Tag Archives: the lies they told me

Wallbanger_Cover (1)

Review: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton

Like many – or maybe even most – romantic comedies, Wallbanger bumps along cheerfully until its third act, where the whole thing descends into unearned sentiment and willful stupidity. Situation comedies are almost always characterized by mistaken identities and misunderstandings – meaning the characters often have to be irrational, clueless or foolish to make the situation work – but the third act turn in Wallbanger towards just breathtaking stupidity and a frankly bizarre understanding of a woman’s sexuality felt egregious. This was one of a long list of fictions I’ve read ruined by its ending.

My husband asked me about this book right as I was mid-way through the third act turn, and I groused about the ending unfolding. He asked if I thought maybe I was just an outlier – lots of people like descent into treacle, obvs, or it wouldn’t happen as often as it does. And that’s a factor, sure. As with all comedy and romance, your mileage may vary. I guess I’m just annoyed with how stupid that third act turn was, incommensurate with the level of stupidity preceding. What I would like from my fluff reading is an even level of stupid and unbelievable so I can be prepared. Writing characters with a modest level of competence and humor only to abandon that for completely weird confounding action makes me sad.

Simon and Caroline meet cute after Caroline sublets an apartment from her boss. In her first week there, her sleep is interrupted by the neighbor in the next apartment having several loud assignations with several different women. (You know, not all at once, but serially.) Eventually, after weeks of trash talk with her lady friends and interrupted sleep, Caroline goes banging on the wallbanger’s door in the middle of the night to get him to STFU. It eventually turns out that Caroline and the wall-banging neighbor, Simon, are in a six degrees of separation situation, and her friends and his friends hook up while they razz each other and banter.

So far, so good. Again, comedy is personal, and this could certainly be the kind of humor to put you off, but I thought the middle sections of the novel were the kind of breezy, silly shenanigans I’m looking for from my lazy chick lit. No, it’s not particularly deep nor well written, but in terms of light entertainment, it got the job done. Simon is not a huge asshole and defends his situation credibly; Caroline clearly has seen too many Sex in the City episodes on Oxygen (the ones with the sex scenes and cussing expunged), but not in a nasty, label-obsessed way. Some of the situations made me cringe – the cabin - but mostly the interpersonal relationships were the kind of fakey, airless relationships that exist mostly to be punchlines, not profound statements on the human state or whatnot. Which is totally fine.

I’m given to understand that Wallbanger started life as a Twilight fan fiction, though I’d be hard pressed to tell you how this has anything to do with Twilight. Unlike 50 Shades, the most successful of the pulled-to-publish fanfics out there, the characters in Wallbanger seem almost sensible and evenly matched. They’re roughly the same age and success level, and while Simon obviously has a different take on the whole monogamy thing than Caroline, he’s not a stalker psycho. The person whom I assume is the Jacob character has little in common with Jacob either structurally within the novel nor in terms of character attributes, and Caroline is no Mormon housewife slash shuddering virgin. In fact, my husband and I got into a whole thing about the ethics of published fanfiction – most of which I’m not going to replicate here – but I think the usefulness of the Twilight intertext is pretty minimal either way.

What I really want to bitch about is the third act shitshow involving Caroline’s orgasm or lack thereof. This complaining will certainly involve spoilers, though of the minimal kind, because when a romance heroine tells you she can’t get off at the beginning, what are the odds she’s going to get off by the end? It’s like the Chekhovian gun, only this time it’s the Chekhovian vagina. Somebody’s going to fire that bad boy until it clicks. Caroline tells us early on that she’s lost her O, as she calls it, due to an unfortunate hook up with a dude she calls “machine gun fucker”. I think it’s a blind date set up, and MGF is status-obsessed and boorish. She eventually fucks him out of resignation, just sort of to make the date end, which I recognized from my gauzy memories of dating as an unfortunate but sometimes eventual sexual situation.

