One website, though, is more akin to the Wild Wild West than it is to a typical book review site. It is a place where book reviewers can expect to be cursed, laughed at, and otherwise abused on a regular basis (if tarring and feathering or stocks were available, I would really be worried). Amazon.com, though, can be a nasty place for book reviewers with thin skins. Dare to post a review on any political book, either positive or negative, and watch the “helpful/not helpful” votes come rolling in from people who have not read the book - but hate its author. Dare to post a negative, or even a mediocre review, of a book by a big-name, mainstream author and expect to have your very IQ challenged by the author’s rabid fans.
The strangest thing about Amazon is that a generous portion of the abusive comments attached to book reviews come directly from the authors of those books. It is hard to understand what the authors think they will gain by making personal attacks on readers who have panned their books, but I suppose such behavior is cheaper than the therapy from which they would more readily benefit.
Even big-name authors tend to blow their stacks every so often about book reviews but few of them respond the way that Alice Hoffman did publicly a few weeks ago to one newspaper reviewer who dared question the quality of her latest novel:
“Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Anne Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?”That kind of response creates a “no-win” situation for an author, as Hoffman found out by the amount of scorn hurled her way by the media and public alike. Is Hoffman suggesting that seasoned readers and professional critics not dare review a book unless they, too, have been published? Sales are all about word-of-mouth nowadays and Ms. Hoffman’s elitist attitude makes clear how unhappy she is that word of a disappointing novel spreads quickly in today’s marketplace - no matter who the author may be. More to the point, why should readers even trust reviews written by other writers since so many writers trade cover blurbs and reviews with their friends and colleagues over entire careers?
Even as prominent a book reviewer as Maureen Corrigan (of NPR, book and newspaper fame) knows what to expect from certain negative reviews. However, few handle the situation as cleverly as Corrigan did this weekend when she disguised her review of the latest Nora Roberts tripe as an opinion piece about the frustration of reviewing the books of an author who sells the huge number of books sold by Roberts. (I read Corrigan’s piece in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday morning, but here's a link to the whole review at the Washington Post site.) According to Corrigan:
“It doesn’t much matter what I say about the new Nora Roberts novel; most of the adult female population of the planet is going to read it anyway. It’s a staggering understatement to say that Roberts is review proof.”Now that she has done her best to discourage a “deluge of emails” from Roberts fans, Corrigan has her say:
“If I pan the novel, I come off as a snooty-pants literature professor, and I’ll be deluged by emails from her ticked-off fans. If I gush over it, I’ll be suspected of trying too hard to be just a regular gal…”
“I’m going to say what I think straight out: Black Hills is synthetic mind candy. It’s not even very satisfying synthetic mind candy, such as, for instance, Clive Cussler in his prime or Patricia Wentworth’s soothing Maud Silver mysteries.”Next consider that Nora Roberts has written more than 160 bestsellers, 39 of which have debuted at No. 1 and you will better understand Corrigan’s take on this new one. While thinking about those numbers, you might also consider the national embarrassment of what is called the NYT Fiction Bestseller List.
“This latest smooch-and-shoot saga spans three decades and many twists of the heart. To give Roberts her due, she keeps this fluff aloft for hundreds of pages (partly by repeating the same sex scene every other chapter or so). Black Hills isn’t much of a suspense story and the romance is so silly that it isn’t even good fantasy fodder, but none of Roberts’ fans will give a hoot.”
Me, I hope to keep Corrigan’s tongue-in-cheek approach in mind the next time I am called a bunch of names over at Amazon. If it happens to a critic as good as Corrigan, I will just remind myself that I am in good company despite my amateur status.