December 15, 2013

MEGAN MCARDLE: Why I Try Not To Write Bad Reviews.

I am, as my family and friends will testify, neither nice nor sweet. And I have certainly delivered my share of scathing takedowns and over-the-top denunciations. But I’m not particularly proud of it, and as I backpack into middle age, I’ve been trying to cut down on the snark, along with late nights, red wine and almost everything else I enjoyed in my 30s.

If not because I am nice, then why? Out of pity for my victims? Oh, sure, that’s a factor. When I used to write mean reviews of people’s books, I thought of them as big, powerful people who deserved to have their work torn down. Then I started running into those people, and to my shock, they had read — and remembered — even reviews I’d written for obscure outlets. They were people who had spent years of their lives working on something — something they thought was really important — and I had spent perhaps two or three hours composing a sarcasm-filled denunciation. They were hurt, just like I’d be. This is both sobering and socially awkward.

But that’s not actually the main reason I avoid it. The main reason I avoid the joys of snarky takedowns is that it’s not very good for you. Snark is immense, immense fun; the only thing more enjoyable than chortling to yourself over a particularly well-turned insult is having your friends and acquaintances e-mail to tell you how awesome it was. But if you’re basically pretty good at snotty putdowns — and most bloggers have at least an apprentice-level facility with this art — it’s almost too much fun. It’s too easy. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing the bunny slope.

I have written some epic snark, and I have written a book, and let me just tell you, there is no comparison. Books are hard. Reported features are hard. Sarcasm and outrage are easy, which is why they tend to peak in adolescence, unlike, say, mastery of nuclear physics.

True. For me, of course, I seldom buy a book, or see a movie, unless I expect to enjoy it. Sometimes I’m disappointed, of course, but usually I’m right. I seldom even accept commissioned reviews for things I don’t think I’ll enjoy — they don’t pay enough for those to make it worth several hours of unpleasantness. I still sometimes write negative reviews, but even then I try to focus on the subject, not bash the author. But that’s just me.

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