February 13th, 2012 / 10:13 am
I Like __ A Lot & Web Hype

I have become dead to your book recommendations.

Roxane recently mentioned one of those weird, unspoken things about writers: we are constantly pretending to buy and read each other’s books. Publish something yourself and you’ll quickly see what I mean. You get an e-mail every time someone makes an order. The e-mail tells you the buyer’s name and even where he or she lives. So when someone says on Facebook, “I can’t wait to get this book!” and they tag you in the post so you’ll definitely see it, you get really excited about the order and you look forward to mailing them the book that you’re sure they’ll enjoy, and you wait and you wait for that e-mail with the person’s name and address, but the order never comes, and because you want to stay friendly with the person you tell yourself that it wasn’t a lie, that they probably just forgot. And sometimes they really did forget.

Sometimes they say, “I just ordered this book, you should too!” and you can plainly see that they haven’t ordered the book, and this is harder to forgive, but really, who cares? Why should anybody care?

I get why people do this. There is a general perception, probably inaccurate, that Writers Don’t Buy Enough Books. There is also intense pressure, within the “indie lit community,” to spend as much money as possible supporting said “indie lit community.” In these circles, buying a book is a valuable investment in social capital. You can first be seen to buy the book, making sure that as many publishers as possible witness the purchase (or “purchase”), thus building a reputation as a team player. You can enhance this rep by posting links encouraging others to buy the same book, post pictures of the book’s cover, or otherwise assist the publisher in the hard, thankless work of promotion. If you do actually make the purchase, then you can post about your excitement to read the book when it arrives. If you do ever actually read the book (a real commitment), then you can post quotes from the book as you read it, fawn over the author, and generally abase yourself at the altar of its genius, performing the role of a reader/consumer swept up in the bliss of your purchase. You can go still further by writing blog posts about the book and eventually publishing reviews of the book in various venues. This is what we call using the entire buffalo.

In this ecosystem, you feel certain pressures. We call this mess a community because we want to believe that we’re all sharing something. We have limited resources: limited time, limited money. And yet we want to share. And so we share our praise. We praise things we don’t really like. We praise things because we see other members of the community praising them. And it feels good to praise, to be generous. The less sympathetic motive, the core one, is that we pretend to care about others so that others will pretend to care about us. We do not believe our writing demands readership, deserves attention, merits love. And so we give too freely, because we want to believe that others will give us the same. The result is a lot of mediocre books published by a lot of presses that barely count as presses (not because they are small, but because you can feel with every second looking at their websites and their books that they don’t really care about their books, that they exist primarily to exist) being promoted with awe-inspiring fervor by half my Facebook feed for brief, intense periods. Most of the time you never hear about these books again, either because no one really bought them or because they were, like the last book to blossom all over your social network, totally underwhelming, forgettable, and more or less identical to the previous beneficiary of the Internet’s wild, drunken hype cycle.

The tragedy is that finding genuinely great writing in all this noise becomes painfully difficult. The tragedy is that mediocre writers are allowed small, brief, mediocre careers that stunt them forever when they should probably be learning more, failing better, etc.; they become complacent in their adequacy. (We become complacent in ours.) The tragedy is that I can’t believe anyone loves anything until they say it some ludicrous number of times. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust you. It shouldn’t be like this. Because we are so frequently insincere, people who make the mistake of trusting our recommendations usually end up regretting it. Because we rarely bother to describe the books we recommend except in terms of vague hyperbole, nobody outside our little circle of readers and writers can figure out why they would want to read the stuff we flog in the first place. And because we recommend so many things so highly, our friends and family can tell that we are lying most of the time, and they can’t be bothered to figure out when we’re telling the truth. All these roads end in the same sad place. By making a show of promoting literature, we are in fact turning people off on reading. We are making them feel that it is not worth their time.

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine how to discourage fake endorsements, fake purchases, or overblown praise. The logic behind these dishonesties is too strong. But I do think that you can, with a little extra effort, prove your sincerity when you want to. Why not wait to talk about the book you’re so excited about until you’ve read some yourself? Until you can describe it? Until you can specifically say, “These are the reasons to purchase this book.” It takes more time, and it requires actually making the purchase, but that’s why it works. That’s why anyone will ever believe you. It’s how you can convince people who aren’t already buying as many of these books as they can to try them out. It’s how you introduce your father or your high school friend to the things you find beautiful. It’s how you widen the circle and bring more essential resources than praise into the community.

I suspect most remotely serious writers are already spending plenty of time and money on books. Most of us are buying more than we can actually read, which is a good argument against pressuring us to buy still more. Sales for most independent publishers are still quite low, but it’s not because writers aren’t supporting them: it’s because there is a finite number of writers. You have to sell to other people if you want better numbers. This market is tapped out. And your endless stream of insincere recommendations? They are actively counterproductive in any and all efforts to reach out to new readers.

