Monday, October 20, 2014

This week in books - critics vs authors, and vice versa

As I've said before, I'm an inveterate reader of internet comments. So much so, that reading compendiums of internet comments is actually fun. I mourn the demise of Speak You're bRanes, and I'm a little dismayed at the long, slow cooling of Fandom Wank. The former quoted comments from the BBC's Have Your Say site, which tended towards the Little England, racist and small-minded, and took them apart with much creative swearing. Fandom Wank found those little outcrops of mass rage (otherwise known as wank) in various fandoms and summarized the best bits of Bronies losing their minds over criticism of My Little Pony, or Anne Rice throwing yet another fit about how fans are Doing It Wrong.

This week has been a banner week for fandom wank, in the lowercase, I'm not nearly as patient as either Nelson or the Fandom Wank writers, but if they're not on the job I suppose I should at least point at it. One kerfuffle is a about an author who went after a critic, and the other is about an abusive critic who became an author.

The first stirrings were the publication in the Grauniad of an essay by an author named Kathleen Hale. It's called 'Am I being catfished?' An author confronts her number one online critic' and she sure does.  Using an unusual definition of 'catfished', Hale is sure that a Goodreads book critic who gives her a one-star review that reads "Fuck this" is not simply reviewing her book, but beginning to orchestrate a vendetta against her. Hale fails to heed the advice of everybody in her life (and everybody I've ever read online), which is "Ignore it. Don't respond."

She gets drunk and engages, backs away, engages again and finally gets the critic's 'real name' and address. Then she does what everybody would do, which is think, "I have gone off the deep end and need to lie down", and tear up the background check she had done on the critic, right? No, she doesn't. She goes to the person's house.

This has stirred up a lot of interest on the interwebs, because unhinged author behavior is quite rare and always very telegenic - like watching a train wreck except fluffier and with more adjectives.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books has an interesting write up (and the comments, as always, are even more interesting). The Passive Voice, a lawyer's site on literature, has a couple of incisive looks at this, with even more comments: The Choices of Kathleen Hale and Am I Being Catfished?

The second hullabaloo coalesces around a blogger/critic whose pen name, Requires Hate, may give you some idea how she approached literary criticism.  Since the behavior went on for several years it's difficult to summarize, and since I lack the patience of Fandom Wank, I'm not even going to begin. Suffice to say she hounded and excoriated certain writers in long term, focused campaigns that couldn't be waved away as being by somebody who had a bit of a problem knowing where the do-not-cross line lay. (Though to give her credit, there's no evidence that she ever turned up at somebody's house with a view to carrying on the conversation.) Here is just one author's account of how this made her feel - and there are others like her.

Recently, there was a rumor that new science fiction writer Benjanun Sriduangkaew was the same person as Requires Hate, which started a backlash. Just because two people are Thai, and female, does not mean they are the same person, mocked the interwebs. Well, apparently they are the same person. Famous editor and internet eminence grise Nick Mamatas 'outed' her a week or so ago on Ello and the response was loud and immediate (James Nicoll's Live Journal).

Today (although the post is dated the 15th), Requires Hate apologized quite fulsomely for her previous behavior, once on her blog and again as Sriduangkaew. The response has been mixed, to say the least. Has she reformed, or does she have a book to sell?  Once again at James' Live Journal, the debate is on.  Azarias is one fan who is not convinced the apology is enough, and the write up there is very informative and full of historical information I was not detail-oriented enough to look up myself.

Ultimately, I think Kathleen Hale thought her critic was of the Requires Hate kind.  If she has the same experience of the insta-mobs that form around a thought-leader as I have, I can see why she felt she needed to stay on top of the message. Unfortunately her reaction was disproportional and deluded. Authors should just stay away from the places critics gather and let them play in their own sandbox. They may even apologize later if they went over the top.


Juli Page Morgan said...

I've been following these stories, too. It's like driving by a horrific car wreck and not being able to avert your eyes. I don't wanna look, but damn! Things like this are why I never look at my reviews, any of them.

Lyle Hopwood said...

Good for you! It seems the only way to stay sane.

Juli Page Morgan said...

Since I've lived my whole life not caring what people thought about me, it kind of seems ridiculous to change now just because I write books. ;)


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