I Can’t Recommend You Anything

I am bemused every time a stranger asks me to recommend them something to read. And that might sound like a severely infrequent occurrence, and it probably is for most people, but anyone with an online following has probably been asked this question once or twice. Multiply that number for anyone who reviews books. And add a few more to it when you get your own published.

It’s normal, natural.

David Bowie compiled a list of his favourite books and I immediately saved the link for monthly reference. I want to know which books David Foster Wallace loved. I want to know what Richard Ayoade and David Mitchell read before bed. I want to know because these are people I admire, people who I think would make smart and interesting choices. People I respect.

Conversely, sometimes I see book recommendations from people I follow on Twitter and I add it to my ignore pile. We’re not the same. If they loved it, it probably isn’t for me. It’s kind of an asshole thing to say but there are too many good books and not enough good days, so any process to whittle the choice down, however arbitrary, feels excusable.

I get it, though. I get why people who watch my videos might be interested in my recommendations. Maybe they relate to me. Maybe they, for whatever misguided reason, find me interesting. Maybe they have simply enjoyed my past recommendations – I do have great taste. But, by the same token, I’d never ask Richard Ayoade or David Mitchell to recommend a book to me, personally, because they have no idea who I am.

If someone asks me to recommend them a book, and they’re just an online handle with a tiny photo, then I can’t. I can’t adequately recommend them a book. I know nothing about them. When we recommend books to friends or family, we tailor those recommendations to the individual. If I read a book and I adore it, I won’t then recommend it to everyone I know. I’ll recommend it to specific people. Those who will get the most out of it. Interesting historical fiction? That’s for Jim. A digestible, philosophical perspective on life? That’s Myles. A funny picture book? Where’s Arun at? I can’t recommend you a book if I do not know you, I can simply regurgitate my own selfish preferences. My own, biased proclivity towards bitter, existential rambling from metaphysically tortured white men. And no one needs a signal boost on that shit.

So, I can tell you what I love. I do tell you what I love. I have. There are book videos on my channel talking about my favourite reads. There’s no secret information I’m keeping back. No hidden gems. But I can’t tell you what to read if I don’t know you. I think reading is a personal experience; every novel means something different to each person who reads it. Maybe you’re twelve. Maybe your issues are huge. Maybe you’re struggling with an abusive home life. Maybe you’re not, maybe you just like ponies and pokemon. Maybe you’re fifty and you love knitting or curling and still go clubbing on the weekends, which is perfectly fine, but you feel kind of down about the stigma attached to it and the looks you get. Maybe you’re thirty, you’re a passionate stockbroker with a baby on the way. Maybe you’re all or none of these people. I can’t just throw Knut Hamsun’s Hunger at you and hope for the best.

When We Were Assholes: In Defence of Context

Our social climate is perpetually changing, whether it’s the trudge towards racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, or the proliferation of the emoji, there’s a constant intangible evolution of the way we interact with and respond to one another. And this has never been more closely documented than within the last ten years, with the advent of social media.

The minutiae of the changes in political correctness can be traced in timelines. Personal timelines. Individual Twitter feeds trace the death of taboos. The birth of social justice. And the homogenisation of what we consider appropriate.

And this is a good thing. It’s a great thing that I don’t see hard F’s in friends timelines after 2012. But they were there before. They were definitely there before.

In light of the recent Tobuscus allegations, people have been highlighting multiple tweets he sent in 2008. For example:

CaptureAnd yeah, that’s abhorrent in 2016. But how was it eight years ago? How was it when all we had been exposed to was endless comedians throwing the topic around and only a sea of dodgy online forums to meet strangers in? It wasn’t great but, unfortunate as it may be, it was probably par for the course.

Here’s something absolutely fucking stupid I tweeted in 2011:

mmI didn’t really mean rape, did I? I meant rough sex with someone powerful I’m attracted to. But I’ve flippantly used the word rape, and none of the ~300 or so followers I had at the time batted an eyelid.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post called Have I Been Raped? which seriously discussed both my own experience with rape and the nature of witch hunts on social media. But I didn’t tweet it out. Why? Because I was worried there would be backlash for tweeting the word rape on a public forum, even in this legitimate context. I didn’t want to upset anyone. This is 2016. This is my 2016 perspective. The above tweet was 2011. The above tweet was my 2011 perspective.

Here’s another 2011 tweet from someone else who, in 2016, is considered a good guy and a vocal advocate of consent:

dumdedo10aBecause, guess what? Shit was different back then. Today, discussions around what is and what is not accepted can spread faster and garner more awareness than they ever have before. This is an exponential growth. Regardless of whether or not Toby is innocent or guilty, a terrible joke made by anyone in 2008 shouldn’t speak as a complex testament to their character in 2016, or maybe we’d all be assholes. I know I would.

Here’s another disgusting thing I tweeted, in 2010:

2Body shaming. Would I tweet the above today? No fucking way. Did I receive any backlash for tweeing it in 2010? No fucking way.

Things change. 

One of these developments is endlessly encouraging and one is a shackle to the past.

Now this post isn’t in defence of anyone or anything other than context. And, of course, some people have tweeted abhorrent shit in the past: revolting, racist, homophobic, misogynistic shit, and it wasn’t a weak joke. They genuinely believed it. Some still tweet it today, but most have learned to keep it private.  Especially those with an audience and something to lose. But some of us were just your nice, normal jerks living in 2010.

Full disclosure, here’s some more of my shitty rap sheet:

6This one isn’t particularly incriminating, it’s just not something I’d tweet now I’m followed by people who know me. And also gross.

1Casually tweeting about drug use.

3More body shaming and, again, also gross.

jk

This isn’t really slut shaming because, well, I’m there and with all the rest of my tweets it’s clearly not, but I’m also making a joke at the expense of teens responsible enough to get themselves tested.

I don’t really like the person from those tweets. She seems like an utter cunt. But she’s me. And I know the context, personally and culturally, so I can dismiss it. I’m sure that’s infinitely harder to do from an outsider’s perspective, but if you’re reading this you probably know me quite well. You know I’m an advocate for equality, for self-confidence, for inner beauty, and self-expression, whatever form that is, and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise. But I still tweeted that shit. I didn’t like my housemate so I took easy swipes at him. For two years all I did was drink and ‘party’ because I was depressed and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with my life, so that’s all I had to talk about. And I did. Online. Where you joined me in the future.

These days, almost our entire lives are uploaded. Every thought. Every mistake. Every collective and personal mistake. And as the timeline gets longer the past will become more and more warped.

A tweet does not a villain make, and our pasts do not define us – cultural guilt and the weight of history hanging heavy – we’re all moving forward together.