When to Engage Reviewers: NEVER

ICYMI: About a week ago, The Guardian published new author Kathleen Hale’s account of “confronting her number one critic,” a book blogger who went by the possible pseudonym Blythe Harris. Said book blogger had given Hale’s first book, No One Can Have You, a “bad review.”

What ignited the fury of the book blogging community was Hale’s confession that she had stalked her online critic for months, even buying a rental car and hunting down her address. Apparently, Hale ended up at Harris’s actual real-life doorstep (Harris’s address was apparently procured from Hale’s publisher, which is a whole other kettle of fish).

Thankfully, nothing violent happened between the two women, but the mere fact that Hale went through all that trouble sent chills down my spine. I’ll have to rely on other bloggers for that knowledge, though; I had to stop reading halfway through Hale’s essay, I was so disturbed.

A screenshot of the review that (apparently) started it all:

Buzzfeed’s screenshot of Blythe’s Goodreads review (Some claim Blythe deleted the body of the review’s text some time after this firestorm erupted).

The essay came to my attention on Twitter, as most things do, because the online literary community exploded with fear, anger, and a plethora of other emotions. Book bloggers feared retribution for ever reviewing a book online. Some authors tweeted their horror at Hale’s actions, while other authors applauded her bravery. So I must confess that once I read the essay’s opening lines, I’d already heard Hale called both a stalker and a hero.

Stalking? Not stalking? I’m gonna go with stalking.

“Europe” seemed a vague destination for an adult planning a vacation. But a few nights later, lit only by the glow of my screen, I watched in real time as Blythe uploaded photos of Greece to Instagram. The Acropolis at night. An ocean view. A box of macaroons in an anonymous hand.

The images looked generic to me, the kind you can easily find on Google Images, but then Blythe posted a picture of herself sitting in a helicopter. The face matched the tanned Twitter photograph.

“Fuck,” I said. What if she was real and had simply given the book club the wrong address?

Then Judy updated her Facebook profile with photographs of a vacation in Oyster Bay, New York. I clicked through and saw the holiday had started on the same day as Blythe Harris’s.

Maybe it’s because I’m just starting out as a blogger, but I tend to agree with the “stalker” label, myself. Sure, I love creative writing and I’m just as insecure and protective of my work as the next young writer, but Hale has made it all the way to the publishing stage. Surely she knew better than to engage–not only online, but in person. Reviews will be mixed for any debut book; does that mean every new author should cyberstalk their most vocal critics and show up at their houses, demanding an explanation?

Does that mean every blogger should fear retribution from the author of every book they review? That sounds like a terrifying atmosphere for a community united by its love of literature and art.

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