Monday, August 08, 2016

How Social Media has Shrunk My Reading List

I’m hoping this post won’t lose me any readers but it’s about something that has been bothering me lately. It’s about how social media causes some writers to forfeit potential places on my reading list.  In the past two days, for example, I’ve discovered two writers, new to me, whose books and stories will almost certainly never have a chance to make it onto my TBR pile. These two are only the latest in what is becoming a fairly long “unlikely to read” list by now. I’m sorry to see it happen. One of my great joys has always been to find new writers whose work I can fall in love with.

The first of the two I’m talking about here posted the details of an interaction he had with a female literary agent at a conference. He didn’t get the contract he was clearly hoping for, and proceeded to trash the agent, by name, and insult her physical appearance in the process. This is in spite of the fact that his own description of the interaction indicated that the woman was just not interested in his project. It happens, you know. Not everyone will be wowed by an idea that you love. And there simply is no place in this kind of interaction for personal attacks, on physical appearance, no less. It makes me wonder, too, what kind of female characters this author creates. Will his women characters be people I can empathize with  or nothing but window dressing and plot contrivances?

The second of the two was a female author who described all “Bernie or Bust” people as folks who got awarded trophies for just participating when they were kids, meaning, I took it, that such folks don’t know what it’s like to have it tough. The author, of course, indicated how her life had been different. She went on to suggest that it was white males who were the main issue in the Bernie or Bust crowd. I’m not a Bernie or Buster and this individual’s opinion on the political process itself isn’t my issue. My question is whether or not a writer who throws out such sweeping generalizations understands enough of the nuances of human interaction to be able to create realistic characters in fiction. Without such characters, I’m not likely to find myself emotionally involved in a story.

Some of the previous folks who have made my “unlikely to read” list include a woman who stated publically that all men are supporters of rape culture, a man who offered an ad hominem attack on my political views and then proceeded to tell me what his IQ was and how many books he’d written as evidence of his correctness, and a fellow who made mean-spirited fun of gay people.

Don’t get me wrong, I read plenty of work by people who have said things I disagree with. My “do read” list is much, much longer than my “unlikely to read” one. What bothers me is the “one size fits all” approach to interacting with and categorizing people. All liberals are this way. All Republicans are another way. Gay people are this. White males are that. Women are….

If I’ve been reading a writer’s books for a long time and he or she says something that  crosses the line, I’ll generally give that author the benefit of the doubt. I know from their work that they are nuanced. But imagine that I’ve just recently friended a writer on facebook. I think that I might want to try something by them. And then I see a post like the ones I’ve described above. Will I pull the trigger on purchasing one of their books when it goes on sale? Or will I click past that sale to another new writer? For me, it’ll be the latter.

I know that writers are people too. I’m both myself, a writer and people. We have opinions. We get angry. But anyone who has made a study of how people act knows that no one can be absolutely categorized by a single characteristic such as gender, skin color, ethnicity, etc. Humans are walking, talking contradictions. Seems to me that an author, in particular, should be aware of this.  And those authors are the most likely to make my “definitely read” list. Since I love reading, that's where I hope every new writer I meet ends up. 


David Cranmer said...

Charles, I have some of the same issues with social media and what I have noticed is friends I've kept for the long run (you, Bill Crider, James Reasoner, Prashant,etc) know how far to go with politics... if its mentioned at all. But above all have respect for each others opinion.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A new to you writer has a bigger chance of shooting himself in the foot. And those of us who write have to treat everyone that way. This might be that person's first exposure to us. What impression do they leave with?
I say just enough for people to know where I stand without saying anything. At least, that's my goal.

Anonymous said...

Charles-I get offended possibly too easily but I abhor any absolutes in judgement. I will instantly lose respect for that person and anything they have to say.

Stacy said...

It doesn't matter to me what an artist thinks or says politically or personally in interviews or social media if s/he grabs me with the art first. I will forever love Gary Oldman even though I get the impression from the things he's said publicly that he's a raging a-hole. Love Dan Simmons's work even though he seems to be an Ayn Randian and I'm pretty much on the opposite end of those politics. Will always love Prince even though he was extremely egotistical and he got a lot more conservative as he got older (and frankly, hypocritical with the whole not liking how "salacious" music was becoming--as if he didn't contribute!). But if an artist turns me off first... it's so much harder to grab me.

That said, I tend to give artists a lot of leeway. I think if people want to make art of any kind, they HAVE to judge, or they're not going to have anything to say.

cs harris said...

I couldn't agree more. Social media can be a dangerous minefield. One must be very careful and remember always why one is doing this. That's just good business practice.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, I seldom talk about politics but when I do I try to remember the gray areas.

Alex, it's cliche but true, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Jodi, I mostly get frustrated by willful ignorance. Absolutes are a good way to get my dander up as a scientist.

Stacy, I'm the same way. Heck, I still even listen to the old Ted Nugent music I grew up with even though I now abhor almost everything he says. But, yes, when someone whose work I haven't sampled yet does this kind of thing, it is very hard to overcome.

CS, I've probably made a few mis-steps myself but nothing this egregious.

Ty said...

This is a big reason I rarely approve new friends on FB any more, and why I hardly ever use Twitter except to post an occasional link. Why put up with the nonsense when even people I do know quite well and am friends with often enough make my mouse hover over the unfriend button?

the walking man said...

I don't twit, snap, or chat; I blog (open to all) and have a facebook account. My list of blocked "friends" has grown by dozens in the past year due to an unremitting posting of utter bullshit and I mean from the right and the left, blacks, whites and self described aliens. Most of them I have blocked I have known for years and had come to love but there is a 3 strike rule that is inviolable. I do not need more turmoil or opinion that is unsubstantiated on my feeds.

