I’ve always believed that every ill in our society falls under one or more of three categories: Greed, Ignorance or Zealotry.
I was faced with an example of one or more of these while updating my author page on Goodreads. I came across a negative review, quite by accident, of one of my earlier books. Against my better judgment, I read it, and was horrified. The reviewer, obviously, did not like my book, and that’s fine, in and of itself, but this reviewer made statements that were patently false. She claimed the character in my book was “helping a pedophile.” This was absolutely false. There wasn’t even a pedophile IN this book. There were other falsehoods in the review, but this is the one that raised my hackles and had me feeling like I’d been stabbed in the chest. Parents, imagine someone falsely accused your child of something terrible. That’s how it feels for us writers. Our books are creations we have brought into the world with much effort, pain, joy and a huge personal investment.
I don’t expect every reader to like every book I write, and I’ve been fortunate to have primarily four and five stars on my work, so maybe when I come across something like this, it affects me a little too much. But there’s a difference between a review and book-bashing. Sometimes the book bashing moves into author-bashing.
I posted a rant about it on a popular book group,
SLIGHT RANT: Ferfucksake! why are the readers/reviewers on Goodreads so vicious? One review said that my character was “helping a pedophile.” WTF???? Completely and utterly NOT TRUE. Nothing like it. It’s so offensive to have someone say that. It also never ceases to amaze me, how we writers put ourselves and our work out there, and strangers get to rip us to shreds, and we can’t defend ourselves or review THEM.
The moderator of the group jumped up to support me and made her own post about it. (This, being an example of what all of us should aspire to. Solidarity. Compassion. Appreciation. Respect).
Inspired by Kelli Jae Baeli‘s post and the general discussion about reviews I would like to share my thoughts.
Obviously the authors would like some kind of approval for their work. Reviews count. It goes without saying readers enjoy reading the books these authors create. And we are able to produce a review. However short. The writers still like them. But hateful reviews? Reviews that hurts the writer and are perceived as hateful? That is so not okay!
We need to pamper and treasure our writers! Where would we be if they stopped writing?! Argh – the horror! If there’s a book you don’t like, maybe the book doesn’t agree with you, then skip it. Find another one. Maybe you still would like to let the writer know you somehow disapprove of their book, but do it respectfully. There is in fact a real person behind that book. A person with real feelings, who have spent a great deal of effort in creating something, which you are very privileged to share. So, bundle up your spite and think about how you can be constructive and helpful. Please. I for one will never take part in a writer packing it in and stop writing because of some anonymous reviewer. Thank you. Rant over.
The ensuing comments by others on this post, both in the book club and on my FB profile, let me know right away that it wasn’t just me, there seems to be an endemic problem with Goodreads.
As perhaps an aside, I feel it pertinent to note that I am an HSP with Sensory Processing Sensitivity, which I have mentioned on this blog (perhaps too often). But I also suspect that most or many writers and other creative people are also HSPs, so things like this are doubly hurtful to us.
Reviewers are, by definition, consumers of the written word, ostensibly because they receive pleasure from it. They are seeking something in the work of an author. Why then, would they ever attack the very people who provide them that pleasure?
Charlotte is right. There is a person behind that book. And for those who say, I prefer books over people (or words to that effect) it would be well to remember that what you are saying is that you prefer AUTHORS over people. Because it is an author who created that book you love.
Still, and probably more importantly, There is a larger issue at work here, that goes well beyond a mere book review. It’s about what we have become as a society.
It’s been worse in the last year or two. Maybe it’s our political climate; we’ve been given abject permission to slander and defame and oppress others.
They can hide behind the anonymity of our social media, wherein they never have to look their victims in the face, and injure with impunity anyone they desire; a pathetic method of building themselves up by tearing someone else down; a sad bolstering of confidence, perhaps, at the expense of another human being. This reveals an inherent lack of empathy, and the loss of this trait so pervasively, now, is one reason we are seeing our social climate changing right along with our environmental one.
It would be easy to fight fire with fire. For me to say, in those instances of a patently unfair and misleading book review, “Have YOU ever written a book? No? Then shut the fuck up.” But that’s neither an effective solution nor the person I wish to be. So while I might have a fleeting thought like that, it is not something I will likely say directly to people who find such pleasure in malice.
