I love writing letters, but for some reason the only letter-to-the-editor I've ever written went something like this:
Dear Mr. Remnick, If you publish one more story by John Updike, so help me God I will cancel my subscription immediately.Sincerely, Doug LeMoine
The year was 1999. I had been driven to what I saw as the brink — of patience! of sanity! — by the New Yorker's incessant publishing of Updike's fiction, which seemed (to me) not only incessant, but over-stylized, nauseatingly East Coast-ish, maudlin, wooden. No matter my mood, I found it insufferable and insulting, tone-deaf when it came to anything but older white guys. I don't like to speak ill of the departed, so I'll stop there and I'll admit that I've softened in the meantime. Updike's literary criticism is — who can argue? — instructive and insightful. He knew his stuff, and I felt enriched (sometimes grudgingly so) when I read his reviews. With regard to the aforementioned letter, my hand was forced almost immediately. Updike had published something like 25,000 stories in the New Yorker to that point, so I might as well have told John Henry to stop driving steel, or for Jerry Garcia to stop jamming. By the time my letter was fluttering into David Remnick's trashcan, I was already being forced to make good on my threat, a task that was ultimately embarrassing in its cold, bureaucratic execution. Contrary to any engaged reader's conception of the publisher-reader relationship, when you say "I'd like to cancel my subscription," they don't transfer you to the desk of the editor so that you can ream him a new one. You hear a few keystrokes, and then get asked if there's anything else you need help with. Upon reflection, this experience was a life lesson in itself. Mr. Updike, I thank you, and I wish you well.