The Help Desk: Portrait of the author as a total hottie

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I kind of have a crush on a writer. She’s funny and smart, and her novels are great; they make me think differently about the world. She’s the only writer who’s ever inspired me to want to write a fan letter. But I’m a guy, and I think it would be weird if I wrote a mash note to someone I didn’t know. Is it weird, too, that I can’t seem to separate my infatuation from the quality of her writing? Like, I should be able to appreciate a woman’s writing for her writing, and not because her author photo is cute. (But her author photo is adorable.) Should I write the note? I don’t want to be creepy.

Edgar, Tukwila

Dear Edgar,

Write your fan letter, praise this woman's brain and talents, but don't mention how cute she is. Having a crush on someone is one of the most wonderful, thrilling, and privately selfish acts we engage in. Crushes are fantasies – your highest hopes for an individual you don't really know – superimposed on an unsuspecting person.

Have you ever read Lolita or Great Expectations? If not, I suggest getting acquainted with the long literary tradition of the male gaze.

Theoretically, it's flattering to be an object of someone's affection – we all want to feel wanted. I can be flattered at the idea of a wolf spider admiring the moist caverousness of my belly button but the moment she breaks that fourth wall, winks half her eyes, and suggests dropping her eggsac there so she can winter behind the water heater kid-free, I'm repulsed.

My point is, most women resent being objectified for their appearance.