If you were more honest (if we were), then better books would sell more often. As it stands, I have become dead to your book recommendations. I no longer believe you love anything. I no longer believe you know what love is.

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84 Comments

  1. postitbreakup

      damn

  2. Anonymous

      nice. very impassioned. though i’m not sure it will work that way, telling people to quiet down. they just don’t want to. they’ll even make noise b/c you said not to. the only direction is into it, make your best noise.

  3. Roxane

      Yeah, the fake book buyers are pretty damn annoying. Like, why bother saying you bought the book? It’s not necessary at all. Tagging me and then not buying the book? It is kind of insulting and what you do then is show me that you are weird and I won’t forget that while I would never have noticed a thing if you simply said nothing about doing nothing. 

      I will say though, maybe your Facebook feed is skewed? The people, the readers, whose opinions I really value just don’t waste time with fake endorsements. Who has that kind of time? I definitely see some of this phenomenon at work but I think you’re a bit cynical here and taking a rather narrow view. Sure, some people are full of shit but it’s pretty obvious that they’re full of shit about books, what they buy, what they read, what they love. I think it’s a stretch to link that sort of behavior to low book sales and such and it’s also a stretch to suggest most book recommendations are insincere? Perhaps your bar for sincerity is too high? By that I mean, how would you define a sincere recommendation?

  4. Helen

      I agree with your assessment about Facebook – the insincere people aren’t saying ‘this book is amazing buy buy buy’ to me, they are usually passing networking style links around about various mediocre events – in the case of where I’m from, far too many crime fic seminars, how to get pubbed seminars, how to get your agent. The future of publishing/epublishing for the nth time. Lovely agent speaking tomorrow night, buy tix now! 

      And the books, of course, are forgotten in this. When I see a recommendation, it’s usually heartfelt. Or a sign saying ‘I think this might be good, why not check it out’, which is different to a fake endorsement. 

  5. alan rossi

      yes.  thanks for putting this out there.  even reviews (recommendations), which take some time with any book, are typically insincere, hyperbolic, and often unhelpful in deciding anything about a book. 

      even love.  the word love.  even like.  i like this book.  i love this book.  i don’t understand either of those phrases.  either i am inside a book for a period of time and it becomes my mind and my mind becomes it or something less than that happens or something even less or i stop reading.  so many of the ways we talk about these things are too easy, done without much thought, words tossed about like seed, with some vague hope of growing a thing, but not really knowing how. 

      anyway, thanks.   

  6. Melissa Broder

      i told mike kitchell i wld read his book but then i just froze it. 

  7. Melissa Broder

      feel like i shld prob defrost it and read it.

  8. Melissa Broder

      it’s good warm.

  9. Dave K.

      Relatedly, I’d really like to pat a portion of my friends list on the shoulder and tell them that it’s okay to not like stuff sometimes. Not a big portion, but still, it’s sad to see people get so wrapped up in marketing themselves as a Supportive Community Member Who Also Writes (Hint Hint) that they almost forget how to be honest about what really motivates them, and what doesn’t.

      Often, people justify that as not wanting to offend anyone because the degrees of separation in our little world are so small, but that’s a very telling statement: if writers are so petty that one bad review or critical remark about our work is enough to poison our opinion of someone forever, then our community isn’t built on much.

  10. Trey

      coconut bliss bars, jealous.

  11. JP Reese

      There is a lot of truth in what this essay claims, but some of us are so poor, we wait for writers who are friends to kindly send us their hard work for free.  I can afford the occasional five or six dollar chap these days, and I try to buy a friend’s work when I can, but more expensive books are out.  I do, however, ask local libraries and the library at the college where I work to order a copy.  That’s literary activism on the cheap.  I have written exactly two book reviews in the last two years, i.e., given a writer the “entire buffalo” (I love that phrase!).  One was of Brian Turner’s Phantom Noise and the other Susan Tepper’s From the Umberplatzen.  I don’t know Turner, but his work is so expert and moving, I couldn’t help but write about it. It was almost a moral imperative for me to do so.  I do know Tepper, and her little book did the same thing to me.  I couldn’t NOT write about it nor could I not praise it. It is so clever and whole in its characterization and design of plot elements–I have never read a book quite like it before.  There is a kind of I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine in the writing word, but isn’t that true of “networks” everywhere?  The give and take is simply a microcosm of what happens in the larger world in business, politics, and industry.  There are few great writers out there, but at least some people are writing rather than sitting on their widening asses in front of a television, and we should be thankful for that.  Most fledgling writers are lucky to find a more seasoned writer to mentor them.  I have been fortunate that way, and it’s made a huge difference to me.  The hit and run folks who praise without purpose (other than a personal desire to get ahead) don’t bother me.  I’d rather have them mixed in with those who really do mean well than have silence. The difference is usually crystal clear.

