A Friday Chat About ‘Scratch’

What we loved and why everyone should read it.

NICOLE: Happy Friday! This week felt way too long.

MEGAN: Happy Friday to you too! Vacation makes one soft and jiggly, like a blancmange. This week for some reason has been torture. But! We’re reaching the end ANNND we are going to talk about a book that talks about money today and if I love anything it’s talking about books and money.


NICOLE: OMG SCRATCH. SCRAAAAAATCH. It’s so good. I’ve read it twice now. What were some of your favorite parts? I’ll start by saying that I loved Mallory Ortberg’s chapter about buying a house.

MEGAN: Yes! That was wonderful!! I think my favorite essay by far that I was recently reminded of was Emily Gould’s essay about likability and being a woman in publishing. I think about likability a lot, actually, and how you sort of have to play the game of being a basket of sunshine and cake pops, especially as a woman in this industry, because no one wants to work with a shrill, strident harpy. That, frankly, is shitty.

Most Women In Publishing Don’t Have The Luxury Of Being Unlikeable

NICOLE: That anecdote at the beginning about the woman who’s at this “author’s table,” she’s the author and people have paid to eat dinner with her at some event, and she’s just not performing likability? Is SO GREAT.

MEGAN: YES. And it cast some interesting light on how authors are treated like show ponies at these events and are expected to perform that likability. Like, you’re not getting your money’s worth as an attendee if the author (WHO IS THE AUTHOR ALSO PLEASE I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW) smiles and nods and runs away to smoke a cigarette and look for a cab, probably. That’s entirely unfair to the author — a real person!!

NICOLE: I’ve been a performer and have been around performers enough to know that the constant demand of interaction from fans is real — even at, um, “my level,” which is not that large. And at some point you give up the idea that you can give that much of yourself to everyone all the time, and you start looking for the moments where you can smile and nod and slip away.

MEGAN: I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be “on” like that! That’s not me. At all. But I am in awe of people who can do it even for a second. Aside from the horrors of likability expectations, one of the other things about Scratch that I really liked was how a lot of people were really, exceptionally honest about breaking down the mechanics of writing for the internet and a freaking website. The one essay in particular I’m thinking of is Choire’s essay, “Monetization” that sort of delves into the economics of how the website sausage is made. I feel like no one understands that and people (like my parents) need to understand that so they know why it is I work the way I do and make what I make.

NICOLE: I feel like the monetization of “media” has always been pretty much the same even though people treat websites like they’re this new thing. I mean, it’s been: ads, sponsors, patrons, subscriptions, donations, etc. Since the very first newspapers. But people still ask me “how do the sites you write for make money?”

MEGAN: YES! It has been the same since time immemorial, but I think there’s something about the internet in particular that occludes what might have felt more transparent in print. Like, you open a newspaper, see a giant ad for that dumb movie about the Boston marathon bombings and then you sort of innately understand that the ad paid the salary for all the people that made the thing you’re holding. Something about the immediacy of the internet — I push a button and publish a thing — makes what is generally seen as a transparent medium more opaque.

Maybe I’m nuts?

NICOLE: There is a level of opacity involved that isn’t there in print media or on television. The whole “if you have ads on your website, how much control do you have over what ads appear” thing, for starters — which is coming at it from the publisher side instead of the reader side, but you get these things where readers ask “why is this horrible ad on your website” and publishers are all “I don’t know, I sold my ad space to someone who sold it to someone else who sold it, etc.”

There’s also — it’s like the internet is a material we can both consume and shape, and so people use ad-blockers and such, and then the ads evolve to defeat the ad-blockers, and suddenly we get these obnoxious ads and everyone hates them, and then they turn around and ask “how do you make money?”

MEGAN: Yes, it almost always comes down to “HOW IS THE MONEY HAPPENING” because everyone is rightfully obsessed because capitalism. However!! The thing about this book that really stuck out to me, over all the essays, is the honesty. Writers especially love to talk about money because at times it feels like there’s one finite pot and ten billion grubby hands scrabbling for it. I never say things like this, but I felt seen. Like, the reason I loved this book so much was because it felt like talking to people who get it and that in turn made me want to force it on each of my friends who have regular day jobs and don’t have to think about their taxes and stuff.

NICOLE: I found so much that resonated with me in this book. I also appreciated the multiple shout-outs to The Billfold and The Awl Network, including essays from both Choire Sicha and Meaghan O’Connell, because we really are the best, LOL.

MEGAN: We are! And we’re plucky. That counts for something, if not everything at once. I really need to re-read this book, I’m in my feelings about it now.

NICOLE: Well, we have a lovely weekend ahead of us. Maybe all of us (NUDGE NUDGE) can read Scratch this weekend.

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