Thanks to seeing an Instagram post the other day on one of his books, and which led me to search for more info on that, I stumbled on this: a 2012 New Yorker open letter from novelist Philip Roth. In it, Roth explains he is frustrated over his inability to get Wikipedia to correct falsehoods that appear in an entry on one of his novels. He begins the letter this way:
Wikipedia’s response to Roth’s approach manages to mix overzealous with inadvertently comedic. That said, it is not unreasonable either. As I understand it, nobody is supposed to write his/her own Wikipedia page. (But no doubt some sneakily do so.) Yet in replying to Roth’s official representative, Wikipedia states it requires a “secondary source” to support what Philip Roth himself is asserting about his own novel?
Fortunately I was alone as I read Roth’s letter – because I had burst out laughing at about that point. After all, we aren’t talking here about a “Joe Schmoe” badgering Wikipedia about his personal research on UFOs landing in Indiana.
I admit I’ve never read one of Roth’s books. Based on excerpts and teasers (which should attract potential readers) I have seen over the years, none of his novels ever interested me – but that is, of course, merely a matter of my personal taste. His letter here, however, is worth a read in full. Since its publication, the novel’s Wikipedia page has perhaps unsurprisingly been amended due to that open letter – which the page now even cites.
In case you also don’t think subjects read their Wikipedia pages, now you know: they may well do so.
That his letter stemmed from his annoyance at the mistaken content of a Wikipedia page also got me thinking in this way.
I’m NOT Philip Roth. And I don’t have a Wikipedia page…
Good morning again from Hertfordshire, England.😊🇬🇧Time for a moment of needed tranquillity. As I said the other day, I was looking back through some old print photos from, err, late last century.📸🤦🏻♂️😂I took this one in the Tuileries Garden, Paris, in June 1994.🗼🇫🇷 . #goodmorning #travel #tourism #Paris #France #Europe #Tuileries #EiffelTower #TourEiffel #photo #photography #weekend #Saturday #authors #writing #writersofinstagram #authorsofinstagram #scenic #history #35mm #film #Hertfordshire #England #memory #memories #expats #old #humor #humour
On one hand, I suspect most novelists want to be read widely. Yet I do also wonder if amidst that there’s a profound disquiet and nervousness about being a public figure? How much do we really want to attract a gigantic audience?
I speak only for myself here. Naturally, I would like more readers. But how many more do I want?
I would not want to be wildly misunderstood either – as Roth was there. Roth has “countless” readers, which means “countless” people are making judgements about his work. And they include some passing on wrong information that ended up on a Wikipedia page.
Insofar as I know, my readers find me mostly through this web site and other social media. If you are one who has, chances are you didn’t initially come to this site because you have read any of my books and decided to visit here. Rather likely the reverse: You have been on my social media, grown to “know me,” the general subject matter began to interest you, and then you read one or more of my novels.
Reading is not a group activity. It is an intimate and personal one. All of us having read the same novel come away with our own individual interpretations and feelings about what we have just read. (NOTE: I linked to that Instagram immediately above because I liked what it conveys. However, it’s supposed to be “to” in that sentence, not “too.” But that misspelling there does not detract from its spirit.)
Regardless of the number of readers, every writer (and that includes bloggers) should write as if the whole world might discover what they write. You may think that notion is preposterous. However, it is always possible that your words will someday be seen by many more readers than you had ever imagined.
But am I prepared to aggravate or infuriate “countless” readers, face the critiques of millions . . . and the likes of Wikipedia pages? I would find it unsettling to say the least. What writer is ever truly mentally prepared for that level of interest?
Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