I read a lot of blogs. Well, I don’t actually read that many, I scan the post titles or the first couple paragraphs looking for something interesting. Something I’ve learned that’s saved me a lot of time is to avoid articles that are about something that sounds like an interesting idea because, too often, they do only sound like an interesting idea. Here, I can make up a couple headlines on the spot:
Why taking the bus may be better for your health than walking
Why Obama’s plan for climate change might heat up the Midwest
When donating money to Haiti’s rebuilding efforts make things worse
Don’t those types of headlines sound vaguely familiar? They’re all barely plausible and the world wouldn’t be quite as it seems if they were true–and we love it when the world isn’t what it seems. It’s one of the reasons we love movies, isn’t it?
But I always find these kinds of articles really disappointing because, more often than we want, the world is as it seems and these headlines ending up disappointing the reader and making an already cynical world more cynical. That’s why I usually skip these headlines altogether.
But when I picked up an old issue of The Walrus this holiday and skipped to an article called, “Between the Sheets: Why you should resist the lure of book clubs,” for some reason, I couldn’t resist. I think I read it for two reasons, I couldn’t fathom how book clubs could be bad and I wanted to see this guy fall flat on his face.
It was the perfect example of an article with a somewhat controversial “the world is not as it seems” headline that made a really poor case. I don’t want to pull the article apart completely because that’s not my point, but here’s an extract:
But I would suggest that this fascination with book clubs — forming them, joining them, chronicling them — is both antithetical to the enjoyment of reading, and perfectly in keeping with our modern conviction that nothing is worth doing that isn’t immediately shared.
If I had decided I was going to buy into this article, my brain could rationalize this. Superficially, it could make sense that sharing your thoughts on a book is similar to how people feel the need to share what they’re doing right now on Facebook–but wait a second. Haven’t book clubs been around long before social media? And how much of a stretch is it to say that a book club, which typically meets once a month, is the same as a Facebook update which has been changed 100 times in that same period?
Could The Walrus really not do better than this contrived, “the world isn’t as it seems” article that didn’t even require that I turn a page in order for it to trip and fall? If this issue of The Walrus were an album, this article would have been that short filler track with noise that takes up 4:35 minutes of album time while not contributing anything. And I don’t want to pick on this article or the Walrus–I’m sure Adam Sternbergh has written interesting articles before and The Walrus is a quality magazine–these articles are everywhere. Maybe there isn’t enough good journalism to fill all the magazines out there. Or maybe there is but the headlines aren’t as catchy as “the world isn’t as it seems”.
Just remember that there’s a world of difference between an interesting idea and something that sounds like an interesting idea.