Friday, July 3, 2015


Painting by Paul Marquart
Several years ago, I published a blog about the loss of civility in the U.S. This morning, at the risk of this essay being dubbed "a rant," I feel compelled to again pen a few lines about the careless use of language. I suppose that, as a writer, sarcastic critiques about books I've written, or critical responses to blogs, etc. easily get under my skin...and when I read ugly diatribes about other people's good books, I also feel righteous indignation roiling in my stomach.

A few days ago when a friend submitted the book she had written to the editor of a site that handled books about the particular subject she had written, she received one of the most inappropriate rants I've read in a long time. In fact, not since the 70's when I wrote a column called Cherchez la femme and debunked the excess use of four letter words in contemporary literature and was attacked by a caller who began to use all the four letter words he knew during our conversation, have I felt the urge to write a few lines about inappropriate language. I'm no Pollyanna, but I detected a bit of misogyny going on in the reviewer's reply to the submission of a good book by an unsuspecting woman.

The writer/reviewer of the inappropriate e-mail didn't bother to read the author's book—he only read the biography on the back cover before exploding like a 4th of July firecracker (maybe he was anticipating tomorrow's celebration?). When the author mentioned she was married to a successful professional person, he wrote: "The book is what is important not who you are sleeping with." When she said she had a PhD, he chided her for mentioning this, as if her rightfully earned degree was some kind of sacrilege that shouldn't be mentioned, calling her "unprofessional" for citing this in her bio ("hope you aren't one of those silly academics that use their PhD all the time...I have a PhD in literature from an Ivy League college but don't embarrass myself by putting it on e-mails," he wrote).  He then immediately went into a brag about his literary credits, his professional experience, his credits with a government organization. Further, he attacked her publisher's comment about the book being reminiscent of essays by a famous author and told her that "this was a stretch"—if that comparison was made, the reader would expect prose equal to the famous author (threat, threat!). More was said, but most of it was inflated verbiage about the reviewer's qualifications, rather than any positive comments about a book he hadn't even read.

I think that authors expect rejections, and they know they should have a high capacity for enduring it, but I don't think that personal attacks (this guy doesn't even know the author) are way out of line. When I read the e-mail, I told my author friend that it had the earmarks of either an alcoholic or someone mentally deranged and for her to erase the e-mail from her computer and to move on with marketing her book.

However, I have difficulty refraining from commenting here about "book reviewers" who attack writers personally. What's wrong with "sorry, but I can't review your book." Constructive criticism, please, not destructive diatribes about a blurb on the back cover!

This guy represents one of the warm, fuzzy organizations in our country, and his diatribe, as I said in the beginning of this blog, makes me know that civility is losing ground every day. Some critics think that freedom of speech allows them to write mean-spirited, insulting things about fellow authors. Several of the seven deadly sins come to my mind, the tantamount one being Envy, and this particular reviewer seems to have succumbed to a serious case of it, followed by an infection of Arrogance. This blog will probably never be read by the particular reviewer of whom I write, but maybe it'll give some in the crowd of reviewers out there second thoughts before attacking a writer without even opening the first page of a book!

Care should be taken in emailing such inappropriate comments in this day and age of social media. Many people and corporations, large and small, have suffered when such mindless comments have gone viral, as I hope this blog will illustrate.

I only hope that my author friend eventually blows this critic off as just another 4th of July firecracker that exploded... in the wrong place!
Post a Comment