It’s not so much that you’re coerced into sex with a bad sexual partner – even though you know it’s going to be bad – but just that you shrug and figure that bad sex is better than no sex at all. This argument uses extremely suspect logic, and I’m not saying it’s true, just that it’s thought by people like younger me and Caroline at points. I don’t even mean to be hyperbolic here, but Caroline’s reaction makes me think this sexual experience is a lightly encoded sexual assault. I get this supposed to be a funny haha set-up, a fakey impediment to be overcome by fakey shenanigans, but it really seems to me that the loss of desire – of sexual response – is such a serious issue that it shouldn’t be treated as lightly as it is.

Not that long ago, I was standing out on the back porch smoking with a friend of mine. I don’t even know how we got on the topic, but she related to me that she’d recently lost her mojo, which had precipitated something of a crisis with her wife. “Why am I not responding to this person I love? Do I not love her enough?” They asked each other and themselves. She went to her doctor in despair. Turns out, she had something like a cyst or other perturbation in her lady-system, a physical explanation for a situation that had pretty serious emotional bearings on her emotional state, her relationship, and her sense of self. I related how my sexual reactions had been gutted by the double punch of breastfeeding hormones and chemical birth control in the months after I had my first kid, and how weird it was to find that my sexual response was something that could be gutted like that. I’d always thought of my sexual being as inextricable until it was extracted. “Oh thank god,” she said. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

I didn’t know either, for months, what was going on, that it wasn’t my fault or in my control. (Not that if it were psychological it would be any more my fault or under my control.) This isn’t even factoring in all the body trauma I went through simply bringing my son into the world. The process of rediscovering my sexuality was a long and complicated one, one that had as much to do with chemical changes as it did to my emotional reaction to them. And that’s not even getting into friends I’ve known who’ve lost their mojo over maybe more severe traumas – psychological or physical – who have to work and work at healing, who have had kind and patient lovers who nonetheless cannot magically repair these dampened and depressed sexualities simply through love.

So when Caroline trips the fuck out because her first time having penetrative sex with her man does not result in her elusive O, I kind of wanted to scream. I don’t think it’s inaccurate that she wouldn’t orgasm from penetrative sex - only about 25% of women consistently do - nor do I think it’s inaccurate that she would blame herself for that “failure”. What drives me fucking bananas is that she magically finds her O again in a scene played for slapstick. and from then on it’s an O rodeo. Just, fuck, I know I’m taking this personally, but this kind of easy magic that has women lit up like a pinball machine after some kind words and the old in-and-out just burns me.

I’m not trying to be unromantic or a crank, and I’m not saying that this book is particularly horrible in its sexy times. This was just the book where I noticed that so much sex writing focuses on straight up (pun intended) penetrative sex as the be-all come-all, and I just can’t anymore. Love is grand, but it’s not going to ring your bell ipso facto. Kindness and understanding – which Simon does evidence, a little – go far in healing, but they are not an elixir. The moment when you realize you’re totally drunk is not the moment you become sober. That’s a whole other process. The rest of it is work, and letting go the idea that your orgasm is a metric, and time.

The third act of Wallbanger ended up being Cosmo healing, a checklist of simple solutions to decidedly unsimple problems, using trips and tricks inaccessible to most women. Again, there’s nothing particularly uncommon about the way Wallbanger portrays a woman’s sexual response, so my irritation is more aggregate than specific. But its commonality is precisely the problem. This is emancipation by will, empowerment through bikini wax. It’s not that I don’t think such things are possible; it’s just that they are constantly portrayed as probable when I know the lived experience is so much cooler, more fucked up, and weirder than these fluff pieces let on. I’m not expecting strict reality from my fluff – I’m not a complete buzzkill – I would just dig if for once it didn’t descend to the lowest, most common narrative, this glossy tabloid psychology that has neither the bite of insight nor the sacrilege of humor. I can be amused by situational comedy up until the situation is a real one treated cheaply. Alas and alack.

publisher

By the Numbers: An Analysis of the Reviews Deleted in the Goodreads Policy Change

Update: After posting this, I received another list from a user who was in the initial 21. There are 11 titles on this list. Five of them are by authors already in this data. I haven’t had time to rejigger this analysis, but her list doesn’t materially affect the results. I have updated the database with her information.

