Friends, ‘Friends,’ and Book Reviews
I live in Brooklyn which means I can’t even leave the house without twisting my ankle as I trip over an author, often one whose book is already on my shelf. Just yesterday this guy was asking me if I had any spare change and I said, “Wait isn’t this you?” and held up the book I was reading. He just blushed and ran away. They are a timid species.
This would be a happy problem if I had just remained a reader and writer, but I started reviewing books last year and recently I got an assignment from Time Out New York to review Tao Lin’s newest, Richard Yates. I met Tao in either late 2007 or early 2008 after I had already read a enjoyed Bed. I didn’t really care for that E-e-e book and his poetry did nothing for me, but Bed– that was a goddamn book. I shook Tao’s hand and told him I liked Bed. He said you should be one of my interns. I said, Ok but I am not going to do anything. He said ok. I became one of his interns and his facebook friend. I refused to participate in intern activity. I was invited to cover the Gawker offices in Britney Spears stickers but didn’t go. Years passed. I would see Tao at a reading and say Hi because I’m a nice person and he would run away. When Shoplifting came out, I thought it was funny but not satisfying and that made me sad because I wanted another Bed. Then I got the assignment from Time Out, a galley arrived and I liked it.
To me, I don’t think it breeches any code of book-reviewing ethics for me to write about Richard Yates. I do not benefit if his book does well. I don’t particularly care if it does or doesn’t. I do think Tao is a good writer and full of potential and I hate it when writers review his hijinks instead of his work. (I also feel weird about how much rage his work incites from the Anonymous Nerd Gangs of the Internet. Why do the Nerd Gangs care so much? Don’t they have Wikipedia grammar to correct or something?) There are authors who I have met who I wouldn’t review, such as Justin Taylor because we’re actually friends in the traditional meaning of the word. We have conversations face to face and stuff like that. I could review one of his books objectively, but I am sure other people wouldn’t see it that way. But Tao is a different story. He skulks around here and there and says weird shit to people and will answer almost any email anyone sends him, but I don’t think that means all those people are his friends. At least a few of his 3,607 Facebook friends may even belong to the Anonymous Nerd Gang.
But if I couldn’t review any books of any authors I had ever met or become Facebook friends with or crossed paths with in Brooklyn that would mean I couldn’t review a lot of books that I would really like to review. One example: Emma Straub has a good-looking book about to come out, but she works at my local bookstore, so should I go to the Barnes & Noble which lurks a few blocks away so I can remain neutral and avoid a friendly exchange? Fuck no. I’m going to Bookcourt whenever I damn well please, author-clerks or not. Actually, I’m going to Tao’s reading there September 9. Any Anonymous Internet Nerd Gang members want to fight? I’ll meet you on Court street after the free wine is gone.