Tales of book-world disputes blow up so reliably online that they could be a new genre, subtitled ‘the thrill of being mean’
The dignified thing, if you have to read it at all, is to read it and move on without comment. But, bored at our desks and seeking distraction, most of us can’t find self-denial with both hands. I feel sheepish writing this; clearly some things are best left to Twitter, and it breaks that old rule of travel journalism: why spend time telling someone not to go somewhere they weren’t going anyway? Or in the case of Who Is the Bad Art Friend?, the jumbo piece that ran in the New York Times this week, delineating a scandal in a tiny corner of the book world and instantly blowing up social media: here are some people you’ve never heard of – and, guess what, they’re awful!
It happens every few months, somewhere or other, with a reliability approaching a new genre. Someone, usually working for a large media company, devotes considerable resources to excavating an obscure story of relatively low public interest. It may be organised around a local dispute, as in the huge New York magazine story of February about a woman in New York and her difficult tenant. It may feature a somewhat well known figure, as in the New Yorker’s investigation into the thriller writer Dan Mallory and his dubious claims about himself. Crucially, it must have no real implications beyond its own parameters, and a lot of “fancy that” energy, so that, over the course of the thousands of words spent unpicking the story, the reader may be simultaneously gripped and provoked to wonder: what am I doing with my life?
Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist