I had a really nice little post all scheduled to go up this morning. But something happened over the weekend that I stumbled upon and I just HAD to say something about it. I haven’t usually weighed in on goings-on in the book blogging community, mostly because I always felt like a relative newbie and (thankfully) haven’t been involved in any blogging scandals. But for a couple of reasons, I just couldn’t let this one go.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with what I want to talk about today, but in case you aren’t I’ll give a brief breakdown of the situation. Blythe Harris, a book blogger at Finding Bliss in Books, gave a 1 Star review on Goodreads to Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You. I’ve read the review, and as it’s 1 Star, it obviously isn’t very positive (as I’m sure the other 242 1 Star reviews aren’t either).
Now, as book bloggers, some of us try to be as positive as possible when discussing books we’ve read. The things I would say to a close friend when discussing a book, are probably not the same things I’d write about on this blog, or on public forums. That’s not to say that I am dishonest in reviews in any way, but rather that I try not to be too blunt or sarky, which trust me, is sometimes a struggle. I try to be sensitive to an author and their creation. Some bloggers are not so censored, and fair play to them, they usually make for highly passionate, opinionated and entertaining reviews – each to their own, and Harris’ review was a little more on the blunt side.
On Saturday 18th October 2014, The Guardian published an article by Hale, where she seems to have taken this particular review very personally, believing Harris to be out to destroy her career. Not only does Hale openly admit her actions “felt like the biggest breach of decency I’d ever pulled”, but she basically stalks Harris online, manages to get hold of her address and phone number, conducts a $19 online background check, rents a car and drives to her door after looking it up on Google Maps, calls her at work and clearly harasses the poor woman senseless.
Hale’s conclusion? That Blythe Harris is a pseudonym for another person entirely. While this may be true, people are well within their rights to write under pseudonyms, both reviewers and authors do it, and after reading about Hale’s adventures, I’m beginning to consider doing it myself for my own personal safety! Hale takes this concept further, she seems to believe that not only is Blythe Harris a pseudonym, it’s a pseudonym set-up for the purposes of destroying careers and trolling online. That story may stick, if it weren’t for the fact that Harris’ blog, Finding Bliss in Books, has been going since 2012, and has dished out PLENTY of 4 and 5 Star reviews. Sorry, Hale, but this sounds like a case of sour grapes to me.
Unfortunately, as often happens, the article on The Guardian was one-sided, accusatory and factually inaccurate (the term “catfishing” was used completely out of context). As a member of the book blogging community I felt like some issues needed to be addressed – Harris had been blogging since 2012, these profiles weren’t created with the intention of harassing Hale, and in case anyone was under a different impression – Hale’s behaviour was completely unacceptable. My comment was removed from The Guardian by moderators.
I honestly feel outraged by this whole situation. I’m disappointed in The Guardian for approving such a story to be posted on their site, and I’m shocked at Hale – not only for her actions, but for publishing them with the belief that they are justified! Books are reviewed all the time, both by “professional” critics and non-professional reviewers, and plenty of the “professional” critics can be pretty scathing. Books are published in a public domain, where opinions are rife, and as the saying goes, “You can’t please all of the people, all of the time”.
Many bloggers have written posts on the topic of author/blogger interaction, particularly on what to do if you don’t like an author’s book. Let’s be honest, it can be an uncomfortable scenario to find yourself in, but most authors can appreciate that they are not demi-Gods who get everything right, and can hold a perfectly reasonable and safe interaction/discussion with a blogger via social media or email. Hale’s actions in this case are not “normal”, and certainly not the actions of someone with a sound mind, and anyone supporting her actions are only contributing to her problem.
My final note – regardless of what Harris may or may not have written in her review, and no matter how scathing, or brutal, her review may or may not have been, it does not justify the gross invasion of privacy, breaking of the law and threatening behaviour that Hale dished out as a consequence. Ironically, Hale was under the impression that Harris was out to ruin her career. One review does not a career ruin. However, Hale’s response and subsequent article have most definitely affected her career in the most negative manner possible, with many in the book community now boycotting her books, and boycotting other authors who support her.
Hale’s Twitter account professes that she in interested in “myself, animals, and crime”. Well, Ms. Hale, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
What does this mean for Book Bloggers?
Personally, I’m going to tidy up my social media sites and blog to try and ensure there is minimal information for anyone to find me. I’d hate to think that Hale is starting a precedent. In fact, I’m pretty sure what she did is considered to be a criminal offence, and I can only hope that it is taken seriously by local authorities and used to set an example (as well as condemned by her Publisher? Watch this space). Crazed stalker-fans get sentenced for stalking, so why not semi-psychotic authors?
I also hope that this doesn’t have a negative impact on freedom of speech and opinion within the community, and most importantly that we don’t lose excellent bloggers because of this incident. Now, more than ever, we need to support each other.
Finally, I’ve been impressed by the number of authors, as well as book bloggers, who have come forward on Twitter to express their shock, concern and at times disgust for what Hale has done.
In the interests of full disclosure, I do not know Blythe Harris personally, and I do not know if her name is a pseudonym (I do follow her blog on Bloglovin’). I do not know Kathleen Hale personally, nor have I read her book(s). Kathleen Hale is the girlfriend of Simon Rich, writer for SNL, and son of journalist Frank Rich and Harper Collins executive editor Gail Winston. Her book, No One Else Can Have You, came from James Frey’s Full Fathom Five Book Packaging company.
On the evening of the 20th of October, book bloggers took to Twitter to vent their frustrations at the actions of Hale, and the lack of response or comment from Harper Teen, her publisher, nor from The Guardian, who posted the article in the first place. Due to this lack of response, and Hale’s apparent reveling in the attention she has been receiving, book bloggers decided to boycott Hale’s work and began using the hashtag #HaleNo. Within a few short minutes, #HaleNo was trending. Buzzfeed has done a great overview of the initial incident, and the online discussions that followed it.
Sources For More Information:
Privileged – An article written by Hale describing an attack she carried out at 14.
Catch Me If You Can ASPCA – A disturbing article by Hale describing animal abuse she carried out as a child.