By Erin Kobayashi
hey are the most hated book club on LiveJournal, perhaps the internet. They are notorious for being an elitist clique. The DIY crew have only been in existence for two and a half years but already have a Wikipedia page. They are The Book You Crew (TBYC), a LiveJournal community that rates your literary taste and knowledge (or lack thereof), derived from the infamous musical equivalent called The Fuck You Crew.
To join TBYC, LiveJournal users are asked to post their 20 favourite books and the list is promptly scrutinized by members. For a few days, applicants must defend the titles they have selected and are challenged with questions like, “Top five works of fiction you would recommend to Tupac Shakur” to “Top five books involving cannibalism and a short synopsis of your favorite scenes in them.” Members debate whether or not applicants are worthy to join TBYC. Most applicants are banned.
The entire process is incredibly entertaining for web lurkers. It’s like coming across someone with a huge ego being crossexamined for bad taste in books. If evidence shows the applicant is guilty of reading too many titles from Oprah’s Book Club or Grade 9, the sentence is public humiliation and being banned from TBYC community. But TBYC goes beyond entertaining nerds, it encourages spectators to question their own literary taste and the mention of an obscure or foreign title can widen the literary scope of the people who watch it.
Sara Plourde, 24, is the founder and moderator of TBYC. She is without a doubt, passionate about good books, spending several hours a week online looking at applications that include every volume of Harry Potter, without pay or even gratitude. Plourde goes by the LiveJournal username schwarzes_herz and is described on one forum as “the most pretentious fuck I’ve ever laid my eyes on.” Although Plourde will probably never meet the judge of her character, she has met a number of members on TBYC in person, even attending the wedding of a fellow moderater. “One of the things that I absolutely love and why I support the application process is that it not only filters out members who are really well read and really knowledgeable, they are also awesome people.”
The awesome people get to enter TBYC world, a private LiveJournal community that discusses “books books motherfuckin’ books.” Then there are the not-so awesome people. There are applicants who accept their defeat, some even swallow their pride and reapply and then there are the haters. If you’ve ever seen a reality television show where applicants get rejected by a stodgy Englishman and are interviewed shortly thereafter, their hos
tile reaction is similar to how TBYC rejects respond. One reject created a community for “rejects of The Book You Crew.” Another TBYC reject scathingly wrote, “My entry ended up with about 110 comments or something absurd, but I got rejected in the end.” Within two days there were well over 110 comments trashing TBYC on this forum.
Plourde is aware of the holier than thou reputation TBYC has on the internet, who are they to judge and discriminate? “I think because we’re selective, we don’t love everything and we don’t love everybody, people think we are assholes in real life,” she says. The assumed assholes, Plourde confirms, are a few English Literature students. One member is studying literature at Harvard. Most members though are middleclass, American, college graduates who fall into the 20 to 30-year-old age range and work in various professions: military, government, fine arts. “We really aren’t holed up in the back of the library glaring at people,” she says.
The greatest misconception about Plourde and other female TBYC members is that people think they are male. As a moderator, part of the job requirement is to provoke applicants. It’s not particularly surprising to see Plourde throw out insults like “bleedingvagina liberal.” Members are looking for a reaction to see the applicant’s true nature because once someone joins the online community, all of the members have to put up with them.
Plourde’s assumed male internet identity is not surprising though, as females are often associated with softening their speech. As schwarzes_herz, Plourde becomes sexless or the opposite sex because of the sarcastic and callous language she uses. “It’s empowering,” she says. And if applicants are too pretentious or act incredibly rude, Plourde has the power to automatically ban them. After a while, I start visualizing Plourde sitting on a throne saying “Off with her head!”
Many would see the statement of banning as fascist yet most members see the community as democratic. They vote on applicants and often debate back and forth in the private, members only paradise about their top fives until coming to an agreement. “Our tastes are very non-uniform. We argue about stuff all the time,” Plourde says.
However TBYC members would agree that a successful applicant will not have an application of top twenty books that suffers from freshman English syndrome and first book syndrome. “We’ve had people whose lists are very green, they read like, ‘these are the best books I was assigned in high school.’ There is no breadth at all,” she says.
TBYC members also think Kurt Vonnegut “is a hack” and that Bret Easton Ellis sucks, “For example in American Psycho when he
goes on continually about what people are wearing and Patrick Bateman’s 40 minute skin care regimen, it gets old. It’s like, okay these people a
re shallow, we get it.” Dave Eggers, “sounds like an asshole. I’ve known people who have met him and they are like, man, that guy is a jerk.”
If TBYC wants to spread the word about anything, it’s not abou
t who is an asshole. “Our main goal is to not put people down but to get people reading and read more and read better,” says Plourde. “I hope we attained our goal to make people think more critically about what they are reading. And to get people to read more outside of what is accepted and on the bestseller lists, to find things that are wonderful that maybe no one would recommend to you in the sup
ermarket checkout line or that you wouldn’t find at the front table at Borders.”
To watch feudalism in the 21st century unfold check out: http://community.livejournal.com/thebookyoucrew
Broken Pencil challenges TBYC: Top five books about games
Among the Thugs, Bill Buford: Buford has perfectly exposed the violence underlying sports, and how society tries to use these “circuses” to direct violence to seemingly harmless venues. You’ll never forget this book, and that’s the highest praise possible.
The Trial, Franz Kafka: The ultimate game book — every layer of the story is another puzzle. It’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle wearing a vest sort of thing.
Paper Lion, George Plimpton: I just like the idea of George Plimpton playing football.
The Sportswriter, Richard Ford: Those of us who have lived in suburban America and known men like Frank will know that there’s nothing romantic about someone’s life falling apart, but at the same time, there’s nothing particularly epic about it, either… and Ford doesn’t create BS to bump up the drama. It’s very real, and still pretty heartbreaking, and I appreciate that.
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin: A children’s book that doesn’t talk down to children. Full of enough plot twists and bizarrely imaginative characterization to keep even the crankiest adult happy and guessing. No, really I’m one of the crankiest adults I know, and I think The Westing Game is a masterpiece of children’s lit.