I’m on a nonfiction kick. Two books in a row, for me that’s a kick. I probably read one nonfiction book about every eighteen months, so this kick of mine is notable. One weekend a few months ago, two books caught my attention: The Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharanand Finn and Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale, herself.
I have a decades-long history of learning about a book from an article, vowing to read it, sending myself an email to remind myself to get it, and then two months later, I delete that email knowing that I’ll never take the time to get the book. Right, pathetic. It’s always bummed me out that I operate like this, but not enough to change. Well, now I work at a library, there’s no longer an excuse. When I hit some down-time in my day, I get to go browse the shelves. When I see that email on Monday morning, I take some action. I’m becoming well-read.
These two books are new in 2019, both came out this summer, so I wasn’t shocked to find that my library owned neither of them. No problem, in Pennsylvania, if your library doesn’t have a book, one of the other state libraries is required to loan it to you… or so I thought. I sent an email: “Hey Maria, can I request an inter-library loan for the following two books…”
A few days later I got a response. “Jeff, these books are too new. The libraries won’t loan them to us for months.”
Does it seem weird that I’m emailing with my coworker? She works on the floor right below me. I walk past her desk every day when I arrive to work. Here’s the thing I love most about working in a library: everyone’s an introvert. Small talk, or really any talk, just doesn’t happen. She continued, “I’m going to put in a request for us to purchase them.”
The following week in a management meeting, Julie threw a rant. “I get all these ridiculous requests for obscure books that will only be read once and then sit on the shelf for five years until we weed them out.” (Weeding, that’s what we call removing old books.) “If we’re trying to stretch our dollars, I need to buy stuff people actually want to read.” I sank lower in my seat, didn’t make eye contact, and silently vowed to never request a book again.
And then the books showed up. The Rise of the Ultra Runners was pretty good. Definitely good enough if you have even a passing interest in ultra-running. Plus, Finn and I write for the same British magazine, Like the Wind, so I feel like we have a lot in common, a connection. I ignore the fact that he’s written three best-selling running books, runs a 2:45 marathon and has completed two races longer than one hundred miles. Yes, we’ve written for the same magazine, we’re the same person.
Last night, I read the title essay of Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker. I’m not sure I can get away with calling it the ‘title essay’ since the actual title of the essay is Catfish, but it’s the story about Hale being a crazy stalker, so any way…
Here’s the back story: Hale, a Young Adult novelist, received a bad review of her novel No One Else Can Have You on Goodreads. I mean really bad. One star, and worse, it accused her of making light of mental illness and PTSD, and serving as an apologist for rape. The reviewer made note that she only read the first chapter. I personally find it disconcerting that this is what a reader took away from the first chapter of a Young Adult novel, and I suppose that is the impetus for the extra bad review.
Catfish and the real-life events are fairly convoluted: other reviewers read the bad review, reconsidered their initial good reviews and there was a bit of a ground-swell of book-bashing. Hale, who struggles with mental illness, including Obsession Compulsive Disorder, became obsessed with her dwindling Goodreads rating, and she responded to the initial bad review on Goodreads trying to stick up for herself. The reviewer doubled down on her sentiments; enlisted a small army of bloggers and reviewers to attack Hale’s online presence; and she successfully ruined Hale’s career as a YA author. It’s a sad story and makes me feel sorry for Hale.
In May, I got a bad review on Goodreads for my book Bad Ass. The reviewer gave the book three stars (I know, not that bad) but with the text: “Ugh, I wanted to love this book. I can’t. Decent writer and I’m sure many will like this book but I’m not one of them.”
This was my only review so far. The thing that bugged me most about the review is that before he posted it, we exchanged a few emails where he called me “a good, and possibly great, writer” and acknowledged that while he was turned off by the first half of the book, he saw a lot of redemption in the end. Why didn’t he write all that?
This is where Hale and I depart. Instead of responding to the review, or emailing the reviewer directly, I took the unprecedented (for me) step of asking for advice. I tweeted to the #WritingCommunity: Should I respond or let it go? Every single person said let it go.
Hale should have let it go, too. If she did she would be a successful author with a mediocre average number of stars on her debut novel, and a promising future. Instead she was buried under a mound of internet hate. Then Hale went nuts. She hired a private investigator and got a bunch of personal information about the reviewer. With the reviewer’s real name, Hale cyber-stalked her relentlessly, piecing together all aspects of her life. She went to the reviewer’s house (but decided not to knock), contacted publishing companies to learn about the frequency of beta-reader book deliveries, and ultimately started calling the reviewer at her work. All of this makes me hesitant to leave a bad review of Hale’s story.
I just read over my last few paragraphs–blah, blah, blah. Imagine twenty pages of this. The whole time I was reading, I felt sorry for Hale’s fiancé and best friend, both of whom she references confiding in frequently during this period. I envision her rehashing the whole affair every night adding in one small new detail that she might have discovered. It’s an odd story, I’m not sure why she wrote it. She isn’t remorseful. She doesn’t really accept any responsibility, and despite the book being marketed as humor, it isn’t funny.
Probably the thing I dislike most about the story is it seems like the exact sort of thing I would do. For many people, OCD isn’t the quirky behavior we see on TV—arranging closets by color and lining up shoes by size. OCD includes a very real, and painful need to poke at things no matter how inappropriate, time wasting or harmful that behavior might be. I’ve written before about my WordPress, Facebook, Twitter loop where I sit cycling through these sites maybe pausing for ten seconds on each to see if anything has changed since I last visited… thirty seconds ago. I want to stop, and ultimately I do stop, but it takes a while to muster the willpower necessary to stop. A small benign example, imagine if it involved other people.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a satire piece. It’s a fictional email I received through my contact form from a follower who wanted to meet in real life. As the email continues, the follower becomes more and more inappropriate in her requests. It’s comes off very stalkerish. The thing is, I wrote this about myself. I’m the crazy follower. This is me in an alternate universe, similar, but slightly different. Or maybe it’s just me on a bad day. Sure it’s exaggerated, and I think clearly enough to understand where boundary lines lie, but back to OCD, sometimes we just can’t help it.
Like Kathleen Hale’s reviewer, it’s probably unfair of me to write about her book after reading just one essay, but I’m not reviewing the book, just the story and the situation. A lot of Goodreads reviews on Crazy Stalker are filled with anger and disgust that Hale is making money off of her inappropriate and threatening behavior. And even though I think I understand where Hale is coming from, I have to agree.
A version of this post was previously published on JefftCann and is republished here with permission from author.
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