This degenerate smear that Matt Shepard was having sex with his killers is appalling, especially considering what is in the fucking court record. You’re putting out another cigarette in Shepard’s body.

I’m not. I’m just interested in what actually happened. Which, as a journalist, is my job description.