Paulo Coelho: Ignore the Web's anonymous; they're miserable

In a Twitter post, the author encourages people to ignore anyone who hides behind anonymity on the Web. But don't fiction writers hide behind their stories?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

The enemy of the anonymous? RCS Libri/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It can't be easy being the Ayn Rand of the soulful.

You write books that give people a life-vest of hope in an ocean of despair. But relief may be temporary. Despair returns. And it's just in time for them to buy another book.

Still, by now the only people who haven't read at least one Paulo Coelho novel must be those who died before 1988, when his first, "The Alchemist," was published.

They are tales of easily digested wisdom that massage your innards for a fingerful of dollars.

How odd, then, that this famed Brazilian seems to have come out against Internet anonymity.

In a Wednesday posting on Twitter, he coughed: "The most miserable people in internet are those who always hide behind anonymity. Never pay attention to what they say."

Naturally, I am one of Coelho's 9.13 million followers. I seek his homilies like a cat seeks gourmet fish in a can.

My life is an Emmental with gaping imperfections. I crave that even one of them might temporarily be filled by a wise word of perspective.

I was a little stunned, therefore, to read that he rejects the miserable so readily. Aren't they his core readership? Aren't they the ones who need their spirits uplifted more than anyone? Don't they reach for his books every time that life is mistreating them?

Yet here he is insisting they should be ignored.

It's true that the current mode of apps such as Whisper and Secret offers as much mean-spirited spittle as personal revelation or cries for help.

But it's equally true that some people have no choice but to remain anonymous, for fear of, oh, former lovers or current employers or governments taking advantage of their true feelings.

Then there's the tiny detail that Coelho is a writer of fiction.

Don't fictionists hide behind their work? They make up characters who are often severely based on real ones, in order to eke out their frustrations with those very people.

Readers have no idea who these people are. But should the real characters see the depiction of their invented selves, they will suddenly understand the underhand.

I wouldn't for a moment suggest that any negative characters in Coelho books might be constructs to makes his enemies feel worse, or him feel better.

But isn't there a certain kinship between the anonymous poster, desperate to have his or her feelings heard, and the fiction writer who can't name the real people who have annoyed him, hurt him, rejected him or defeated him and has to make up a version that is possibly far worse than they really are?

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps Coelho is merely defending the innocent from the Web's so-called haters.

But then, just after his anti-anonymity tweet, he offered another morsel: "Haters are confused admirers who can't understand why people love you."

We all live in a little confusion, don't we?

But if it's true that those who anonymously offer Coelho -- or anyone else -- criticism, distaste, or worse are actually admirers, then it's frightfully self-regarding to ignore them.

After all, they love you. They really love you.