On Saturday, I was in Austin volunteering at the Texas Teen Book Festival. There were thousands of teens and adults who were happy to spend the day celebrating books, the writing process, and the creation of a good story. It’s something that I’ve been involved with for four years, now, and it always renews my faith in humanity. To see so many young people going nuts for their favorite author gives me hope that the written word still has power.
Then, as we were standing around talking at the end of the day, someone told me about the article that Kathleen Hale wrote for The Guardian. This proved, I suppose, my theory that words do indeed still have power. Sometimes, they have too much power over people.
I was finally able to read the article this morning and my first thought was that this author is clearly suffering and perhaps doesn’t have a clear voice of reason in her life. (She seemed to have people who both encouraged and discouraged her behavior). Her process and obsession seemed to go beyond just being upset about a bad review. She seemed to so desperately need a reason for this poor opinion. Validate me. Reassure me.
More disturbing, though, was the relative ease with which she tracked this person down. Where did the breakdown occur that allowed Ms. Hale to acquire that initial personal information that gave her the ability to run a background check in the first place?
Why would a book club so freely give out an address instead of referring the author directly to the person with whom they would be interacting?
Why would a publishing contact breach that unspoken professional trust by even confirming that books were sent to a blogger? (Kathleen Hale has repeatedly stated that this information was not given to her by Harper Teen, but that begs the question of who did give her the info and how they acquired it?)
I think what is really disturbing here is the realization that as large as the community is, in the YA book blogging world, we operate largely based on trust. When I send out a request to a publisher for a book, I include my mailing address. This is something that bloggers are encouraged to do because it makes getting the book that much easier. I have never, nor do I now, feel uncomfortable doing this. I trust the publishers because they are professionals and I have never had any reason to change my opinion about this. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this whole affair gave me pause. I know many bloggers who go to the expense of renting a PO Box for blogging related mail and I am now seeing the wisdom in this.
It should go without saying that if you can’t bear to read bad reviews of your book, stay the hell off of Goodreads. Don’t even create a profile. It’s not worth your mental health and it isn’t worth the drama. No, really, it’s not. Without fail, every time an author has been “targeted” or “bullied” it has been because of engagement with the people who are giving their opinions. Is seeing a harsh review hurtful? Of course it is! Is engaging with the author of a negative review worth the trouble?
NO. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. No.
I bristled a bit at the generalizations made about bloggers. I do not go to the ridiculous “GR Bullies” website, nor do I have any respect for reviewers that make ridiculous categories on Goodreads like “books that suck”, “fuck this book" or "Authors who are jerks”. (Yes, they have a right to make those categories, but I also have a right to think that it’s a dick move). Believe it or not, most of the bloggers that I know *gasp* think for themselves and don’t let the opinion of one reviewer, or even hundreds of reviewers, sway their opinion. We’re not all clamoring for a spot on the bandwagon.
My book blog means a lot to me. I’d like to think that I write thoughtful and honest reviews, but I don’t always like the books I read and I admit that I have been more and more cautious about posting negative reviews, lately. My fear is that things like this will discourage bloggers from giving honest opinions. I have a family. I have a career. I try to keep these things separate from my blogging. I don’t use my photo or last name on my blog or on Twitter, but I’m not exactly hiding, either.
I have met many, many authors and 99.9% of them have been gracious and lovely. I want to remind myself, and everyone else, that this whole incident is the exception, rather than the rule. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take precautions when you have an online presence, but I would like to hope that things like this give us an opportunity, as a community, to reflect on the nature of online interactions and how we allow the things people say, whether anonymous or not, to bleed into our opinions of ourselves.
It’s also good to remember that on both sides of this whole process, the books, the reviews, the tweets - we are people. We are more than our blogs and authors are more than their books. It’s true.
As I walked to my car after a long day at the book festival, I passed two teens having a conversation and I heard this:
OHMYGOD, this was the best day ever!!!! My mom is going to kill me for buying so many books, but I don’t even care.
Faith in humanity = restored.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hoa. We are almost 6 weeks to the day until the Hunger Games Mockingjay, Part 1 release. It is time to get PSYCHED you guys.
Are you feeling Kristen Bell sloth-love excitement?
or perhaps you have a Phoebe-level of excitement:
I have to be honest… I’ve been feeling a little bit like our friend Eminem here