I covered my eyes. “Delete this comment if it’s vicious.”
“It’s medium,” my cousin the librarian said matter-of-factly. “She hates you but only drips with venom.”
There are three kinds of bad comments: (a) sarcasm under a semblance of politeness, which may be just poor writing (consult the I Ching), (b) dripping with venom but the cocky commenter is sure you won’t detect the tone (delete); and (c) so brutal that you have no alternative but to eat a box of cupcakes (and delete all social media accounts).
And not only bloggers encounter negative comments.
In a recent article at Slate, Heather Schwedel scrutinizes complaints by writers on Twitter and Instagram who are disconcerted when amateur reviewers tag them on bad or mediocre reviews. They tweet that it’s rude: they don’t want their weekends spoiled. Though they must deal with reviews at The New York Times, writers Rebecca Makkai, Lauren Groff, and Carmen Maria Machado don’t want to read negative social media reviews.
This sounds sort of prima donna-ish to me but then I’m not on Twitter, because I avoid brutality. I instantly started sweating: should I not write the subjects of my posts in tags at the blog (which I do for organization). It doesn’t alert the writers, does it? That must be a different kind of tag.
And should I take a note from the novelists and remind commenters that it’s rude to be mean? Would it work? Maybe for a prima…which I am!
Writers are tired of consumer reviews, and Goodreads is a trigger for many writers. You may have heard of Y.A. novelist Kathleen Hale’s forthcoming collection of essays, Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker. Hale sought revenge on a popular Goodreads reviewer who wrote a bad review of her novel. She stalked her. Hale apparently drove this reviewer off Goodreads.
Kayleigh Donaldson, a feature writer at Pajiba, writes that she knew Blythe Harris in the Y.A. community at Goodreads, and is horrified by Hale’s criminal stalking of her. She writes,
Back in the good old days before I was a professional writer, I was a book blogger who focused heavily on young adult fiction. I spent a lot of time on Goodreads, where I cultivated a large circle of fellow YA loving friends who prized the community as much as the literature they discussed. In October 2014, the author Kathleen Hale, who had written a YA novel called No One Else Can Have You, published that same year, wrote a piece for the Guardian. It was entitled, ‘“Am I being catfished?”’ An author confronts her number one online critic.’ The piece was strange to say the least, but it waded into truly terrifying territory when Hale admitted to stalking a critic from Goodreads who gave her book a bad review. The ‘revelation’ of the piece was that the reviewer, known as Blythe Harris, did not live under the name she used on Goodreads. I, like many YA bloggers, had also negatively reviewed Hale’s book. I also knew Blythe and her disappearance from the community left many of us shaken. One of our own, someone who had done nothing wrong, had been stalked by an author, who then turned the story into a quirky essay that once again positioned critics as spiteful shrews. Stalking was simply the cute framing for the age-old tale of evil reviewers.
I looked at The Guardian piece and found it incoherent and scary. Oh, yes, we hate mean comments, but stalking is illegal. They’ll publish the book because it will make money.
O tempora! O mores!