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.”
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.