  12. A D Jameson

      I never believe hype—instead, it causes me to tune out, pretty much immediately. If someone thinks something is awesome, they should try explaining why, rather than telling me that it’s awesome. Because…everything is awesome nowadays!

      What are always in short supply, however, are articulate descriptions/reviews/evaluations. Thus, when a person goes to such an effort, it makes me think they believe what they’re saying, and causes me to start wondering whether or not I’ll agree.

  13. Mike Meginnis

      I think I am probably reading some of our shared social network with a little more cynicism than you are. There’s probably a lot of overlap between our feeds (everyone who adds me these days has you already), but what looks like dishonesty to me may not really be dishonesty at all in many cases.

      To be clear, though, I don’t think this phenomenon is at fault for low sales. I only think it’s one of many things we do that make our best books somewhat less successful than they could be.

  14. Alessandro Cima

      This is why most great critics do their best writing when they are reviewing crap that they despise. The inclination toward friendship and mutual promotion is deadly on the web. It’s the driller killer of all art. You simply must be willing to be the great asshole at the party. There’s no other way to be taken seriously when you recommend something. Nine out of ten reviews should be death threats against various authors, filmmakers, artists, whatever. But that tenth is the one you want people to stop on.

      Stop making friends. Be an asshole. Don’t be afraid. They’re not really your friends anyway.

  15. Roxane

      I would say yes there’s some cynicism. As I said, I do see what you’re referring too but I am also extremely tired of people (not you, generally speaking) complaining about “hype” and positive reviews and not contributing anything to the conversation. If you don’t like what you see in how people talk about books, lead by example, otherwise you’re just sort of contributing to the same noise you lament.

  16. Mike Meginnis

      Yeah. I haven’t been promoting what I read as heavily as I used to because I felt weird participating in this (and also because I read about 40% semi-popular fiction that doesn’t need my help, 30% old stuff nobody wants my opinion on, and 30% actual “indie” stuff, but usually well after the conclusion of the hype cycle), but there’s an obvious down side to that.

  17. Kevin Sampsell

      Maybe some of the people who say they ordered your book did so on Amazon, Powell’s, Small Press Distribution, or directly from the author. Unless you’re the exclusive person selling the book. Just saying.

  18. Roxane

      I’m personally referring to books I know I’m the only one selling. I can’t know for those that might be in Powell’s which is the only place where people can buy THP books other than from me.

  19. Anonymous

      Issues articulated in this post are the reason I am so reluctant to involve myself in a literary community. Talking to other writers sometimes feels like talking to a bobble-head doll (smiles and nods), and other times it feels like a person who is unnaturally impassionedly opinionated over silly little things like third person or Twilight. 

      It’s like talking to a caricature, a holograph, structured in such a way due to a combination of ambition, insincere positivity, and too much sensitivity toward a person’s feelings. Shit’s kind of lame.

      I’ve only purchased two books based off of reviews on this site. One was disappointing, and the other was good, but was maybe 10-20k words in length consisting of like really short stories that were just funny premises and nothing else. Idunno. I’d rather buy an album I listened to already one thousand times on vinyl, or get a Dover thrift, or buy a solid 500 page book for the same price as some short well-designed thing.

  20. Mahmoud

      This would have been a lot better as one of those yellowish blurb things saying only “If you were more honest (if we were), then better books would sell more
      often. As it stands, I have become dead to your book recommendations. I
      no longer believe you love anything. I no longer believe you know what
      love is.”

      The rest was a ton of words saying virtually nothing.

  21. Adam Robinson

      Man, this was great to read. I wonder, where did this problem come from? I don’t feel like it was an issue a few years ago. Is it because of how universal Facebook has become? Now we are all connected, so we aren’t connected to the non-writers or something? I do feel a bit of cocooning in my feed, so that a huge portion of my status updates sound like nonsense to my “real” — or, non litworld — friends.

  22. Mike Meginnis

      Thanks Adam. I think it’s an largely issue of codification. People didn’t used to know how you were “supposed to” promote books. Now they do know. The problem being that now we’re only promoting them to ourselves.

  23. Anonymous

      I had no idea people do that. How depressing.

      A few times I’ve bought a book and started it and talked about how I like it and then for one reason or another not finished it, and if it was some kind of small press indie thing I felt like a complete shit.

  24. leapsloth14

      I would like to push back. One, I don’t go around telling people I bought their book. WTF is that? BUT, without telling them, the small presses and indie-type (whatever that means, that crowd, etc.) people I do talk about I read. I either got their book through various avenues (without paying) or I bought their book. And read it. There’s plenty of Good Faith out there, too.

