The Spectacle of Wrecks on the Internet Superhighway

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.

(Crossposted at my bookblog, and at NcoBrief.)

15 thoughts on “The Spectacle of Wrecks on the Internet Superhighway”

  1. I used to post book reviews on amazon – there are certainly nice ways of saying why you felt the read good – or bad – or arduous – or just snarky ways.

    Most of the “reviewers” are just snark.

    Got into a posting argument over one who found my review of a book just “BS” – typical of so many – posted himself as an expert on the matter without documenting anything about why he was so knowledgeable or why his “facts” were correct and mine were not. (which reminds me of a good saying on arguments and facts but can’t remember it at the moment).

    Anyway after awhile I thought of Mark Twain’s admonition against arguing with a fool – and left.

    In general I think most of these reviewers are a waste of time to read; it takes far more time, talent and effort to create something – and anyone – thanks to the Internet – can critique it.

  2. Was it Dorothy Parker who summed up a book review by writing something like, This book should not be set aside negligently, it should be hurled against the wall with great violence?

  3. “I used to post book reviews on amazon – there are certainly nice ways of saying why you felt the read good – or bad – or arduous – or just snarky ways.”

    I do, too. The controversial books generate a lot of nasty comments. Recently I was bemused by a review I did of O’Reilly’s book about Lincoln. My review was positive but I objected to some of the inaccuracies. I was attacked by readers as not having read the book ! My daughter, who is an Obama voter, gave me the book for Christmas so it did not say I bought it at Amazon.

    The O’Reilly fans are enough to make me ashamed of being a “right winger.”

    Obviously, he needs a better ghost writer. It really turned me off the whole program He is an idiot on economics although entertaining.

  4. Mike_K – the “reviewers” who crack me up are the ones you you know haven’t seen the movie – or book – yet want to be first in line to “review” it. And I have found that for the most part people don’t “like” or “dislike” your review based on content but whether they agree with you. I wrote a review on this book about the space program – and found it fascinating. 1 out of 14 found it “helpful”.

    I think the funniest review I wrote was about a boy whose parents claimed to be the reincarnated pilot of an F4U Corsair shot down in Japan – said it was a “50 page story condensed to 250 pages” But then admitted had I been tasked on “filling out the story” don’t know if I could have done better.

    Then there are the reviewers who write with an air of pompousness (pomposity?). They just know that whatever they write is like gold and should be treated accordingly.

    If you don’t like their reviews there is obviously something wrong with you.

    As to writers having a presence on these pages I think it is more harmful than beneficial. If you listen to all these people you will be afraid to write what your instincts tell you to write.

    Follow your compass.

    You will have your following and even if you don’t, some of the greatest artists weren’t appreciated until they were gone. You can be sure they didn’t listen to their critics.

  5. On the subject of fools, I enjoy Nero Wolfe’s remark to a woman who exclaimed, “You’re Nero Wolfe! You can do anything!” Wolfe: “No madam, I cannot talk sense into a fool. I have tried.”

  6. A lot of Amazon reviews are garbage. A lot of the people who write garbage reviews seem to have formed their expectations of what a review should be by reading other garbage reviews.

    There are product reviews on Amazon written by people with no personal experience of the products they are reviewing. Fortunately, other reviewers will often flag the bad reviews. This is harder to do for book reviews, where much is often a matter of opinion and it’s also relatively easy to attack good reviews for bogus reasons.

    There should be a section in the DSM manual for Internet commenters, with a subcategory for Amazon reviewers.

    I don’t know about O’Reilly’s books but his show has a poor signal/noise ratio. What a blowhard. Maybe he’s an example of how commercial success makes some people sloppy.

  7. The top Amazon reviewer for a long time was one Harriet Klausner, who was considered a mass junk-review generator among the book and writer blogs that I followed. She would post a ton of reviews in a short period of time, and never give any evidence of having read more than the dust jacket or whatever promotional material came with the book. Almost always gave a 5-star rating, too. She claimed to be a retired librarian, and a speed-reader who commonly read 4 to 6 books a day.
    A lot of people suspected that dodgy reviewers were doing it for the free review copies … which they would turn around and sell. (Generally, it’s expected that only one in four review copies sent out result in a review. Sad but true.)

  8. When I published my book, I sent review copies to the top reviews on Amazon who seemed interested in science. The top reviews were all cook book reviewers. I also sent some to people I knew in medicine, some in England as I hoped for some sales there, I got very nice reviews from them. Then I got some spontnaeous reviews from readers who like the book. One three star review is from a guy who didn’t like a review I wrote on a diet book with one of those anti-medicine covers. He was retaliating.

    The ones that annoy my are the one-start reviews of controversial books by Sara Palin or Dick Cheney, Those are just fake and Amazon lets then stand too long. My review of Sara Palin’s book didn’t appear for three days and I had pre-ordered it. BY that time there were 100 one star “reviews” trashing her. The review wars.

  9. The ones that annoy my are the one-start reviews of controversial books by Sara Palin or Dick Cheney, Those are just fake and Amazon lets then stand too long. My review of Sara Palin’s book didn’t appear for three days and I had pre-ordered it. BY that time there were 100 one star “reviews” trashing her. The review wars.

    Precisely. They don’t like XXXX so they will post a bad review, not even having read the book.

    I am starting to review all these amateur “reviews” as the Peanut Gallery.

  10. John, I remember the Dorothy Parker line as being “This book should not be put aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force.” I’m not sure, though, on the exact wording.

    But I have 99.99% certainty that yes, it was Dorothy Parker.

  11. Mike_K….based on what I read here I bought a copy of your book some months ago. I’m not a medical person, but I have a great interest in history. I found your book fascinating and very well written. I learned a lot, some of which I’ve discussed with friends who are EMT’s on our local Fire Dept., which I belong to. There is now a waiting list to read it, currently held up by an MD friend of mine who is in the middle of reading the book and finds it “extremely interesting”. Not a very lengthy or detailed review, but a good one.

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