Best New Interview with Pitchfork Reviews Reviews

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 very 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 eventually decided he had nothing left to write about. That is, until he landed a book deal.

His 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, ascends in readership. Sound familiar? In his trademark self-deprecating style, Shapiro answers 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. —MML

So, how much of this book is factual vs. how much is fictional enough to be considered a novel?
The first time I answered this question, I think I said about 80%, but then I just read this interview with Tao Lin where he said, “To me, at this point, I think I’ve found that I don’t want to think about whether anything is fictional, nonfictional, a persona, not a persona, authentic, not authentic, true, not true. I’m trying not to think about these things.” I feel the same way — 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.

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, so I spoke to him and he 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. Then I wrote the book. Then 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. Also, while we were shopping the book, one editor helped me edit it (with an eye towards eventually acquiring it) but eventually I chose to go with a different editor and publisher even though I loved him as an editor. He said he had always suspected that would happen. We haven’t spoken much since — I think it’s like if he was the surrogate mother of my child and then, after it was born, I never let him see it again. I feel guilty about it.

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 (not to say I wasn’t still a failure, but I had done one decent thing, or at least something people seemed to want to read), and then I lost the ability to write the blog because, as I mentioned above, I had run out of things to say, and so I wanted to write the book I guess to memorialize the one time I had been good at something/proud of what I had done, and then lost it.

You wrote in a recent post that this will be your “first and last book.” Do you really not want to write another book?
Oh boy… My friend just told me to stop saying this would be my last book in interviews because then nobody will read it because 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.” That answer actually feels pretty truthful. I think that is my real answer, and I don’t feel that self-conscious about saying it because I guess I think my book is good. My other real answer (in addition to “I guess I don’t really know”) 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, but I guess I had the notion at the time that therapy was something for other people to use, but I didn’t need it, because I am a tough guy. Obviously that’s not true. (See the Charles Bukowski poem in an answer below for more on this.) Also obviously, I can’t predict the future, so maybe in 20 years I will want to write another book, but this book had been building up in my system for a long time and I don’t have anything similar building up right now.

Why do you think PRR became so successful?
My thinking on writing my blog was basically that since the newest entries were posted at the top of the page (not like on, like, Slate, for example, where they can keep successful posts in front of the homepage reader for longer), 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 (I think?). Beyond that, it has a good name/name-based conceit, i.e., reviews of Pitchfork reviews. That’s kind of funny. 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.” Finally, 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.

Did you ever get self-conscious enough that you questioned writing certain blog posts?
Of course. 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. Daniel D’Addario, who writes at, tweeted, “I *do* get the ‘BuzzFeed deleting old posts that don’t meet current editorial standards’ thing as one of many people who used to have an LJ” — I favorited that. I also understand the BuzzFeed policy.


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, like, if I had a Tumblr with a few thousand followers, I was basically a nearly microfamous 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 chose “David Shapiro” as a pseudonym because it’s difficult to Google — someone on Tumblr wrote that they were really excited about my book because of my previous writing on the Shakespeare authorship controversy (that was a different David Shapiro). The marketing department at my publisher, I think, is not thrilled that I have a specifically difficult-to-Google name, but hey, what can you do? Too late to become “David Abdul-Jabbar” (as I thought about for a while). 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.

What would your advice be for someone whose blog/ internet presence is “blowing up”?
I guess I would suggest that they lower their expectations for getting free stuff mailed to them, try to avoid reading about themselves, and try to find a way to make money from it while their name is still hot rather than in six months when they were a hot thing six months ago. These things are fleeting. I was almost totally inactive on the Internet for three years between when I wrote every day and a few weeks ago in anticipation of the book coming out — I should have taken better care of my brand. That is my advice.

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.

Do you have any regrets about the stuff you’ve written on your blog?
Oh, so much stuff. Almost every single thing. 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.

The PRR stuff is all pretty stream-of-consciousness-y. Was it hard to adjust your 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, like, 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.) But, like, the capacity for speaking/thinking/writing in multiple ways is present in every person. I guess imagine Charles Bukowski going to Staples to buy pens — he would be like, “Can you tell me where your pens are?” not, “Where the fuck are your pens you bitch?” like his characters in his books. Here is another illustration of the same phenomenon from an A$AP Rocky parody Twitter with 115,000 followers:

Screenshot 2014-07-14 14.30.20

You don’t update your blog as regularly as you used to — do you think of your PRR days as being over?
Yes. I feel like the person who wrote PRR, like the narrator in my book, is a somewhat exaggerated version of one aspect of me, and I would like to put that part of me out to pasture as soon as possible. Hopefully I’ve done it already, but sometimes it creeps back out. One time, Sean Fennessey asked me, like, “How long are you going to do this wide-eyed, bushy-tailed thing?” I was 21 at the time, but if it was grating then, it’s probably unspeakably insufferable right now. But maybe, like this beautiful Charles Bukowski poem that I am about to copy-and-paste the entirety of (please include the whole thing, thanks), it will always be a part of me because it’s been a helpful way of seeing and understanding the world.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do

Do you still write on a daily basis?
Nope — I only write when I have writing assignments, for instance email interviews, newspaper/magazine/blog stories, my rent check. What used to come out as confessional writing, now, I try to let out in conversations with other people. Much less embarrassingly public that way, although obviously still more embarrassingly public than just not saying it to anyone at all.

People can be so cruel on the internet. How do 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.

What music are you liking this summer?
I listen to Yung Lean, the Ultimate Country playlist on Spotify (as well as the Country Drive and Chillin’ on a Dirt Road playlists on Spotify and Nash 94.7 FM on the radio in New York) 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. Country is different — 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). A lot of what’s fun about rap is understanding the lingo, hence the popularity of Rap Genius, and not that I’ve like beat the game with rap because there’s plenty of stuff I still don’t understand, but country is a whole new world of stuff to discover. It’s fun, like doing a crossword puzzle. I’m trying to form a mental CountryGenius.

This is an extended version of an interview that originally appeared on Refinery29.