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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Communication and Book Reviews

image courtesy of The Book Pushers
I came across an article in my feed that a friend shared, where a Young Adult author, Kathleen Hale, was so distraught by a bad review she tracked the reviewer down both online and off and harassed her. Since reading it, I've looked into other responses to the incident. There are a few authors and publishing authorities who take Ms. Hale's side, but the overwhelming response has been, basically, "what a bitch."

As an author, I expect bad reviews. Especially since I am a relatively new and unknown author, I look forward to those reviews. Well, any reviews actually. I need to know what my readers liked or didn't like so I can improve upon my skills and create even better stories for readers to like, or not like (not everyone is a reader of my genre or style after all).

As a reader, I expect that an author provides me with a book that will entertain me and even provoke me into engaging with the social, cultural, or whatever hot-topic issues that the author wants to bring to the story. If a book meets or exceeds my expectations, I will say so. If it falls short, I'll say that too.


As a blogger who happens to also be a part-time bookseller, it's my job to give my opinion on books. I may also have an opinion about an author, but it would be in reference to his or her work. If an author takes offense to my opinion, that is the author's problem. No one has to agree with my opinion, it just is.

As a book reviewer, while your opinion is your own, how you give it is telling of your expertise. When you begin a review with a swear word or string expletives together to describe your reading experience, you tell the world that you lack experience as a reviewer. Or you are too young to be using those words properly and you better not talk to your parents that way.

The reviewer in question, Blythe Harris, peppered her commentary with quite a few f-bombs and such. Still, she was expressing her frustration with what she perceived as insensitivity to socially charged topics. Never once did she outright attack the author herself in any way, shape or form. She didn't like the story. The end.

But as far as Kathleen Hale was concerned, it was not the end. This reviewer, through disrespecting Hale's written word, attacked her very character as a writer and damn it, she was going to confront this person and get a straight answer why the book seemed so bad. And this is where it went so totally, horribly wrong.

OMGeeeee!
(credit: Edvard Munch - The Scream)
You can call Blythe Harris a troll if you like. But the definition of a troll, as I understand it anyway, is one who posts comments on websites with the intent to bait other commentors with inflammatory remarks about persons involved with a topic and abusive language. Blythe's review, although riddled with bad language, was not aimed at anyone - not even the author herself - and in fact maintained civil responses with commentors who disagreed with her.

Yes, she should have presented a review that nixed the foul language and instead offered up more constructive criticism. But hey. Experience. Kathleen Hale had every right to feel hurt by the one-star rating and poor description of her story. And again. Experience. An experienced author would have taken that poor review and used it to work through her next novel. Or better yet, ignored it as a reader who was not the intended audience.

Hale could have a perfectly good book, with great writing that showed a dark and quirky side of mystery with complementing parts humor and shock. I'll never know, because I won't touch any of her books. Not because I'm afraid she'll come to my house if I give her a bad review (if she did, she'd quickly realize it was a bad idea). But because I'm most likely not her reader. Because her very actions tell me she is an unbalanced writer who will have unbalanced characters who will do unbalanced things that will make no sense to me and therefore I won't be able to connect to the characters. Which is probably why Harris didn't like the book in the first place.

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