Some of us write book reviews; some of us receive them. Some of us think that it is better to have been reviewed and lost than never to have been reviewed at all.
Paul Litterick recently unearthed this 2011 Financial Times article by Francis Wheen, “The Hunting of the Snark”, about malicious book reviews, which are obviously the best sort. For readers, at least. The article is full of great lines, for example Cyril Connolly on the reviewer’s “thankless task of drowning other people’s kittens”. Quote unquote:
Sam Leith recalls filing a vicious review of a David Lodge novel for the Spectator one morning and then being introduced to Lodge at a party that evening. “He was very pleasant,” Leith sighs. “I crawled away feeling I’d stabbed this nice old gent in the back.” Literary etiquette demands that you don’t review books by friends, but as Leith points out “you’re not meant to review enemies either”. The only solution is never to meet any authors at all.
I think this is sound advice not just for reviewers but for everyone.
More recently, in last Saturday’s Guardian to be precise, Kathleen Hale wrote about being catfished. Someone reviewed her first novel online, pretending to be another person, Blythe Harris. So Hale unwisely – we all know that authors should never engage with negative reviewers – engaged with her negative reviewer, tracked her down and physically confronted her. She also catfished her back. It’s a long, mad and funny story. Quote unquote:
Anxious and inexperienced, I began checking goodreads.com, a social reviewing site owned by Amazon. My publisher HarperTeen had sent advance copies of my book to bloggers and I wanted to see what they thought. Other authors warned me not to do this, but I didn’t listen. Soon, my daily visits tallied somewhere between “slightly-more-than-is-attractive-to-admit-here” and “infinity”.
For the most part, I found Goodreaders were awarding my novel one star or five stars, with nothing in between. “Well, it’s a weird book,” I reminded myself. “It’s about a girl with PTSD teaming up with a veteran to fight crime.” Mostly I was relieved they weren’t all one-star reviews.
One day, while deleting and rewriting the same tweet over and over (my editors had urged me to build a “web presence”), a tiny avatar popped up on my screen. She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.
So here is Joe Cocker with Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy’s “Catfish” from his 1976 album Stingray. The backing band is Stuff: Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale on guitar (Gale does the solo), Richard Tee on keyboards, Gordon Edwards on bass and Steve Gadd on drums: