How This Anon Blogger Tumbl'd His Life Into A Book

q&a_david_shapiro_slide1_annaPhoto: Courtesy of Little A/New Harvest.
What happens when your personal blog unexpectedly blows up on the Internet? For David Shapiro the answer was complicated. Soon after starting an anonymous Tumblr called Pitchfork Reviews Reviews — containing his reviews of Pitchfork reviews, party reporting from an outsider's vantage point, and reflections on his own personal life — he started receiving some pretty heady responses from the Pitchfork staff he was taking to task, a blossoming league of fans, and eventually, the New York Times. Shapiro continued to write on his blog daily, until one day, he decided he had nothing left to write about.
That's when he decided to pursue a book deal, and Shapiro got the opportunity to tell his whole story as a novel. Written under a hard-to-Google pseudonym (he is currently in law school and trying to keep his online life separate from his professional one), Shapiro's debut novel, You’re Not Much Use to Anyone, (Little A/New Harvest) chronicles the rise to fame of an anonymous blogger named "David Shapiro" as his blog, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, becomes a viral success. Sound familiar? Fans of PRR will recognize many of the book’s anecdotes from the Tumblr, and new readers will no doubt find themselves hooked by Shapiro's confessional, stream-of-consciousness observations about life in New York as a recent college grad.
In his trademark self-deprecating style, Shapiro answered our questions about why his new book may also be his last, how he manages Internet fame, and why he would very much like someone to send him some free stuff already, dammit.
Why do you think PRR became successful?
"My thinking was basically that since the newest entries were posted at the top of the page, I had to make every entry good enough so that a potential reader who was coming to my blog for the first time that day would want to 'Follow' it. I also put a ton of time and mental energy into it — it was all I thought about for like six months, to the detriment of my relationships and professional life. There is no substitute for putting a ton of time into what you're doing online if you want it to be successful. Beyond that, it has a good name/name-based conceit, i.e., reviews of Pitchfork reviews. That's kind of funny."
What did you want readers to take away from your blog?
"I wanted people to see the name and then think, 'Is this kid serious?' And, then read it and be like, 'Wow, this kid is serious, what a nut,' and then other people would be like, 'He's nuts, but I kind of like it.' But, more than anything, I have been lucky — people have been nicer to me than they should have been, especially people at Tumblr, as well as my friends. I have been in the right place at the right time so many times, surrounded by people who, for some reason, volunteered to help me. I don't even understand it. I have often not been a great guy, and I don't deserve any of the things I have, especially the extant relationships in my life. But, I think the universe will sort this out by having me fail so spectacularly, in some endeavor or another, that I will never recover, and then all will be right."
What surprised you most about your sudden notoriety?
“Mostly, I guess, that nobody else seemed to notice or care that much. To me, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was the whole universe, but my girlfriend didn't read it or care about it, my friends didn't really talk about it, and I wasn't really reaping any material benefits from it. I thought if I had a Tumblr with a few thousand followers, I was basically a nearly micro-famous person. And, then to wake up and feel like the same dweeb I always was I thought, 'Wait, when will the benefits that come from being somewhat known on the Internet start raining down on me?' And, they didn't. Nobody sends me free stuff, for example. Maybe I've been sent, like ,three free things. I would love to be sent free stuff. I would wear it or use it all the time, no matter what it is."
Do you still think of yourself as anonymous?
"I still think of myself as anonymous, even though my picture is around. I'm anonymous because I want to separate my writing career from my legal career — I'm worried that people may regard me as a less serious lawyer because I did writing on the side, although people at the law firm where I work seem to generally regard my writing positively."
Do you have any regrets about the stuff you’ve written on your blog?
"I have taken almost every blog post down from PRR because they were embarrassing to me. I can't even read the old writing now. There's a weird thing that happens with the book sometimes where when I don't read it for three months, I start to imagine that it's terrible and filled with a ton of really embarrassing stuff that will follow me around forever, but then I finally will myself to read it and find out that it's not that bad. I've become much less comfortable with sharing details of my personal life. I have fantasies about deleting the Tumblr, changing my pseudonym, moving to a remote island, and living as a fisherman because of personal stuff I've written on my blog."
q&a_david_shapiro_slide2_annaPhoto: Courtesy of Little A/New Harvest.
How did the book deal come about?
