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Shelf Life

In his essay On Smarm, Tom Socca quotes Malcolm Gladwell:

Negative stuff is interesting the first time, but you’ll never re-read a negative article. You’ll re-read a positive one. Part of the reason that my books have had a long shelf life is that they’re optimistic, and optimism permits that kind of longevity.

Socca responds:

One curious fact about this long view is that it’s quite untrue. I can’t recall ever, unless compelled by duty, rereading a Malcolm Gladwell article. What I have reread is Mencken on the Scopes Trial, Hunter Thompson on Richard Nixon, and Dorothy Parker on most things—to say nothing of Orwell on poverty and Du Bois on racism, or David Foster Wallace on the existential horror of a leisure cruise. This belief that oblivion awaits the naysayers and the snarkers shouldn’t survive a glance at the bookshelf.

I reread difficult books for better understanding; I reread beloved books as comfort food; I reread in search of certain half-forgotten turns of phrase. I do agree that Gladwell’s stunts lose their punch after the first reading, after their absurd premise is explained.

I’ll follow Socca’s unoptimistic reading list. The first entry, Mencken coverage of the Scopes Trial, is in the public domain. I rendered the plain text archive into a more readable format using Markdown.

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