Frank Rich (@frankrichny) October 19, 2014
During this relatively slow news week, a reader draws our attention to “the latest thing blowing up (a small corner of) the Internet”:
Kathleen Hale, YA author and fiancée of Simon Rich (Frank Rich’s son) wrote this article about her experience with a nasty review on Goodreads of her non-yet-published book. She became obsessed with the reviewer, who was also a book blogger. Hale eventually discovered that the reviewer was operating under a false identity, stolen photos, made-up job, faked vacation photos, etc. Against all advice, Hale decided to confront the reviewer, to find out why she had it in for her, going so far as to find her real name and address, pay for a background check on her, and go to her house.
What makes the story so interesting is the reaction to it. I don’t know if Hale thought she would get a sympathetic reaction to her confession, but she has instead set off a firestorm.
Her book now has hundreds of 1-star reviews on Goodreads, calling her a crazy stalker and vowing never to read any of her books. The book bloggers are out in force, determined to destroy her. No one cares that the reviewer faked her identity, equating what she did to J.K. Rowling using the Robert Galbraith pseudonym. Hale probably went too far, but I have tremendous sympathy for her frustration with having to sit back and silently take the mean-spirited reviews. (Goodreads strongly discourages authors from responding to reviews.) But I cringed when I read her article, because I knew she was going to make things much much worse for herself.
Along similar lines to Kathleen Hale’s obsession with her bad reviews is this article by Margo Howard, the daughter of Ann Landers, lamenting the reviews of pre-publication copies of her book by members of the Amazon Vine community. Ms. Howard’s article displays a not-entirely-surprising lack of awareness of the real world. I think her mother would have advised her to keep her mouth shut.
Writing requires thick skin, something that blogging out loud for years certainly gives you. Erin Gloria Ryan sounds off:
I sympathize with Hale’s feeling of helplessness in the face of what felt to her like people unfairly turning on her. And I’m sure most people who have ever written online understand the feeling of wanting to have a face-to-face conversation with a vitriolic critic. It’s that fantasy confrontation, where all of your stored l’esprit de l’escalier flows freely. I’ve even skimmed the Twitter feeds of professional and romantic rivals after a drink too many, an hour too late. I get that urge.
But you do not go to somebody’s house. You do not call somebody’s place of employment. You do not pose as a fact checker and demand personal information. You definitely don’t call a girl with an eating disorder fat while pouring hydrogen peroxide onto her head, and you do not run away laughing like a maniac after the fact. Hale’s thoughts are defensible; her actions are not.
About that, um, peroxide incident:
This weekend, a tipster sent us this piece Hale wrote for Thought Catalog two years ago, wherein she describes a chance run-in with Lori, a troubled girl with an eating disorder who had, years ago, accused Hale’s mother of sexual abuse. … A sympathetic judge let Hale off without punishment [after pouring the peroxide], but that didn’t stop her from doing what she referred to in her Guardian piece as “light stalking;” she says she followed Lori’s movements online. One day, she contacted her via AOL Instant Messenger, and within an hour, a police officer showed up to give her father a firm talking to about how his daughter shouldn’t stalk a girl she once assaulted.
Zooming out, Michelle Dean places Hale’s “nutso behavior” within a literary tradition of sorts:
Off the top of my head, I can think of the following nutty anecdotes […] of authors concerned that someone has been insufficiently admiring of their work:
1. Richard Ford spitting on Colson Whitehead at a party because Whitehead gave him a bad review;
2. Richard Ford (a theme emerges) sending a copy of Alice Hoffman’s book to Alice Hoffmanwith a bullet in it;
3. Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal literally butting heads before their famous fight on the Dick Cavett Show;
4. Robert Frost setting a fire at Archibald MacLeish’s reading because, I guess, he did not care for MacLeish’s poetry;
5. After Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, again on the Dick Cavett show, that, “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,'” Hellman proceeded to sue everyone involved for over $2 million; and
6. About eighty different stories about Hemingway fighting with literary rivals.
Previous Dish on stalking here. Update from a reader:
This kind of thing isn’t limited to just authors; this story from a few years back involves a bookstore owner in San Francisco.