      Thing is you can “read” someone pretty easily online. Not much spent there, except time.

  25. leapsloth14

      This is what we call using the entire buffalo. ??

      We Praise things we don’t really like. ??

      I feel like the “get off the lawn dude” in the room, but there is no fucking way I am going to ‘use the whole buffalo’ time commit for something I genuinely don’t like. And praising things I don’t like? You’ve lost me.

      The tragedy is that mediocre writers are allowed small, brief, mediocre
      careers that stunt them forever when they should probably be learning
      more, failing better, etc.; they become complacent in their adequacy.

      I’m stopping now. Seriously? Tragedy?

      How can you in the present define someone’s career? You mean like when Cormac McCarthy published in a little student run magazine at the University of Tennessee? It was small, brief, and mediocre. Where is that magazine? Gone.

      How about letting writers write? That’s learning more.

      You just sound burned out to me, dude.

  26. Anonymous

      It’s tragically humorous how diluted some words have become in the 21st century.

      84 ‘happy birthday’ wall posts does not mean you are loved. 

      Facebook is not a community of friends. 

      But I feel you.

  27. Anonymous

      I like this post. I think the reason that people say they have bought (and/or read) a book when they haven’t is because they feel guilty for not having read or bought it. I think Facebook is to blame for this, or maybe this website, or maybe the internet in general, in that there is a lot of ‘buzz’ generated around not just certain authors and/or books, but around SO MANY authors and books, many of whom are really great writers, but also around many writers who are just not that good or interesting. This is a subjective judgement, obviously, but I do not think it is the fault of readers for feeling guilty for saying ‘yes, I bought this book’ – the problem is that there is a lot of shit out there to read, and people are inclined to promote the shit out of their books. Neither of these things are problems, so why get annoyed at people who, I think, ultimately mean well?

  28. Bobby Dixon

      After the review of Heavy Feather Review, I feel like I am seriously lacking in the facebook friend column. 

      Maybe there’s a new metric where you have so many lit friends on fb measures your success as a writer. I’ve probably only added like ~2 peeps based on things I’ve published. 

      Feels kind of shitty.  

  29. Mike Meginnis

      I can’t define someone’s career really — note that I don’t claim this is happening to any particular person. But I do get a general feeling that it is happening: that people who might otherwise learn and grow get used to thinking of themselves as “having careers” during what should be the most fruitful learning period of their lives. I could be wrong! And yes, I definitely am a little burnt out. I am tired of messages that say “BUY BUY BUY.”

  30. Janey Smith
  31. Guest

      all your friends are suckas

  32. Bobby Dixon

      Sweet, I like Metazen. I always thought there submissions were closed, for some reason. 

      New friend! 

  33. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      Sean, I am with you in the pushback, I guess. I understand the annoyance with hyperbole and hype or whatever, but I find all of the cynicism about community and people’s motivations and whether there is a community, etc, equally obnoxious. I try to take the time sometimes to write more substantively about why I like things I like (I don’t do as much of this as I would like because I think it is hard and intimidating and I am busy), but I also do things like resharing articles or interviews or reviews or promotional links, including those for things I have not purchased or read yet (although I have never pretended to read something I haven’t read, or to have bought something I haven’t bought), either because I trust the person who recommended whatever it is, or because I like the person who wrote the work in question and they are my friend or someone I am friendly with and I want to make them feel good and I don’t see anything wrong with that. That is community. There. Done. It exists.

  34. Melissa Broder

      yes but will you BUY them?

  35. karl greenfeld

      i have read and loved all your books. I recommend them highly!

  36. leapsloth14

      Mike, you have published in many venues, some of them this “community” (those aren’t Tao Lin quotes, BTW) you speak up. Did publishing make you feel like you made it and didn’t need to work on your writing any more? Did it reduce your striving to write the best thing you could write. I see that as as Me problem, not the presses or mags that liked your words.

  37. Mark Crittenden

      Ah, yes the company of fair-weathers.  We all have to weather it.  You are after all dealing with a community of artists, and artists are territorial and conniving by nature.  Go ahead…ask one and see what they tell you. ( of course you wont’ get a straight answer).  So yes, some of them will love you for your work, some of them will pretend to love you so they can keep up with the Jonses, and others may sift your work just to lift ideas.  And so the cycle of life continues, but if it starts to feel like a cycle of abuse I can suggest a few ways to lessen the blow.  1.  Don’t tell your friends or associates what you’re writing about.  Keep a low profile during the creative process.  If they want to know tell them to pick up a copy and buy it.  2. Giving praise to others for their work is nice.  I encourage it, but don’t be a fluffer.  Do yourself justice by demanding respect for the work that you do.  It’s okay to put yourself on that pedestal too.  3. Grow a thick skin. If people talk your work down, half the time it’s because they are jealous.  Your work will shine through if its good.  Trust me, I hunt talent all the time, and I only believe what I see. 4. Swim with the sharks. All authors/artists are savages, and will head hunt anyone that can improve their standing.  Tout your work, and believe in it. You alone know your true potential.  
      Thanks for letting me read your expose’.  It’s a very universal experience, and good to get off your chest.           

