(Travis Nichols reads at Elliott Bay Book Company on Sunday, May 19 at 3pm. It's free.)
I saw the weakest minds of my occupation destroyed by blog comments, hate-eating hysterical shivering, dragging themselves through message boards at dawn looking for a troll to fight. I started writing professionally about eight years ago, just as comments became less a curiosity and more a given. But many of the journalists I met who'd been in the business before the arrival of comments could already become flushed with outrage about the very existence of reader feedback. Their faces would get red and they'd scream—and, yes, sometimes sob—about every mean thing someone left in the wide-open space below their stories.
Sure, sometimes a negative comment hooks into the meaty part of you. But it's not like the readership changed, that an imaginary army of cheering, adoring fans disappeared when the comment threads were installed, only to be replaced by a cantankerous mob of cretins. Now you get to instantaneously see how a small-but-vocal portion of your readers reacts to your work. Readers didn't have any unchallenged platform at all before, and now they do. Isn't that, on balance, really kind of cool?
When novelist and poet Travis Nichols worked for the Poetry Foundation, one of his jobs was to oversee a project in which comments were allowed on poetryfoundation.org. Perhaps the foundation expected an Athenian discourse about the nature of poetry and art in the digital age. And I'm sure the comment threads inspired some of that. But they also fomented a slew of bullies, off-topic comments, conspiracy theories, ax-grinding, and treatises on the sad state of American poetry. In an interview with Paul Killebrew, Nichols admitted that the negative comments made him feel "deeply, deeply bonkers for a few months, largely because I took a lot of the rote online bullying personally." The comment section was soon scrapped entirely, which caused several angry commenters to create their own sites accusing Nichols of fascism.
And now, finally, Nichols gets his revenge, in The More You Ignore Me, a novel in the form of one ridiculously long blog comment posted by our narrator, known only as linksys181...