Letters to Inspiring Writers: Dear Alastair Harper

October 13, 2008

Sent: Mon Oct 13 XX:XX
Priority: Normal
A Fan’s Evaluation
Type: HTML Msg

Dear Alastair:

I’m not a psychiatrist so don’t assume anything that I write below has any scientific basis or medical value. However, I’ve read _Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You_ (or at least half of it). I’ve read quite a few of your “stuff” (your articles). Therefore, I feel qualified to draw conclusions about the core of your identity: You’re one of those hipster-hating hipsters.

While I hope this diagnosis grabs your attention, please don’t press the delete button before I have a chance to explain. Once I read your article “HIPONOMICS: The Cost of Cool in New York City” in “Bad Idea” (all of it), I was immediately intrigued by your familiar-yet-informal writing style. I found myself shaking my head like what you wrote was gospel. “Swiftly defined, stereotypical hipsters are people who enjoy the lifestyles and affect the attitudes of the famous without actually going to the trouble of achieving fame.” (Amen, Brotha!) I also shook my head because of your naïvete? stupïdite? How do you think those hipsters can afford their lifestyles? I thought you read Kerouac and Ginsberg. Some of them are from wealthy families; some of them are smart; all of them don’t want to grow up. Nevertheless, hipsters’s love of spending hours at the Salvation Army instead of working introduces mainstream society to new fashion trends found at your local Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, H&M, or the UK equivalent. (Yes, I did just compare the beatniks’s introduction of Tolstoy to hipsters’s introduction of leggings or thick glasses).

Anyway, I could have written off your week of hipster debauchery and returned to my normal life. Instead, I decided to uncover what other astute observations you had shared with the world. Needless to say, I was impressed. Your collection of pieces for the _Guardian UK_ kept my interest. This is how I came to write you for Letters to Inspiring Writers, a column that’s posted on nonpretentious.com. (Disclaimer: I’m going to post this letter there as well and profess to the world that I think you’re an inspiring writer similar to how you professed your preference for tweed clothing to the world. (Need I say more, Hipster?) If you respond, I’ll post your response there as well. In order to increase my chances of a response, I’ll only ask you one question.)

As I alluded to above, the characteristic that I like most about your writing is that it’s sophisticated without being unapproachable (see: Pynchon or _The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman_ or that tome that’s given us Bloomsday. Despite your constant references to folks and books like these, until they are required for Oprah’s Book Club, they will never find a home on nightstands around the globe.) Due to your accessible tone, you’re more like that other bloke, David Mitchell, who I also love to read. (Note: I’m trying to speaka-your-language). Or, Haruki Murakami. (the “other” Murakami for those who best know disney-world purses).

Next, I also appreciate how provocative your writing is. (Don’t get the wrong idea, Buster. Provocative can also mean irritating or vexing though, I’ll admit, that’s not what I mean either. But, hey, you’re the one who described the non-sexual stimulation you derive from bathing with books so you should understand what I mean.) I always want to respond or talk about your articles. And, not simply the ones that directly pose questions to me. (Three contributors to nonpretentious worked at one of those chain bookstores, founded on my alma mater’s campus, so…I won’t even bother answering that one. Talk about writing a tome.) In my opinion, all of your writing begins a conversation.¹ It makes me think of you as a friend with whom I can banter but who shares different tastes. (Like you said: “It’s rare for friends to share the same bag of favourite authors; and, indeed, it would be depressing if they did so. Part of loving books is wandering shops or libraries, reading the anecdotes of other writers on books that changed their world, stalking the bookshelves of friends when they’re looking the other way, and finally coming back home, opening the book and finding it a piece of trash.”). At the most basic level, your writing engages, prompts critical thinking, and influences.
And now, Inspiring Writer, it’s time for my one question for you. I’m cheating a little because my question for you is two-fold. How important do you think a time-consuming activity like reading is for writers? How important do you think an equally time-consuming activity like writing is for readers?

I hope to see your cultured-self (complete with all of your relentless name-dropping and pretentiousness) in my favorite bookstore (or Amazon).

your fan,


¹ At first, I had written in response to your _Readers Should Get Game-Literate_, “I’ll take your Douglas Adams and raise you one Neil Stephenson or Tom McCarthy” because, as I understood your article, video games create a world where we think we have choices and we forget all of these choices have been preordained. (Someone has to write those Choose Your Own Adventure novels; similarly, someone has to write the video game software). Moreover, video games create fantastical worlds that players believe to be real because of their love of the game. (See: fans of sci-fi).

But then, I shared a beer with another one of the site’s contributors and he rejected my interpretation. “Obviously, you don’t play video games, revisingproust. Basically, he means that a plot that would seem cliche or not-subtle in a novel/film can actually be good for a video game because of the interactivity. Like, video game plots are so bad (written by computer geeks) that any semblance of a good plot is amazing.” Maybe I’ll ask my friend who writes for joystiq.com to be the judge. Or you can answer…but, I understand if you don’t because, technically, that’s a second question.

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2 Responses to “ Letters to Inspiring Writers: Dear Alastair Harper ”

  1. [...] If you follow my reading list on Goodreads, you’ll soon see this.  In addition, a few of my previous posts have mentioned my love for Murakami.  (And, no, I’m not speaking about this [...]

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