  38. deadgod

      Are they any good?

  39. Anonymous

      I didn’t list my bday on my the FB prof, no one wished me happy bday on my FB wall, and it was the best thing ever.

  40. alan rossi

       it’s great that you and sean don’t do any of things that mike mentions here, but that doesn’t mean these things don’t exist.  they do.  that’s not to say that there aren’t positive things going on in the “community,” either.  and i think mike would say, though of course i don’t want to speak for him, that there are plenty of pleasant and important and cool people in the community who are doing interesting things with books and saying important words about books. 

      still though. 

      there is this weird hyperbolic response to things/books/events/whatever somewhat frequently.  occasionally?  i don’t know.  enough that i’ve noticed it and i don’t even play that much, aren’t on facebook or twitter, etc.  interestingly, or ironically, or maybe even unfortunately, mike’s use of the word “tragedy” i would put in this same category.  it’s not a tragedy.  just a thing.  still a thing to notice and maybe put right a little though. 

      there is a lack of serious-seeing criticism (i don’t mean negative reviews), though lately the review section of the giant has been filling that hole some.  and like barry says somewhere below, we’re part of a culture which is diluting words through careless use, and as writers, it seems kind of dumb that we’re sometimes are a part of this.  anyway, that’s the point of all this to me, to be a little more careful, a little more mindful.  the words deserve it. 

  41. Melissa Broder

      “Coconut Bliss Bars’ second year in my freezer chillingly depict the lick of a certain complacent element to apartment living. They’re pretty butt…and they’re here to stay.”

  42. Anonymous

      I think you are being sensitive, and a little passive aggressive.  Having ‘fb friendz’ is not in any way a metric for success.

      fuck.

      My fb profile is friends with 90 plus indie lit people.  Out of my 311 ‘friends’, I initiated 5 of the relationships, and 0 of those 5 relationships are with indie writers/publishers.

      Maybe try harder at establishing relationships and less time pouting over perceived exclusions.  That’s my advice, at least.

  43. Anonymous

       You are the editor there now?  What happened to ole thumb dick, frank?

  44. Bobby Dixon

      I am always sensitive, fuck it. 

      Re being passive aggressive, I guess I don’t care. I thought I was being kind of funny and I do not think I have any “perceived exclusions.” I work hard as shit, if I am excluded, at least I tried. 

      I am confident w/ my current relationships. I feel like my ~2 new fb friends re my published stuff is way stronger connection than most (~90-95%) other “lit” social media platform connections. 

      I do thank you for your advice. I am sure you would not have written if you didn’t think it would have been a good thing to do. 

      I work hard. I try to be a good person. And I’m still allowed to feel like shit whenever I feel like shit. 

  45. deadgod

      well I bet you think Whitney Houston was just a careless yowler and not the Greatest Singer in the History of the Terrestrial Atmosphere hmnh

  46. Critical Linking: February 14th, 2012 | BOOK RIOT

      […] true. Enthusiasm inflation has reached a crisis […]

  47. Matt Rowan

      Eech, to play off your call, I’m just gonna go ahead and say how much I despise the idea of intentionally being Harold Bloom or Joshua Cohen or Jonathan Franzen, or some other keeper of the cultural flame. Measured criticism, criticism that invokes the pros and the cons of a given work, without the impassioned “I like” or “I don’t like” is much more valuable to me. So basically, to be the asshole in the room, I’m calling your comment garbage, Alessandro. I find it wholly without desirability. You’re the jerk I’ve hated at every party I’ve ever been to, bloviating in that self-important way you will. 

  48. mimi

      jereme!
      i can finally tell you ! that i finally read ‘frowns need friends too’ ! and i loved it ! and i’m not just being an asswipe !

  49. D.A. Nicholls

      Critiquing the conversation is a contribution to the conversation.

  50. John Minichillo

      The hard part is reaching readers who don’t also write. If the publisher can do the hard part nothing else matters.

  51. Anonymous

      Pretty cool, Mimi.  Thank you for actually reading a recommendation.

      How did you like the cover?

      I suggest you also read his newer books: PERSON; HURT OTHERS; THE NO-HELLOS DIET.

      I think they are all from Lazy Fascist.  Which has quickly become my favorite small press.

