Confession: I am an abuser of exclamation marks and emoticons, both in personal communications and in my work—some of which involves social media in the book world. I have never ventured beyond :-) ;-) and :-(, because I have not taken the time to learn any more, but those three are good and serviceable for most of my needs.
Of my over-excited tendencies, I am mostly unrepentant, even when it comes to my work in publishing, where dry, sardonic, serious, and aloof sometimes characterize the tone of critical discussion/review culture. Those attributes are often linked to intelligence in these circles (and beyond), rightly or wrongly. While the most part I enjoy reading those who prefer that style (some of them are brilliantly funny), there are a few reasons I don't follow it:
1. I am not dry, sardonic, serious, or aloof, so it feels weird and forced to write like that. Writing is like speaking—an extension of personality—except that in writing, especially the short-form blasts of social media, it can be challenging to convey friendliness, especially if you're being tongue-in-cheek. Your audience can't see you smile, you can't show them how relaxed your body language is ... and you don't even know them in real life.
2. Friendliness is underrated. I don't mind book snobbery in small doses—but it can't be everything. There are so many types of readers with so many preferences. Readers who devour books by the dozen, who talk about them incessantly and rush home from work to get back to them, who read formulaic romance, and C-grade mystery, and books from the Shoppers Drug Mart racks—as well as critically acclaimed titles from the review sections of newspapers. Some of the best readers I know are wildly, blissfully indiscriminate in their tastes—if they could eat books, they would.
Those readers are not reserved. They are ebullient, opinionated, passionate, and sometimes giddy with the thrill of a great read or a new discovery. They want to chat and share, and you know what's conducive to that? Friendliness. Happy exclamation marks, silly emoticons—not always, but not never.
3. My publishing-related work involves the promotion of Canadian authors and books. Within Canadian publishing, everyone knows that there is crazy writing talent in this country right now. And not just in literary fiction. Mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction, poetry, and epic romantic and historical fiction. Not just highbrow titles. Easy, delicious reads you gobble up, smack down on a patio table, throw into a bag, allow sand or water to blemish.
There is everything in Canadian publishing right now, and not everyone knows that. A lot of Canadians still associate CanLit with the stuff they were forced to write dreary essays on in high school (I wrote here about that). A lot of Canadians miss Canadian books at the bookstore because American books tend to get so much more marketing budget and take up so much space in Canadian bookstores.
Am I saying emoticons and exclamation marks are the solution? YES! Just joking ;-) But in my work promoting Canadian books outside of insider culture, into the mainstream to diverse readers whose only uniting bond is their deep love of books—a mainstream that could and should, goshdarnit, know more about how awesome Canadian books are today—I keep these words close: warm, accessible, curious, fallible, open, excited. And I stick something on the end of them from time to time.
Reading should be fun—not a designator of class or refinement. To my mind, it's dangerous to NOT approach it with a sense of fun—books now compete for our time with everything visual, everything BuzzFeed. Books don't have to be that—they don't have to change, because there are books to satisfy every taste and attention span—but the discussion around them can stand to loosen up.
Could I pare my :-)s and !!!s down a bit? Yes, and I'm trying (really!). But of all the things I try to work on every day, unabashed, unsophisticated emoticon abuse ain't going to hit the top of the list.
Also, can anyone tell me how to use emojis? It's my next frontier!