Novelist Walks Into a Bar or Facebook or Wherever

This winter, Andre Codrescu wrote a piece for Publisher's Weekly proclaiming how deadly Facebook is for writers, that "the real purpose a writer displays 'friendliness' in any of these places is to sell books," and that it doesn't work.

But it's not just writers. He tells us that our "friends" on Facebook

... just like to hang out on a rainy day in an old bar and discuss the quirks of their dogs. Except that Facebook is not a bar and all the dogs are virtual. And so is the kindness and generosity of many "friendly" souls, most of whom have something to sell... The only thing you're doing is selling your soul to Mark Zuckerberg.

He seems to be saying that the social networking sites have turned all of us into salesmen, fakers who put forward a false persona and hide our true selves; as if Zuckerberg has forced us to be asses, and if we were meeting each other face-to-face in bars -- perhaps in Paris, where Codrescu suggests we get a job sweeping streets -- we would put forth our true selves with sincerity and authenticity, and we wouldn't try to sell a product or a better version of ourselves.
I read this piece and thought, "Wait, has Codrescu ever spent any time in a bar?"

Of course he has. In fact, I first met him in one.

It's a little place in Tallahassee called the Velvet Lounge and this was in a group of about a half dozen people, only a year or so ago, just before an evening reading by Codrescu where his books would be for sale. He told amazing stories -- tales of wild parties, celebs, some bare breasts, a pass made at him when he was young from a famous gay poet. He was a flirty raconteur -- good in a bar and certainly presenting a persona, as it should be in bars.

And I was kind of an ass. I drank some wine. I told some stories of my own. In fact, I mentioned that I'd always wanted to start a rumor that I was engaged, for a short time, to Sam Shepard. Codrescu only heard part of that story, and later sidled up to me and said, "So, what was it between you and Sam?"

Maybe there was one tiny moment when I thought -- here's your chance, Baggott. I could have said, "It was brief and tender and I don't like to talk about it."

Instead, I 'fessed up. I'd never met the man.

Here's the honest truth about myself. I'm kind of an ass on Facebook, but no more of an ass than I am in person in a bar. Zuckerberg didn't make me into anything I'm not already. He just presented a different arena for us to be asses in.

And I know I'm supposed to feel guilty for wanting people to buy my books... and books in general? Novels and poetry, they belong to the realm of art. How dirty of us to try to hawk art! But, after a decade of hand-wringing and apologies, I can't quite muster the guilt anymore. I'm not a drug dealer. I don't write advertising for a massive tobacco company. I pimp words, images, stories, and I'm "friends" with a lot of people who do the same whether posting or commenting or liking or mouthing off in the Velvet Lounge.

P.S. I came across Codrescu's piece because novelist/"friend" Matt Bondurant posted it to Facebook.

Julianna Baggott is the author of 17 books that you're allowed to buy if you want to. Her novel The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted comes out in March, under pen name Bridget Asher. You can friend her on Facebook, but, of course, no pressure.