I’ve written here before about reviews and reviewers, and even offer a free download of my essay, Giving it Away: Spoilers as Both Noun & Accusation (Why Book Reviews Matter & How to Write a Proper One) to help educate the reading and reviewing public. I’ve received very positive feedback on that essay. But it can do very little to address a pervasive problem in our society.
In the days before self-publishing and Indie Authors, there were publishing gatekeepers, and while I have my own problems with that traditional paradigm, because it kept out so many who had good stories to tell, I also realize that those who edited and reviewed books during that era were at least professionals who brought credentials that gave them some integrity when they assessed the value of a work. They at least had a background in literature and an understanding of its nature.
Nowadays, anyone can say anything about a book, and they don’t have to know what they’re talking about, or have any experience or insight whatsoever. Those with personal vendettas can post terrible reviews just to punish the author, and it can have little or nothing to do with the book itself. I imagine these are the same sorts of people who create computer viruses, merely for the pleasure of wreaking havoc. And while the opinions of readers who review are often spot-on, even when they are critical, there will always be a certain percentage of them who are doing it for all the wrong reasons. They are bullies. They are not just giving you their personal take on a book, judging it on its merits, rather their own personal tastes, they are launching a nuclear missile, and hoping for mass casualties. This is in no way helpful to a writer, and in no way encourages a writer to continue offering this gift.
And make no mistake about it, it is a gift. It’s an offering from one human to another, with the hope that it might edify, titillate, entertain, soothe, comfort or cheer you. That’s no small thing. To denigrate, vilify or massacre a writer’s work says more about the reviewer than it does about the book or the writer. And yet, a creation of this sort is so profoundly intimate. So personal. It’s often hard for writers to be so pragmatic about it. Imagine spending months or years, pouring your heart and soul into a creation, only to have it smashed to bits. It’s a wound. An injury, that for some, might never heal, and then there will be one less creative person offering their gifts to this world because doing so might mean exposing him or herself to public ridicule.
Others in the writing and publishing business will say, ignore those people. You can’t please everyone.
But this goes beyond a bad review in which a reader wasn’t pleased by a particular book. It’s about a certain mean-spirited undercurrent that flows through our daily discourse, now. Civil debate has been reduced to invective and vitriol. Civil disobedience often has been reduced to violence and hate-mongering. Civil society has been reduced to attacks on those deemed lesser, somehow. When did we, as a society, lose our underlying respect for one another? When did it become acceptable and even expected, for human beings to rip each other to shreds? And because the victims of these attacks are so accosted, they often fall prey to it, and feel they must defend themselves, also in anger. And the beat, as they say, goes on.
This mean-spirited behavior is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned. It will take all of us working together to make it happen. All of us must say no to hatred and yes to love. And we must take our role models more seriously. Parents, siblings, friends, police officers, politicians, pastors, presidents. Leaders and authority figures of all stripes. This is how they use their capital?
The good ones are still out there, but sadly, they don’t get enough press. Hatefulness and dishonesty get more coverage, and so we are being slowly brainwashed into believing this sort of behavior is normal. And we are allowing it to be normalized every time we don’t call someone in a position of influence into responsibility. We are normalizing it when we laugh it off, or ignore it. We are normalizing it when we raise children to do the same. Or when we vote those into office who care nothing aside from the degree to which they can line their own pockets. We normalize it every time we turn a blind eye to cruelty.
Our current election process and presidency is a vivid example of the danger and damage that can result. We have all been witness to what can happen when we ignore the good and highlight the bad in ourselves and others. When we reward those things rather than reject them outright.
In the vernacular of the day, it’s Love trumps hate vs. Trump loves hate.
I still believe there are plenty of good people in the world. Plenty of souls who want to help. Want to make things better. Who will fling themselves in front of a bullet to save a stranger. Who will rescue an animal, love a child, give you their last dollar, or offer you sanctuary. Random acts of kindness happen all the time. We just don’t always see them. But we need to spend more time praising those people and trying harder to be like them, and less time practicing oneupmanship by striving to see who can inflict the deepest wound.
We, as a species, are better than that, at our core. And we should aspire to “the angels of our better nature” rather than the devils of our selfish desires.
Not doing so can only insure the extinction of us all.