What’s the problem with authors tweeting readers?

January 10th, 2012

Writers themselves have sustained this myth, asking readers to keep their distance from authors, who should remain enigmatic. W. B. Yeats remarked that the poet “is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast.” T. S. Eliot further argued that “the progress of an artist is . . . a continual extinction of personality”; forget about getting to know the figure behind the words: “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” On his Facebook page, created by his publisher, Jeffrey Eugenides recently expressed similar sentiments. In “A Note From Jeffrey Eugenides to Readers,” he described his joy at meeting them, but concluded by saying he doesn’t know when or if he’ll post on the page again: “It’s better, I think, for readers not to communicate too directly with an author because the author is, strangely enough, beside the point.”

But readers are not heeding Eugenides’s advice, nor are many writers. Why? For one thing, publishers are pushing authors to hobnob with readers on Twitter and Facebook in the hope they will sell more copies. But there’s another reason: Many authors have little use for the pretension of hermetic distance and never accepted a historically specific idea of what it means to be a writer. With the digital age come new conceptions of authorship. And for both authors and readers, these changes may be unexpectedly salutary.

I don’t see any problem here, though I wonder if authors will be able to adapt to the medium, and tweet well.