      TRAINING is my favorite story from HURT OTHERS.

  52. mimi

      just read TRAINING, lol’ed more than a couple times, “No rice any kind anymore.”   
      thanks  the cover is good  i’ll take your recommendations, and get back to you in about a year, ok?

  53. Anonymous

       Nothing wrong with being sensitive. Feeling like shit is personal. By all means feel like shit.

  54. Anonymous

       Sure Mimi.  I’ll talk to you in a year if i’m still around.

  55. Alisha Karabinus

      Agreed — I read fewer and fewer book reviews, as so many are universally positive, and upon reading the book, I find that even when I agree, I disagree. It’s disheartening. It’s okay to be honest! Why aren’t we ever honest?

  56. Ryan Shea

      John, I had a similar thought. Also, much of the writing promo circlejerk does seem to come from an effort to reach new audiences through public forums, but the writer-as-marketer is part sales gimmick, part persona building (even when describing others’ stuff). Neither do much for a potential reader.

  57. Alessandro Cima

      Yes I am that jerk you’ve hated and it’s worse than you think. I’m rather proud of it too. I don’t go to parties so you’re okay there. Jonathan Franzen is too nice. I would never suggest being him. Harold Bloom is okay I guess, maybe a bit classical or something. Doesn’t he write how-to books? I don’t know anything about Cohen, but he’s probably a huge jerk which might be alright with me under most circumstances. I don’t know. I’d have to meet him I guess.

  58. deadgod

      You’re curating your reputation in much the way that Mike’s blogicle complains about; instead of a Jolly Logroller, you’re being – or at least pretending here to be elsewhere – the Maximum Bob of Rote Contempt.  (–not an “asshole”, really; that would be less pitiable.)

      What Matt is advocating is a kind of integrity that requires discipline that neither getting along to go along nor playing the Hard Guy do, however much those attitudes reward consistency.  Matt is saying that sticking to mixed feelings – even beyond the point of dogmatism? – , if that’s the response to a piece one actually feels/thinks, is “valuable”–in contrast either to cheerily uninformed pseudo-support (Mike’s provocation here) or hyperbolic pseudo-hostility.

      Passionate fidelity to ambivalence, even when exaggerators determinedly misconstrue qualified reaction–that’s the ticket, friend-o.

  59. Anonymous

      Personally I love getting recommendations. I find it hard to get a hold of indie books. I would be willing to pay like $30 a year for a rotating basket if that makes sense. Like Paperback Swap but w/o the scary legal binding ness. I would be willing to write honest, deeply considered reviews of anything in exchange for quality content to read. The idea of community seems kind of sad. Like you’re trying to keep a balloon inflated by taking turns exhaling. Exhaling should be a relaxing experience. Gossip makes community more than insincere praise. Maybe you / we already have that?? Sounds like this is really about a loftier selfhood (and by that I mean culture) getting stunted. Sorry but that’s just the way it (culture) is right now. When you find yourself only caring about what your associates think, because you can’t imagine getting heard by others. Web Freedom. Like, I just typed this up and maybe I’ll have a totally different opinion in 14 hours. But my off the cuff honesty is contributing to the ecosystem of wholeness here. Just the other day someone was telling me abt. how much Oprah Winfrey for this culture. Just by exposing the reality of child sexual abuse, which was was never publicly recognized or understood until the past 20 years, because of her. Despite its prevalence. It was a theme that she introduced and continually revisited and built up in her program. And now it is understood. She will go down in history. And I was thinking, that is the kind of thing that artists are supposed to do. I agreed with this post a lot. But I would like to hear from publishers (not just self published writers). The good ones. Technically they could be making a statement too.  

  60. Anonymous

      Bloom so doesn’t do his best work on stuff he dislikes. Does he cover stuff he doesn’t like in anything but throwaway newspaper articles? Like the Potter one.

      Bloom is a madman on stuff he loves. Bloom on Stevens. . . Oh God, Bloom on Stevens. I don’t even know what to think about it, whether to say it’s good or valuable litcrit or whatever. But christ the man is insane. The good kind of insane. Infectious insane! Fuck! Fuck.

  61. Anonymous

      Haha, Maximum Bob?

  62. Anonymous

      This is a good point. I like the idea of a writer self-promoting. Of making money from writing, and maybe even being ruthless about it, because it seems appropriate to be ruthless about one thing or another in life. Yet, I haven’t really seen any promoting strategies within the indie lit community that have leapt out at me as just really fun and compelling. Sometimes they seem like promoting strategies that were foisted upon the writer, or are meant to be effective not in generating sales but (as mentioned in the post) in establishing the writer as solidly pro-Selling Books. As a good soldier. And I don’t really have any problem with those goals. But strategies meant to just fuck-all milk whatever available market for the last dollar a book can generate are also very interesting to me.

