Writing in Slate, Jacob Silverman argues that literary culture, driven by Twitter and blogging, has gotten too nice:
if you spend time in the literary Twitter- or blogospheres, you’ll be positively besieged by amiability, by a relentless enthusiasm that might have you believing that all new books are wonderful and that every writer is every other writer’s biggest fan. It’s not only shallow, it’s untrue, and it’s having a chilling effect on literary culture, creating an environment where writers are vaunted for their personal biographies or their online followings rather than for their work on the page.
I think we’ve all encountered shallow and forced positivity online, and all those likes and RTs and squeefests can, at times, ring a more than little hollow. I’m a bit wary of reviewers who choose not to write negative reviews, which, by the way, is completely hypocritical because I have a self-imposed rule not to give bad reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
But I disagree with Silverman that old school negativity is an integral part of a more virtuous literary culture. Sure, we need both positive and (thoughtfully) negative reviews, and above all we need honesty, but there’s no reason thoughtful literary criticism and squeefests can’t coexist. It’s a big Internet out there.
Besides, uh, have you seen some of the reviews on Goodreads? Some of them would make H.L Mencken blush they’re so hostile.
Even if one accepts the premise that we’re getting more positive in the Internet age… what are we losing again? Old school literary smackdowns may have been entertaining for those who agree with the reviewer, but I’m not sure I see how hysterical pans really advance constructive dialogue.
So basically… if there’s a problem I don’t see a problem.
What do you think? Too many rainbows and puppies out there? Would we be better off with more negativity and fewer niceties? Does the problem have more to do with cliqueishness than positivity?
Art: The Happy Violinist with a Glass of Wine by Gerard van Honthorst