Over the holidays (and a bit beyond) we posted the favorite books of almost 50 actors, musicians, bestselling authors, and even an internet celebrity or two. Their selections were generally varied with an Anthony Doerr here and an Elena Ferrante there, but one of the most interesting (to me, at least) common selections was a book perfectly appropriate for stars of the TMZ Age: Jon Ronson's So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. When we made it a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month in April (and later a Best Book of the Year), we said "part of what makes this book ... so fun to read is a certain schadenfreude; it’s fun to read about others' misfortunes, especially if we think they 'had it coming.'" I don't necessarily feel good about that, but it's true. And it's something that probably plagues anyone with a public profile, no matter how "universally" beloved or undeserving of derision. Here's what four of our featured celebrities had to say about it.
Sarah Vowell: I tend to steer clear of books that seem too blatantly “relevant.” Part of the joy of reading is finding my own relevance. Like, Christian Tschumi’s book Rebel in the Garden, about the Japanese dry gardens of Mirei Shigemori, has implications for, say, landscaping in light of the California drought. Or the recently departed Swede Henning Mankell’s detective novels speak to the plight of refugees in Europe, a topic which gets horrifically newsier by the hour. I doubt I would have picked up a book about Internet shaming but I’ll read anything by my old pal Ronson, who always tackles serious topics with a sense of play and an appreciation for the absurd. I like how he puts, say, character assassination on twitter in the context of the time-honored human impulse to collectively chasten wrongdoers. Still, after digging through the Massachusetts State Archives to search public records for publicly humiliated Puritans, Ronson notes, “For the first hundred years, as far as I could tell, all that happened in America was that various people named Nathaniel had purchased land near rivers.”
Reese Witherspoon: This is a fascinating exploration of modern media and public shaming. John Ronson has provided me so many dinner party conversation topics with this book. It's a great conversation starter. Is Twitter the new Salem Witch trials?
Judd Apatow: As someone who has both shamed people and been publicly shamed, I loved this book about the madness of the social media mob. It is terrifying, sad, and funny. My favorite three things!
Jesse Eisenberg: It is difficult to read this book and not feel equal parts righteous (because we would never do the horrible things that the people in this book have done) and guilty (because we all have done the totally benign things that the people in this book have done.), it's a terrifying and keen insight into a new form of misguided mass hysteria.