Books, Blogs, Blackout: a small post for solidarity

Some of the people who find their way here to my intermittent and idiosyncratic romance/book blog will already be all too familiar with the story behind the book review & blogging blackout that has affected much of my online romance reading community this week. My dear friend in bloggery, Miss Bates, posted a succinctly perfect summary, and there are some very good lengthy analyses, both from within the book blogging community, and from broader online commentary and criticism sites.

Late last week a well-connected published YA author wrote, and The Guardian published, a lengthy memoir about her obsession with a negative online review of her book, subsequent research and identification of the psuedonymous reviewer, and her in-person unsolicited interactions with said reviewer. I’m sort of happy to report that until this controversy broke last weekend, I’d never heard of this author, or her apparently well-received debut novel. The bookish corners of the internet and twitter have exploded with the spectacle of an online feud (Salon called it a “battle of the trolls”) between an author and a reader that got taken way way offline into stalker territory.

thou shaltI don’t have much to add to the good summaries I just linked to and it’s a near-meaningless gesture for me to “blackout” Badass Romance for a week. Even at my most prolific, I barely manage a post a week, and lately it’s been barely a post a month. Plus, I don’t actually post very many straightforward book reviews. And here I am finally getting this post up on Friday – ugh, what a week! Still, I want to put this book blog on the record in this matter.

I am speaking up to add my voice in saying that as a lifelong reader (and bigtime consumer of the product that we call fiction), it’s not OK with me when authors seek to control reception and interpretation of their published work. If you’re not up to the challenge of either staying away from or putting up with whatever ideas and responses your published prose generates, then you should keep your prose to yourself and not ask people to pay for it. Even if someone is saying really “mean” things about your book, there’s no insisting that they’re wrong or that they “misread” or “misunderstood” — your prose is out in the world and is subject to review, criticism, and interpretation. I do understand that trolls do exist on the internet, but in terms of reviews that “attack” your book, please remember that once your book is published you are no longer in control of the “meaning” of your words. Every time someone reads them, meaning is created in the interaction between reader and text. Sometimes that interaction, or meaning, will be a compelling or profound insight. Sometimes it’s going to be a DNF. Either way, you get paid to put your words out there, and most online reviewers are there for the love of books and reading. If I want to speak/blog/review on condition of anonymity (or psuedonymity), so be it.

(I’m not going to waste time addressing the Goodreads mess in detail. I have an account but I never really spend time reviewing or discussing there and yes, I do know that some authors feel “bullied” by people who post 1-star reviews when they haven’t read the book. Is there meaning in that? I guess it depends on what else is going on that would cause someone to bother to do that for a particular book or author. I will say that I do believe book reviewing ought to involve a response to the words on the page and not so much engaging in critiques of an author’s persona or behavior, except inasmuch as they are in some ways public figures whose IRL words and actions are sometimes quoted/cited.)

The leap from twitter or Goodreads pushback against negative reviews to offline, IRL stalking of a so-called “bully” blogger (just to be clear, I think this is an appalling misuse of the term “bully”) is in some ways just an extreme (and illegal) extension of the misguided notion that when you put a product in the marketplace it’s somehow OK for you, as the seller of that product, to confront and harass consumers of your product into liking it, using it, and talking about it, only in ways acceptable to you. Were these authors who want to call reviewers and bloggers “bullies” all just overly helicopter-parented and endlessly “good job!!”-ed?? The behavior enshrined in the author’s memoir last week really does speak to me in some way of arrested development, though I hesitate to use such terms since I am so far from an expert in psychology.

The other way to look at the episode, and in particular to look at the case of a serious print and online media outlet that has legitimized the voice of a self-admitted obsessed reader-stalking author and given her a platform for her self-absorbed complaints about the online “bullies” and trolls of Goodreads and other book forums, is to frame it in the concise and terrifically apt words of Danielle Binks, on the writers/writing site Kill Your Darlings, as a case of “privilege feeding narcissim.”  And this is the element which I find so insidious and odious that it’s pushed me to stick my toe in the water of the controversy and join in saying #HaleNo by making this post.

I have other thoughts about author/reader spaces and authorial control of interpretation (yes, Outlander-related, for those who may be reading between these lines…) but will have to save them for another time since starting now, and for about a week (ETA: well, OK, probably longer), I’m not blogging.

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8 thoughts on “Books, Blogs, Blackout: a small post for solidarity

  1. KeiraSoleore says:

    Good post. A writer doesn’t own the book once it’s been released to the public and bought by said public, like an engineer doesn’t own the bridge he’s built, or the sculpture the clay pot,, or Ikea the cheap table. Once the consumer has paid for the product, it’s theirs to do with as they see fit. And if they see fit to share their opinions about it with their nearest and dearest or the wider world at large, that’s their prerogative and out of the control (and frankly none of the business) of the creator. If public opinion is unwelcome, then the product should not be shared. Once it has been shared, and more importantly sold, you cannot tell others what to think , what to say. so why throw a fit when they exercise their right to air their opinions?

  2. Kelly says:

    Hell to the yes on every point here. (Especially the beginning, because I had that very thought: I have been on hiatus, for the most part, for two months… how can I meaningfully chime in and show support without being lame?)

    I hate it when people use the term “bully” as interchangeable with “mean person.” Mean people are everywhere, but a bully has to have a position of some power (even if it’s the manufactured power of society) and a relationship that the bullied person cannot easily escape. Online bullying does happen (oh, hey, GG, good to see you), but even all the 1 star reviews in the world cannot actually bully an author.

    Sometimes my five year old gets upset at her three year old sister, because the younger calls the elder a poopy head. “Mommy,” she wails. “Sissy called me a poopy head.” And I say, “Are you a poopy head?” “Well, no.” “There you have it,” I say, “sissy can’t hurt your feelings unless you let her.”

    It would be phenomenally stupid for readers/reviewers to be punishable for the the insecurity of authors. As with my daughters, it’s their responsibility to make sure they know what’s true, and if they keep that knowledge secure, no 1-star “your book is a poopy head and so are you” review will have any sting.

    And, yeah. #HaleNo.

    Anyway, just had to chime in.

  3. […] In the Margins, Book Thingo, Sonomalass’s Blog, Wendy the Superlibrarian, Immersed In Books, Badass Romance, and Kaetrin’s […]

  4. Miss Bates says:

    Just dropping in to say “hear, hear,” you said it and you said it well. While Hale may sit at her computer and spew forth, The Guardian is equally culpable for publishing her piece. They legitimized her actions by buffering her with their clout. She was able to write in a “safe space,” a space protected by tradition and authority. How would the story (not her account, but it and everything’s that ensued) have been different if she’d published it on her blog? (I don’t even know if she has one.)

  5. […] I am speaking up to add my voice in saying that as a lifelong reader (and bigtime consumer of the product that we call fiction), it’s not OK with me when authors seek to control reception and interpretation of their published work. If you’re not up to the challenge of either staying away from or putting up with whatever ideas and responses your published prose generates, then you should keep your prose to yourself and not ask people to pay for it. –Pamela, Badass Romance […]

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