Written by Ella Walker


Shelf Life

A good book is like a good friend, says Ella Walker, you can’t let any old one into your life. This week she assesses So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Is it worthy of a permanent place on her shelf?

side view of booksWas it love at first sight?

I have issues with hardback books. I can’t stand them. Heavy and cumbersome, with tough corners that dig into your hands when you rummage in your bag for door keys, they always come wrapped in those pointless dust jackets (seriously, can someone explain the reason for these?).

In most cases, I will simply slog out the six or so months publishers take to get their acts together and release the softly cornered, dust-jacket-free paperback version. This does mean I often know the ending of a book before I get my mitts on it, though, which is a sad state of affairs, but I’ve got principles, you know? So no, this wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, reading the brand new Jon Ronson book came with a caveat from my boyfriend who bought it: read it, but be careful: IT’S A SIGNED HARDBACK COPY. I promptly ripped the dust jacket and now my relationship is in peril.

This is why I hate hardbacks.

How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable around each other?

Jon Ronson has the enviable skill of setting the scene, divulging huge amounts of information and giving you scope on exactly how he was feeling at any given time, in a handful of words. The man is a genius, his style so simple you’ve gobbled up half the book without even realising, the sentences rolling as smoothly as stroking a kitten. Having previously devoured The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and his collection of essays, Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, I would gladly wear a label saying “Ronsonite”, even though he’s irritatingly obsessed with self-promotion online. My only fear is that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, but it scraped through.

“It nudged me to instantly assess all my historical social media postings and muzzle any thoughts of ever sharing an opinion online again. EVER.”

Did it make you laugh out loud?

Not exactly; it’s funny but better at serving up chills than laughs. It details the intricacies of instant social death via a misphrased tweet, a plagiarised sentence, a bad-taste photo gone viral. Ronson shares the stories of Justine Sacco (who posted a tweet before getting on a plane; by the time she touched down it had ruined her world), and Jonah Lehrer (who made up quotes from Bob Dylan), honing in on how an innocuous moment online can, in a few retweets, destroy your entire world.

It nudged me to instantly assess all my historical social media postings and muzzle any thoughts of ever sharing an opinion online again. EVER. No one wants to anger a self-righteous mob, to be plunged into a world where no one will ever hire you again because a quick Google proves you’re a pariah. It’s utterly terrifying, but you just can’t look away.

Could you take it on holiday with you, without getting severely hacked off after three days?

You could, but it’s less suited to poolside margaritas than an interminable commute, so you can flick up your eyes in a mock-horrified manner at everyone thoughtlessly tapping out their life stories on Twitter. Clearly they haven’t read it yet.

How would you describe it behind its back?

Engrossing, scarily relatable, and neatly written. But there were several lulls in the action. The fact is, it’s good, excellent even, but it’s not quite as good as The Psychopath Test… Sorry Jon.

Cover of So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon RonsonHow would it describe your commitment levels – did you put the effort in?

This was a swift read. A page-turner if you will; in the space of two cups of tea and one car journey it was all over, but that’s not to say it’s all shimmer and sheen. It’s not; in fact, I can feel it burrowing ever deeper into my brain, retraining it to think before blurting and making sure my ‘compassion’ mode gets far more action than the one that likes to point out how wrong everyone else is.

You’ve had a nightmare time. Would it provide the understanding to get you through / soak up your tears?

It is a book of nightmares. If you don’t programme in a level head and a realistic outlook before reading it, you’ll come out the other side in a social-media-hating daze, on a mission to delete every account you have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest – all will be purged.

Would you let it meet your other friends?

Yes, real and virtual. Virtual ones more so: anyone who’s ever been drunkenly tempted to blab away on Twitter, who overshares on Facebook or thinks they’re well edgy on Instagram (I have no qualms with avocado on toast pics; keep ‘em coming) needs to read this book.

If you suddenly stumbled across it after several years of lost contact, do you reckon you would:
a) think of it fondly but accept you’d both moved on (keep but don’t read)
pick up exactly where you left off (reread every few years)
ditch it; obviously you were never really friends

A strong b). I imagine I will dip into at intervals over time – although for now I’ve hidden it. After ripping the cover, it’s probably better that way…

Next month Ella will be reading The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.


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Written by Ella Walker

Ella Walker is an entertainment writer and book blogger living in Cambridge. She likes swimming in the sea and eating biscuits. Preferably at the same time.