How often have you seen people go up to a baby in the street and say to its young mother, “That baby should never have been born’, or worse, “That baby should be put down’, or even, ‘That baby is incredibly ugly‘.
Maybe these things were said with a racial slant years ago, maybe they were said to single mothers about the same time, but I doubt it is a common event nowadays and my guess is that the person saying it would elicit gawping shock or possibly violence. Maybe they themselves would be put down, at least onto the sidewalk.
However, some book readers launch into comparable attacks on authors without hesitation.
I have just read one that accused the author of having no writing skills whatsoever and, in the next breath, of stealing most of her passages from other writers. What? This author was so stupid as to plagiarise the worst writing around? Another, and I suspect related, attack said that somebody should sue her for her portrayal of the hero on the off-chance it might be them.
Maybe these criticisms are valid, but I very much doubt it. The fact that she was getting 5-star reviews from other readers suggests that the case is far from cut-and-dried.
Stacey Danson’s book, ‘Empty Chairs’, comes in for similar attacks, the most common of them being that she made up her childhood of abuse. If you don’t happen to know Stacey (which is a pen name in any case) and don’t happen to know for certain that she is lying, it seems an outrageous accusation to make, not to say defamatory. Besides, even if it were true, wouldn’t that simply make the book a fiction? As Stacey said to me the other day, “If only I could write my fiction as well as that.”
Another author I know has been attacked twice on the same Amazon.co.uk page, under two different aliases, by his ex-wife in virulent style. Should my wife become ex-, and should she write a book, I hope I would have the decency to be fair to it and to submit my review under my own name, and only once. What could this ex-wife say where her dishonesty and vengeful intent don’t trump whatever shortcomings anybody might perceive in the book which, ironically, is about forgiveness.
Most of my books get very few reviews but the reviews they get are usually kind. However, there is one exception – ‘Little Fingers!’ which is about sexual morality post-1960s. I didn’t realise it had been reviewed at all until I dropped over to Barnes and Noble one day and found that it attracted either 5-star or 1-star reviews. ‘Ugh’ said one review. Actually, I sympathise. I think it is a horrible book that makes my stomach churn when I think about it, but I also think it did what I wanted it to do – to confront our real sexual sensitivities and prejudices. Fortunately, in my case, I don’t think I was being subjected to a personal attack, simply the horror of some readers being confronted with what they thought was explicit lesbian sex. If they had read on further, they would have discovered that it wasn’t, but there you go.
No matter. Never retaliate. Never show any upset at all. Yet don’t put that baby down.
That said, should I ever find those few people who said such incredibly cruel things to Stacey Danson without the slightest justification, and should they be holding a baby at the time, I might just remark that their baby shares an uncanny resemblance to their minds.
As Frank Zappa once sung. “What is the ugliest part of your body? Is it your nose? Is it your toes? No, it’s your mind.”