Stop Being So Damn Nice!

Is it okay to be this positive about an article arguing against the cloying eagerness of online literary culture? I think it is. Jacob Silverman has really said it here at Slate: “A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic.”

And then:

Instead, cloying niceness and blind enthusiasm are the dominant sentiments. As if mirroring the surrounding culture, biting criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personal—one’s affection for a book is interchangeable with one’s feelings about its author as a person. Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author’s Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because that’s how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web. And, of course, critics, most of them freelance and hungry for work, want to appeal to fans and readers as well; so to connect with them, they must become them. Twitter and Tumblr form the superstructure of today’s literary world. The salons and independent bookstores are disappearing, so this is where we congregate, allowing us to collapse geography at the expense of solitary thinking. This is where links are passed around, recommendations exchanged, news spread, contacts and friendships made. It is also where everyone is selling himself and where debate and dissent are easily snuffed. As litblogger Mark Athitakis recently tweeted, “Twitter defaults into an affirmation engine. It's easier to enthuse than discuss.”

This is, unfortunately, what American culture is becoming: a million fragile egos all rushing to affirm one another.

I hope this site has been an oasis of non-bullshittery and crotchety, honest opinions in a world far too full of conniving and opportunistic niceness. Not saying that people shouldn’t be smart about how they manage their careers and their relationships, but you all know when you’ve crossed the point of sacrificing your integrity in order to get ahead. Bad on you! For that, your books won’t be read in the future and your opinions will be doomed to laughter.


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It is okay, as long as we can rip you for block quoting the same Silverman post on back to back days.

Yeah I could have sworn I’d read that block quote somewhere before.

Silverman is right about the spineless online friendliness etc. but I think overemphasizes social media. What is missing much more urgently is more of a literary issue and is conviction of taste – the compulsion and ability to say that particular books and particular kinds of books simply suck.

People who haven’t really read all that much often say they like good writing and dislike bad writing, but can’t say much about the difference between the two. For a 16 year old it’s understandable but for a book reviewer – c’mon.

This communal “we’re all writers, let’s help each other” also comes from the unfortunate reality of everyone – reviewers, readers, etc. – being “writers.” The world has become one big workshop.

Last mean thing – I’d never heard of Emma Straub before today, but Emma – I love my parents, friends and, under the influence of some substances that I can no longer afford or probably survive, can love almost everyone for a few hours at least. But when you’re in love it means you are either having sex or want to have sex with them, so being in love with everyone – unless you’re bi and in extremely good shape – would probably prevent you from doing much writing, which is what the focus of this oasis (and thanks for that) is all about.

Hi all,

Just to be clear: I first wrote a short Tumblr post about this subject, which Scott quoted from in a post a week or so back. This Slate essay is an expansion of that post and uses some of it, but kind of goes into a larger survey of the culture, especially online. That essay went up on Friday. No collusion here, but I appreciate the nod(s).

Actually, I don’t think most people are at all sure of when they’ve crossed that line.

Or just don’t care.

It is according to where you hang out, what you will see. I shop at Amazon.com and see a number of comments/reviews about books on there that are flattering, but some also on the same page that are negative.

Social media has been built upon connection and affirmation of each other, so I think it is seen there more.

“Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author’s Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because that’s how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web."

[…] and how did Beckett find his voice? A reader’s report on Dream of Fair to Middling… »Stop Being So Damn Nice!Is it okay to be this positive about an article arguing against the cloying eagerness of online […]

[…] having a nice little conversation about the role of negative reviews in literary culture, thanks to Jacob Silverman’s piece in Slate. Alas, now Laura Miller has joined […]

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