"While I was writing my blog, an agent emailed me after I did a reading and said, 'If you ever have an idea for a book, email me,' and then a few months later, after I could no longer write my blog because I had run out of things to say, I emailed him and asked him if he was still interested. He said he was. He made me sign some papers, and we met with some editors and publishers. At first, during these meetings, he would be like, ‘David, just be yourself, you're great, they'll love you,’ but we met with so many editors and publishers who didn't love me that eventually he was just like, 'I'll do the talking.' This turned out to be the more successful approach."
Was it strange thinking of your life as a novel?
"My agent explained that to be a real book, it needed to have something called a 'conflict,' and we talked about that for like an hour. It sounds nuts to say an author had to be told that their book had to have a conflict, but, like, I haven't read any books on how to write books, so I was basically figuring it out as I went along."
So, how much of this book is factual versus how much is fictional enough to be considered a novel?
"I think I would really rather have people think about the book as a work of fiction, partially because a lot of it is fictionalized, partially because some of the parts that are true are embarrassing (for instance, the way the narrator David Shapiro deals with women is just something I would like to never read about or think about again), and partially because I think it's just a better book that way, rather than as some sort of documentary."
Why did you want to write a book about this time in your life?
"Well, I had felt like a complete failure for the first 22 years of my life, and then I wrote this blog which became somewhat popular in this tiny universe, and then I lost the ability to write the blog because I had run out of things to say. I wanted to write the book I guess to memorialize the one time I had been good at something and be proud of what I had done and then lost it."
People can be so cruel on the Internet. How did you deal with online criticism?
“I do my best not to read about myself — I have a deal with my publisher and agent where they are not to inform me of even the existence of any reviews (or sales figures), and in turn, I try to be a friendly and agreeable person and not make too many other unusual demands. When I don't have the discipline to not read about myself, and I do wind up reading something, I deal with it by feeling terrible about it, generally being consumed by it, and then never forgetting it."
You wrote that this will be your "first and last book." Is this for real?
"My friend just told me to stop saying this because then nobody will read it. People want to become fans and emotionally invest in careers, and if my whole career is this one short book, people won't even read that because there's nothing else coming down the pike. I think there is some truth to this, so I guess my real answer should be, 'I don't have any plans to write another book, but if something else strikes me, I will! In the meantime, buy this book that we're talking about right now.' Another real answer is that writing this book was very difficult for me, and now it's so public. I think the next time I feel the way I felt that prompted me to write the book, I will instead speak to a therapist — I think this would have been the normal reaction."
Your PRR writing is very narrative. Is it hard to adjust your free writing style for publications like the New Yorker?
"I think I would compare it to changing how you speak when you meet your girlfriend's parents compared to talking to your friends. Although obviously I try to be less anodyne in the stuff I write for The Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker than the stuff I say to girlfriends' parents because I'm trying to get people to actually read the stuff. I want it to be good. When I meet girlfriends' parents, I prefer to say as little as possible as inoffensively as possible so they don't think anything bad about me. This might not be a great strategy but it's safer than the alternative, like trying to be personable and falling flat."
Do you still read Pitchfork?
"Yes, just about every day, at least one of the reviews. I went through about a year of not really reading it, but now I'm back to reading it. I still like it, and I got whatever bones to pick with them out of my system (sorry to mix metaphors here) when I was writing my blog, so now I just use it for its intended purpose — finding and listening to new music."
What music do you like right now?
"I listen to Yung Lean, the Ultimate Country playlist on Spotify, the Country Drive and Chillin' on a Dirt Road playlists on Spotify, and Nash 94.7 FM on the radio in New York. I like country at the moment because, like rap, it has its own lexicon of signifiers I've never been exposed to. For instance, I have noticed that a huge percentage of country songs are about taking women to the water tower for romantic evenings — I don't understand it but I'm curious about it. Country is a whole new world of stuff to discover. And, a bunch of new pop-punk like Real Friends, Modern Baseball, The Wonder Years, and Man Overboard. The pop-punk stuff is just comforting. I whine, they whine, I can relate. Seems natural that the person who writes emotional blog posts would love emotional pop-punk."

More from Books & Art


R29 Original Series