Before reading anything I write here, cut through this Salon article that fleshes out the situation on Goodreads.
So. I think public figures/writers deserve as much skewering for their bad behavior as the next psychotic politician or usurped teen heartthrob, but bashing someone’s book because you don’t like them per se seems to me excessive, somewhat childish and/or outright bigoted. Plus, the only response review-trolls can ever elicit from jerk-writers is more jerkish acting out. In other words, its completely counterproductive.
On the crime-writing blog Criminal Minds, my friend Gary Phillips fleshes out these ramifications at least as well as I could:
On the pocketfullofbooks site, Anna our host (she doesn’t provide her last name) recounts various examples of authors behaving badly as they react to criticism. There’s the author who attempted to sue an Amazon reviewer. There was the author who sent his self-published book to a number of bloggers he claimed had promised to review his work and nary a review showed up. Thereafter on the writer’s site he posted a warning to these reprobates, and you knew he was serious ‘cause he USED ALL CAPS. Turns out this chap had previously been blocked from Goodreads. Wonder why.
Then there was this by a writer on Amazon: “There is the stupid cow from Goodreads who has been real nasty and keeps doing up really bad reviews of [my book], then gets her friends to go in and ‘like’ her bad reviews so that that review will be pushed up to the top of all the lists. Now she’s put it up on Amazon! She is a disgruntled old cow who doesn’t like me and how I got published. There’s no point in saying anything about her or responding (she loves that) but what we can do is push her review back down the list by bringing all the good reviews back to the top. How do we do this? Well at the end of each review there is a little button where…”
There’s also the possibly apocryphal story of a certain big time bestseller who had a thin skin. Reportedly he would use the name of his critics and make them pederasts or give them small penises, or both I suppose, in a novel if a critic had pissed him off in a review of a prior work. Take that ye varlets!
Still, what kind of real punishments are these? Or what, in an existential sense, could possibly be accomplished with any kind of response? What are review-trolls even being punished for? Having different sensibilities? Missing the point of your shoddy writing? Being dicks? Hurting your feelings?
And what will futuristic cyberreaders who stumble upon your writing in the vast digital archive think of your pettiness, or your incapacity to live outside of the microskirmishes of your time?
This, I feel, is what makes the idea of bailing on Goodreads (now that I’m so damn invested in it, it feels) seem especially futile. First, I’d argue that I’d like to keep my digital footprint light but a quick Googling of my name exposes a weird internet footpath made by shoes exactly my size… a past I probably can’t easily escape that I hope shuffles off to some faraway corner forgotten eventually. Second, if the policy put in place is solely meant to curb attacks on an author’s asshole behavior or personal convictions, then I feel that its effective implementation does make Goodreads less free while also ensuring that people are focusing entirely on the writing and not, say, a reader’s personal feelings about the author’s lifestyle (you wouldn’t attack RuPaul’s book because she’s a transsexual, Rand Paul’s because he’s a Republican, or Paul Krugman because you hate Nobel Prize Winners, nor would you want anyone else to do it). Third, a reason above all others, I’m really just too lazy to start futzing with another site.
Look, I do get the counterargument: people can gush up someone to 5-stars without reading a book but not knock it down to 1? But hey… it’s a company, not a government: it ain’t supposed to be fair. Goodreads or otherwise, each site will eventually adopt practices that allow it to raise that sweet sweet lucre, thus each will ultimately disappoint users looking for a utopian bookreading community, where everyone can get away with saying anything for any reason. This place simply does not exist in a way that’s highly profitable for the owners and engaging for everyone.
Like life or dating, we just need to accept things as they are and deal with the disappointment sometimes, instead of dwell on what can ideally be. The surefire way to destroy something you love is to inject it with your desperate expectations for how it should behave.
Love or leave it, but why ruin it?
(I say all this and then, later, I’m going to say or write something stupid and eat all of these words one bitter chomp at a time. More on fucking up online and staring as it drifts into the techno-aether some other time).