  63. Anonymous

      What is this system mentioned at the start of the post? Where you see who’s ordering stuff and from where? Is this Amazon feedback? We tell people we order books? I feel like I’m missing something very big.

      As for reading and hype and things – reading is my sacred time, and I have to obey the dictates of sacred time. I wake up early and load up on DUNKIN DONUTS coffee and read whatever is most likely to make me swim like a fish before hauling off to the minimum wage job that is really not that bad at all and which smells nicely too but it’s minimum wage so it seems I should bitch. If I’m going through a current-lit phase I get to feel connected to this community and stuff and I like that. But then I’ll get stuck redoing Random Old Book for months and that doesn’t really allow the breadth needed to hang in there as a part of the community who has opinions about new books. I feel like I’ve lost track of my point. I guess anymore I just feel like a dumb and inflexible reader, and I don’t think it’s my part to give recommendations. It would be like recommending meditation mantras. “You would really like ‘pewter.’ It has lasting value as a mantra.”

  64. Mike Meginnis

      I’m talking about systems like Paypal and CCNow, which give you that info because you’re going to need it to ship your customers’ orders. The things I’ve been most involved in publishing haven’t been sold through Amazon, which definitely doesn’t tell you anything about your customers.

  65. Matt Rowan

      When Bloom isn’t writing how-tos and various works of love for those guys in the canon he loves, he’s all over everything he thinks is wrong with writing and literature. Kind of a famous curmudgeon, actually. Jonathan Franzen is a buffoon and a romantic who wraps up everything he loves and hates in over-intellectualized details that distract from the point, are in my view almost exclusively red herrings. Joshua Cohen, you’d like him. Look him up. He’s developing quite a reputation, I hear. And he looks a little like Harry Potter. 

  66. Anonymous

       I have been involved in creative communities where people focus on the negative a lot more than the positive, and I have to say, it’s far, far less pleasant and it doesn’t really do anything to make the work being created any better. What ends up happening is everyone just tries to please the taste of the biggest asshole in the room, the guy that’s hardest to please. Everyone acts too cool for everyone else, and cultivates a very blase attitude of indifference about not only everyone else’s work, but also their own. There definitely are downsides to a culture that rewards people who are unabashedly positive about everything that comes from their own community greatly outweigh the positives of the switch being thrown the other way.  I think striking a middle balance is difficult. As for me, I talk about things I like and stay quiet about things I don’t.  The only time I may overemphasize how much I like something is if I am familiar with a person’s body of work and think they have done something new that is much more up my alley than the things they have done in the past, even if it wouldn’t necessarily catch my attention if I had read it without any context.

  67. Matt Rowan

      I just can’t get behind Bloom. As much as I’ve found humor in his loathing, which is what I have most experience with in terms of his writing (Stephen King). It just gets to be tiresome, though. I’m sure Bloom writes eloquently on what he likes. He seems really thoughtful, but I don’t think we share the same interests, based on what I’ve read of him. Wallace Stevens, too, seems interesting based on what I’ve read of him, if also not terribly to my own tastes. 

  68. Anonymous

      Well, I wouldn’t deny that he writes a lot of poop. In the stuff he once did, I’m reminded of past Blake Butler (I think?) posts I’ve seen on here that were really popular, where Butler basically zergs out on a piece of writing he really likes and lets whatever the work’s doing to him happen in words. Bloom has had phases where this was the sort of thing he did, and very often it was just wonderfully strange. The sort of writing wherein you get the sense that half the time the author himself isn’t quite so sure about what the hell he’s saying, but that he couldn’t really write what he felt he must without this half-sense, this lurking incomprehensibility. Writing with a kind of drunken faith. I like that. I think he did himself a disservice by getting into all the petty stuff that he’s wrapped up in now, because it overshadows the whacked out stuff he once did, which is a bummer. Though I can’t really blame him for recognizing his earning potential as a popularizer/agitator and cashing in on that. . . he can probably now buy whatever wine he wants, and if acting like a doof meant I drink wine of whatever price, I’d be very tempted to do it. . .

  69. Anonymous

       I just read that as “hyperbolic pseudo-hillbilly”

  70. deckfight

      let your yes be yes and your no be no

  71. deadgod

      Federal District Judge Robert Potter.

  72. deadgod

      I’d add only that, occasionally, vigorous scorn is a reasonable reaction to make public (because, occasionally, it’s a considered private reaction and not a matter either of piling on or of straining to appear ‘daring’).  For me, the error is not in the thumbs-up/thumbs-down, nor in enthusiastic expression, but rather, in (re)producing a climate of bullshit.

