Chris Blattman

On the perils of the “contact me” tab

Leamer forwarded me what he called a “fairly typical” message:

“I have a few Kennedy questions, and I was wondering if you knew the answers to them. I am not writing a book or anything else. It’s more of a matter of personal curiosity. Questions: (1) Do you know what ever became of Patricia Wilson (the woman who had the affair with Joe Kennedy Jr.)? If she is dead, do you know the date of her death? (2) What is the date of the lobotomy operation of Rosemary Kennedy? I know it was in September of 1941, but I do not know which day it was.”

Leamer wrote back to his correspondent. “You know what?” he said. “I always answer. Every author I have ever known answers the phone the same way — on the first ring. We’re all so desperate for anything to intrude on our solitude and to take us away from that blank screen. E-mails do the same thing, and I’m embarrassed to say how quickly I read them.”

Leamer, a Kennedy brothers biographer, relates how email impacted his relationship with readers.

For a couple of years, every high school student with a term paper on child soldiers emailed me: “Hey! I have some questions for you on my school paper. First, can you give me some background on the war in Uganda? …”

I only now realize the mails have dropped off. Curious. The fad has passed?

Good thing I don’t research the Kennedys.

One Response

  1. I always answered young students looking to get into the field of humanitarian response or gender work. But lately I get requests like – can you explain how you starte out in this field and about all the jobs you’ve had? Can you tell me more about all of the decisions you have made? Do people not realize that I’m a busy person? Sounds arrogant but I want to help out but don’t have the time to spend horus with them or writing back long background essays.

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