The Literary Humblebrag

Noreen Malone rolls her eyes at the lengthy and self-aggrandizing “Acknowledgements” page of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book and complains about what the practice has become:

While Sandberg is the latest egregious example, she’s in good company. E.J. Dionne, a master of the form, tends to include just about every famous person he has ever met in his end pages. “[I]f these acknowledgments are a bit long, I hope the reader will forgive me. It’s because I have a lot of debts to pay,” he writes at the close of Why Americans Hate Politics. (The list is actually very useful in that it offers a much more concise evocation of why Americans hate politics than the book itself: Look no farther than his lengthy list to be reminded of Washington’s much-maligned clubbiness.)

Chelsea Clinton was recently thanked in the acknowledgments of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree, and also scattered faux-carelessly amidst the long list of Brooklyn writer types who’d read drafts of Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction, suggesting either that Ms. Clinton has a particular interest in highbrow modes of self-discovery, or that those interested in highbrow modes of self-discovery have a particular interest in her.

David Haglund counters:

“Perhaps readers already know that book publishing is an insular, back-scratching industry,” [Sam] Sacks says, “but does it have to be revealed quite so openly?” Why wouldn’t we want it to be? The real inspiration for a work of literary art may be mysterious, but the process by which that work reaches us should not be. Transparency is good. And so is gratitude.

But there’s gratitude and then there’s the literary equivalent of fellating every conceivable human being who had anything even faintly to do with the project. It’s a bit unfair to pick on EJ – revealing my own Washington clubbiness – because I bet he’s just a Catholic making sure he is not being ungracious. But he’s the exception to the rule.

There is, of course, the hathetic response: a gleeful examination of the author’s network of influential friends and literary connections. They tell you something about an author.