  73. Alessandro Cima

      Well of course I am curating my exhibit here. I change my character every day. What else would I do when given the chance? As I’ve said before, the best approach to the web when not actually producing one’s own material for it is hostility tempered of course with some brutal logic. The primary tendency I have noticed on the web – and feel free to disagree if you wish – is toward niceness. That’s why I like comments so much. They are less inclined to be sweet. We enjoy punching each other up down here in the basement.

      I like ‘passionate fidelity to ambivalence.’ That’s where I agree with you.

  74. Alessandro Cima

      I really don’t know what I think of Franzen yet. I disliked his recent statement about ebooks because they seemed like bad Wired Magazine crap. Criticizing ebooks for the impermanence is a waste. Everything is impermanent to one degree or another. I think I found a picture of Cohen and I really don’t think I’d like him one little bit. I hate Harry Potter. My daughter asked me to read the first one and it was a solid year of torture and I lied to her repeatedly on the phone about my progress.

  75. Alessandro Cima

       I once worked with a guy who said ‘If you don’t have anything bad to say, don’t say it.’ That made me furious. He was sort of leering at me when he said it and drinking too much. But he kept staring at me with that awful smile and he was absolutely dead serious. And in general I think he was right. The greatest danger is praise. You see the damage caused by praise every time American Idol rolls into town for auditions. The smartest person on television is Simon Cowell. Every time someone walks up on that stage with mom and dad behind them he gets this pitying look in his eyes that is just magnificent. Simon Cowell should write book reviews I think.

  76. Anonymous

      Haha, wow.  Well, good luck with that.

  77. Matt Rowan

      Joshua Cohen is probably not as biting in his criticism as you might like. I’ll just never forget how completely terrible I found his New York Times review of The Instructions, which had a great many problems at outset and not least of which being his seeming desire to hype his own equally long novel Witz. But he’s been pretty pugnaciously antagonistic to Tao Lin, in things I’ve read by him on the subject of his interactions with Tao Lin. So he has it in him to be an out and out jerk, criticism wise. Or so it had seemed to me. 

  78. deadgod

      If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.

      –Alice Roosevelt Longworth

  79. jesusangelgarcia

      I think so much of the problem here is public v. private communication, Adam. It’s the direct result of FB, Twitter, Blogosphere v. realtime talking, hanging, hugging live human beings. Public Big Talk (e-wise) has replaced private sincere relationships (in the flesh). Look at how many “writers”/people “live” online v. LIVE in the non-e world. I think it’s an ugly (d)evolution in humanity (aka human connection), but then, so-called humanity has always been challenged, so maybe it’s not much different from whenever way back when, only now our shortcomings are writ large(r) and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

  80. Alessandro Cima

       OH ho! Now there’s a person who was thinking! I like her – Miss Roosevelt. Yes, I agree with that. One extra thing that I would add to all this talk of praise versus despair is that one should always do one’s best to pick on people who are at least a little bigger than one’s self. To be quite honest about, I certainly wouldn’t want to be a disparaging asshole if a friend wrote something I didn’t like. But if Franzen does, I’ll kick him in the knees. Why not? Or even a dead author is nice to beat up on. Like Wallace. I can’t stand those horrific chapter titles about the year of the adult depend undergarments. Foolish. Dull. But I’ll finish his book, that’s for sure. I bought the ebook version first, but then bought the paperback because someone I know used it in a film and I thought it looked sufficiently massive for my tastes. But I hate any author who uses any sport in a book. Like tennis. Or baseball. DeLillo ruined a perfectly good book by making it about baseball. All-American asshole. If I run into that guy, I’m going to let him know about it too.

  81. Alessandro Cima

       I just read Cohen’s review of Lin’s book, ‘Richard Yates,’ who, by the way, I like also, as an easy read. Cohen’s review is wonderful. I like it as much as the quotes from Lin. They could be good friends I think.

  82. Meg Tuite

      Have to say this was a sad essay to read, Mike. I happen to read and buy and promote what I love and hope that others will do the same. I think we have a better ratio of indie writers and readers in the community helping to promote good work than the agents and big publishers that really don’t give a shit, except for the name. Happy to say that I’ll stick with promoting books that I love whether the writer is known or not!

  83. Meg Tuite

      Have to say this was a
      sad essay to read, Mike. I happen to read and buy and promote what I
      love and hope that others will do the same. I think we have a better
      ratio of indie writers and readers in the community helping to promote
      good work than the agents and  big publishers that really don’t give a
      shit, except for the name. Happy to say that I’ll stick with promoting
      books that I love whether the writer is known or not!
       

  84. werdfert

      it helps to write transparently insincere reviews. or to avoid giving 5 stars to anything.  or what i do is just write anecdotal reviews.