I am not one of those people who thrive on discord – which may be one of the reasons that I gave up posting on Open Salon yea these many months ago. I am at heart a rather peaceful and well-mannered person who does not actively seek out confrontation, on the internet or in real life … no really, stop laughing! I merely present myself as someone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and who will not hesitate to squash them, which has the pleasing result of not being very much bothered by fools. It’s called ‘presence’… and has worked out pretty well, actually online and in real life. I can easily count the number of fools I have squashed … only a dozen or so that I remember. And none of them came back for seconds.
I don’t deliberately slow down to gawk at epic highway pileups either … except that in real life, everyone ahead of you has slowed down anyway, and the full spectrum of destruction is spread before you. And as for epic internet crackups … one can go for months without being made particularly aware of them, but this week my attention was caught by news of the mother-in-law-of all internet crack-ups to do with books. This one I must pay some attention to, as books are my vocation. It’s a more appalling spectacle than the Great Books And Pals/Jacqueline Howett Review Crackup of 2011, which should have served as an object lesson in how an author should not respond to a mildly critical review. This fresh slice of internet literary hell is what I am dubbing the Great Stop the Goodreads Bullies Cluster of 2012.
Goodreads, for those who have not had it wander across their ken … is kind of like Facebook for book enthusiasts. More specifically, for readers of books – although I do have an author page there, for all the good it does me. Not much; this is why I am not inclined to spend much time and effort on it. Anyway, it seems that a handful (or maybe more) of the regular Goodreads reviewers have earned a reputation for what is – or could be interpreted – as snark, scathing wit, or just dismissive disinterest. As the fictional food critic, Anton Ego said, “…the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”
Yes, it is fun and easy to cut loose with all barrels on some hapless bit of publication – and since the mad and wonderful world of books in this year of our lord offers such a wide array of targets, I can’t really blame various Goodreads reviewers for being rather spiky and judgmental about books. It’s a site for readers, after all. And there are plenty of wallbangers out there. (That is, a book so awful that you throw it across the room hard enough to bang against the opposite wall) But handful of Goodreads reviewers who have have been colorfully blunt in expressing their opinion of particular books now are classed as bullies? And that a handful of aggrieved Goodreads members (who may be writers, or just overly-impassioned fans) have set up a website, specifically dedicated to ‘outing’ those reviewers, terming them ‘bullies’ and tacitly encouraging other people to stalk and harass them online and in their real off-line lives. The irony, it burns. OK then – is the principle being established here is that the cure for bullying is … more bullying? Must be merely one of those interesting coincidences that the intended targets of Stop the Goodreads Bullies are women … oh, and the whole schmezzle of revealing Goodreads members personal information is a violation of the Goodreads policies, anyway.
Say, was there some act of Congress or the current regime passed lately which demanded that all book reviews are slavishly adoring, else the wrath of someone-or-other be excited? Is this the natural outcome of giving trophies for participation? Are certain writers thinking, “I wrote a book so I deserve nothing but glowing reviews for it?” I’ve reviewed books myself, often enough, and now and again administered an unfavorable or a mixed review. Not too many of those lately, as really don’t want to waste valuable hours reading a stinker, and fortunately the ‘Look Inside’ feature pretty much lets me screen out the really awful selections. A review isn’t a advertisement for the book; it is, or ought to be at the very least, a reasoned analysis of why or why not a reader should spend a good few hours of their life reading it. Nothing more, nothing less, although this rule is frequently trampled upon.
The bottom line is that the only response an author should make for a favorable, or even mildly critical review – and even if any response should be made is debatable among the cognoscenti – is, “Thank you for your consideration.” For a critical or scathing review – no response at all is best. There is no crying in baseball, and there should be no whining from authors; especially not to the extent of setting up a website to complain about being bullied. You put your stuff out there for everyone with the interest or the wherewithal to read it. Accept that there will be a number among them who will not like it, miss the point entirely, fail to grasp the whole point … well, grownups and professionals bleed about that silently and move on. Comfort yourself with those reviews and the appreciation of people who did get the point, and who loooooove it.
Frankly, I also comfort myself against unappreciative reviews by going and looking at my vast collection of publisher and agent rejections for Truckee’s Trail and Adelsverein. I think of it as the best kind of plate armor against bad reviews.