Popdose at Kirkus Reviews: “Humblebrag”

Written by Books, Kirkus Reviews

For almost 80 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose joins the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network to explore the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.

This week, a hashtag becomes a hardcover — but, frankly, the result remains a bit of a hash…

HUMBLEBRAG, by Harris WittelsA couple of weeks ago, I began a column with a paragraph on my process for selecting which books, of all those that cross my desk, I will choose to review. It was a cute opening, I thought; humanize the critic with the old day-in-the-life routine. When the column ran at Kirkus Reviews, though, I was surprised to see that My Gracious Editor there had snipped the entire opening. I pulled up the original to see what I had done wrong (there was no question in my mind that I had done something wrong; I’m not such an egomaniac as to second-guess an editor). Was the opening too self-indulgent? Too “inside baseball,” perhaps? Was I burying the lede?

Reading the open again, I recognized my sin immediately. The tone of the paragraph boiled down to this: What a bummer it is, trying to find space for all the cool free stuff that publishers insist on sending me. I had been caught in a humblebrag.

The humblebrag is a curious concoction, a sort of passive-aggressive false modesty. It was identified and named by Harris Wittels, the show-business all-arounder whose résumé includes production and writing gigs for Parks and Recreation and a column at Grantland. Humblebrags are calibrated to draw attention to the awesomeness of the braggart while simultaneously proclaiming that this very awesomeness ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

For instance, when someone bitches that she has to take a cab because her Bentley has a flat tire, it’s hard to muster up any sympathy — indeed, sympathy is not what she’s looking or; she really just wants to remind you that, yeah, she drives a Bentley. Or when Keith Olbermann tweets…

[T]his is breakfast in Delta 1st: Cheerios. MF’ing Cheerios (in coach they get gravel)

…the point is not to arouse outrage at Delta’s unconscionably shabby treatment of its First Class passengers, but to bring home that Keith Olbermann is a famous big shot, and his crappy day flying First Class is probably still better than your best day in Coach.

Having identified the phenomenon, Wittels began collecting examples on Twitter and retweeting them @humblebrag. It soon became one of Twitter’s most popular feeds, and it’s easy to see why. In its Web incarnation, @humblebrag is a great way to kill a coffee break, a little burst of Wrong Fun, tickling the thrill of snickering at the pretension of others. Which is why it is so disappointing that Wittels’ new book of material from the feed, straightforwardly titled Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty (Grand Central Publishing), sucks all the fun out of the enterprise, leaving only the Wrong.

And what spoils the transition most, cruelly enough, is the insertion of Harris Wittels’ own voice.

Read the rest of this article at Kirkus Reviews!