I have never once removed an opinion from my blog and my stats show I am getting over 500 page views per day--that is a more personal forum for me, but I will not disparage an opposing comment. Who can oppose poetry right?

Since I have left the public arena I used to play hard in as open mic host, participant, and feature performer 4 years ago I find that many whose careers I helped a bit now have clouded their opinion in today's politic or social nightmare of the moment. Many poets and writers are among them I no longer have to see their posts and though they may not even know or care they are blocked it speaks to my own now nearly anonymous self.

Funny how as I age my blind eye begins to see more clearly and my heart of stone becomes even harder than it has ever been against ignorance that simply can not see. I honestly believe in my latest posted work Charles--I am much happier alone and away from both what was a pretty public life and social media. I know I have done right by myself when a college professor who is a well known poet in America, the same age as myself posted some utter bullshit without any supporting documentation and he had 200 "likes"--I researched his statement and found it to be entirely false and called him out on it in writing giving 3 different references--he deleted the post--today I will delete him.

There is a certain beauty to having lived a life well. You are a fabulous person Charles--and over the years I have never seen anything from you in any forum that was not a considered well thought out piece. Thank you & Lana for that, being an island of rational in a sea of emotion is not easy.

sage said...

It is interesting what comes out on social media and how it changes our insights into friends and those to whom we admire(d).

pattinase (abbott) said...

In the old days, a publicity agent used to manage your public image. I think maybe that was better.

Cloudia said...

Amen Charles. I'm sharing this post widely. Thanks for being a friend

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, Some of it is probably the spur of the moment, open mouth before engaging brain. But a lot of this awful meme stuff is selected very deliberately. Or so it seems to me.

Mark, thanks for the kind words. I don't think I ever considered myself all that rational until I began to see the kind of stuff that gets tossed out on social media. Probably as a kid I experienced black and white thinking but I know it didn't last too long. By my teenage years I could certainly see the complexity and the gray areas in most situations.

Sage, Too often we learn stuff we'd probably rather not have learned.

Patti, absolutely. I wish I had one.

Cloudia, glad you enjoyed.

Shadow said...

Social media being what it is, has made me acutely aware of what I put out there. Everything has 3 sides: mine, yours, the truth. Take a stand, yes, but don't generalise. There are too many variables...

Charles Gramlich said...

Shadow, exactly so! Thanks for the visit.

Sarah Hina said...

Very well stated, Charles.

Too many people are trying to score points over social media, and give a knee-jerk response that they might regret later. I have that impulse too, sometimes, but I'm almost always glad when I hold back, and resist the urge to generalize or attack. As a writer, but also as a human being. We mustn't lose our compassion for a person's individuality, no matter how strongly we might disagree with them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sarah, yes, you're just right.

Rick Robinson said...

I suspect that the statement "all “Bernie or Bust” people as folks who got awarded trophies for just participating when they were kids" was meant to indicate they had a feeling of entitlement, and it could be so. I try hard, personally, to not be a political animal. My politics are my own, expressed on the ballot I submit and that's pretty much it.

Your points on social media are well taken. I don't participate except my blog. No Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. I don't see the use or need. So perhaps I do myself a favor by not being exposed to the opinions of others, whether I'd agree, disagree, be outraged, pleased, or mutter darkly. I've long felt it is the work, not the person, that I should evaluate, appreciate, respect or not, but in this day of opinions by everyone everywhere it's apparently too easy to just pop off what's in mind, without thinking very much about it. It gets harder to separate the two; the person and their opinions.

Without the kind of manners and consideration I was raised with ["if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"], ["treat others as you wish to be treated"], so many people seem to take criticism as their default mode, and often it seems to be vicious, in the nature of what you describe.

I'm with you on this, Charles, and think you should do exactly what you are doing.

Angie said...

I agree. I've crossed a number of writers off my list because of things they've said or done in public. I consider these people very helpful, actually; there are like a bazillion more good books out there than I'll ever read in my lifetime, and anyone who helps me dig a few shovelfuls out of that Sahara is helping me out. Maybe not the way they'd like to, but hey.... [wry smile]


G. B. Miller said...

For the most part, I keep my political opinions confined strictly to the state/local level, because that is where it affects me the most. On the national level, I rarely post something outright on my blog or FB. Instead, I keep it limited to other people's threads. For most part, they have respected my opinion enough not to dump on me. I have, from time to time, blocked a few when the rhetoric over a particular hot button issue had gone thermonuclear.

On the other hand, I've been unfriended by writers for reasons that have nothing to do with politics (one in particular really hurt because they supplied a blurb to first book and I thought we were pretty close FB friends, but I think that when that person got a job with her publisher, things somehow changed between us). I am who I am, and while I try to be considerate of all, I will not go quietly into the night when someone belittles my opinion on a topic.

Father Nature's Corner

eric1313 said...

Yes, it's a free country, we can say whatever we like. We have that freedom. We also have the freedom and the obligation to object to unfair speech, and we are certainly not insulated from the consequences of what we say and do. I know and understand this well.

Angie said...

Eric -- totally agree. Writer Jim Hines put it very well: "Freedom of speech doesn't protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit." People who say something dumb/inflammatory/bigoted/etc. and then, when they get blowback, squawk that their freedom of speech rights are being violated, don't at all understand what freedom of speech is or how it works. Or maybe they just don't get that everyone else has freedom of speech too. [wry smile]


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Well said, Charles. I think, people in general are showing their true colours on social media, often in disturbing ways.

David, you and the others you mentioned are my friends for the long run, too. Thank you.