YA author Kathleen Hale is entangled in controversy following a personal essay that was published in The Guardian Saturday. In it, Hale describes falsely obataining a book bloggers (A.K.A. Blythe Harris) address and renting a vehicle to visit her home.
First, whether or not Blythe Harris’ online persona was “a real” person. Unless you are obsessed with Blythe Harris, whether or not the online persona and the person living at that house were the same, is irrelevant to the reviews. It is also irrelevant to Hale’s stalking.
Anyone who spends significant time writing develops a voice–a tone, mannerisms, quirks. Other than con artists–and even they have tells, I’m sure–anyone communicating over a period of time will consistently reveal him/herself through opinions and expressions. No one can lie about who they are, at their core, for years–particularly not when communicating with a variety of others several times a week, if not daily. No one is that good. Blythe Harris was Blythe Harris, and that’s all anyone needed to know.
Second, reviewers don’t write reviews to please, or praise, or encourage authors. Readers write reviews to share their love of reading with other readers. To steer fellow readers to the books we love and to warn them about the books we hate–always aware that the final decision rests with each reader, whether they’ll heed our advice or do exactly the opposite. We also don’t write reviews to “make” or “break” careers, and I’ve yet to see the career destroyed (or the author flayed) by ONE review.
The constant exhortation for reviewers to think of the author as they write the review (presumably so that they’ll be more measured in their reviews, less free with the lower ratings and criticism, lest they hurt those fragile flowers’ sensibilities, or destroy their careers), is the exact opposite tack. It makes the review about the author–personal–instead of the book–subjective, but impersonal. People have every right to express their opinions about a book they read without being hindered by the fear of an obsessive author showing up on their doorstep demanding to know WHY.
I have a secret. Dagobot isn’t my name.
I have complete understanding and respect for people online, whether they choose to use a real name or a pen name (how many authors do this?!), no matter who they are. A fake name does not make the person’s opinions, feelings, or presence “fake”. If anything, in my experience, a fake name makes people more honest, and likely to share how they really, truly feel. The openness I find from such people is one of my favorite things about the internet, really.
I have been putting out creative works for a very long time and I have experienced myself, negative reviews. I remember times where I would get all worked up. I would say things like 'They just don't understand it, they don't get it.' And in every one of those situations, peers and friends said “Chill. It’s just a review.” And that’s what it is. Just a review. Now, I’m of the mind that if any person has taken the time out of their life to not only to read/listen, but write a commentary on something you have created, that’s pretty amazing. Whether one sentence or a million, the idea that something from my mind, soul and pen moved someone emotionally, or stimulated a debate or thought in their head is awesome, whether they have positive or negative things to say (yes, even about music). No human is perfect.
I think the people who have come forward to support Hale have conflated the meaning of “troll”, just like “harrassment” is conflated. They become easy buzzwords, political words, that work to divide and antagonize everyone against everyone else. It seems, sometimes, that the simple act of saying something negative (without critical analysis, and then the critical “pedigree” to make such claims) means you are a troll. Which is utterly ridiculous.
As far as this Guardian piece is concerened. Hale's reaction is that of a wounded narcissist. If nothing else, at the very least, an established, published author like this actually going right up to some loud-mouthed, rude book blogger's doorstep is never going to be anything but punching down, in the worst way.
Not only did she violate this woman’s boundaries, she did so in an article for a major international newspaper, an article that only serves, arguably, to increase her own esteem. Hale got publication in the Guardian out of it; Harris merely got harassed. A truly self aware essay wouldn't have used the reviewer's pseudonym, or her real first name. This reads as malignant egotism on a scale that only schtupping your way to a literary career can explain. This whole brouhaha is just self-serving naval gazing on Hale's part. The essay should never have seen print, and would not have if she didn't have her connections.
Here's a short check-yourself list: Do you handle criticism well? If not, professional creativity might not be the field for you.
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