 

On September 20th, Goodreads Customer Care Director Kara posted in the Goodreads Feedback group a new change in their policy. She reiterates their policy of not allowing threats or harassment and  mentions some changes to the Goodreads Author dashboards. The item that gets everyone up in arms is this one:

**[Goodreads will] Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to support@goodreads.com. (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)

Immediately responses start flooding in, decrying this shift and asking for clarification as to what constitutes “author behavior”. Kara clarifies in an edit:

The reviews that have been deleted – and that we don’t think have a place on Goodreads – are reviews like “the author is an a**hole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that”. In other words, they are reviews of the author’s behavior and not relevant to the book. We believe books should stand on their own merit, and it seems to us that’s the best thing for readers.

Several Goodreaders note that they received emails from Goodreads with lists of book reviews and shelf names that had been summarily deleted by Goodreads. A screencap of one such email can be found here, and there is a transcription available here. In another edit to the initial post, Kara adds:

Thank you for all the comments so far. One concern that has come up in this thread is that the content was deleted without those members first being told that our moderation policy had been revised.

In retrospect, we absolutely should have given users notice that our policies were changing before taking action on the items that were flagged. To the 21 members who were impacted: we’d like to sincerely apologize for jumping the gun on this. It was a mistake on our part, and it should not have happened.

When several users question what the deleted shelves “taa” and “icy-hex” even mean, and how that might have anything to do with author behavior, Kara responds:

We don’t comment publicly on individual cases, but in general, what we do is look at a shelf and see how it is used in context. In any case where we have decided to remove that shelf, we are confident that the shelf was being used in a way to review author behavior.

Previously, Goodreads had just hidden reviews that focused on author behavior. A hidden review is accessible to friends, but is not listed on the main book page. Goodreads did not just delete all hidden reviews, instead they divined the intent behind the shelf names and reviews of 21 people, and then deleted their reviews. Goodreads can’t publicly comment on the reviews they deleted, as I can see how that could be untoward, but the people affected can talk about the content of their reviews. These 21 people also received emails detailing the deletions, so we can know exactly what books are being flagged. I wanted to get those lists and collate the data: is there a pattern to the deletions? Are the same books and authors coming up again and again? And if I could find the 21 people who had their reviews and shelves deleted, I could ask them exactly what the content of their reviews was, and how exactly they were using their shelves.

So now I had to go about finding the 21 people who had their reviews deleted before Goodreads began sending take-down notices before deletion. 21 users isn’t a lot of people, especially on a site of 20 million. (Although throwing around the 20 million users number is a little disingenuous, because the reality is that most of the activity on any given social medium is going to be concentrated into a much smaller number of people.) I already had two of the affected users in my friends list, and due to posts in the feedback thread and old-fashioned grape-vining, I was able to identify 6 more. At this point, I put out a status update on Goodreads, which read:

In the interests of science, I am trying to collect the lists of books deleted by Goodreads in the recent “policy change”. So far, I’ve tracked down 8 of the 21. Can you please alert me to: 1) who got emails from Goodreads? 2) a list of their books deleted and 3) shelf names.

It didn’t take me too long to realize I needed to get this update out to other social media platforms, as at least one of the people who had reviews deleted had deleted his Goodreads account, and others were staying out of Goodreads until they could download their information and then delete their accounts. I posted on Tumblr, Twitter, and Booklikes. Through a flurry of activity across several media platforms and including email, I managed to find 4 more users.

I was forwarded lists from these 12 people. 377 reviews were deleted in total, with the number of reviews deleted per user ranging from 1 to 129.  All of their emails from Goodreads have the same wording, and the time stamps are within a short period. This would become important, a there were a second round of emails sent out to users, this time with a warning. I have excluded those lists from the data, as so far all of them have specified shelf titles only, not specific book reviews. (I have heard of one user who got a take-down notice listing specific reviews, but I have yet to hear back from her.) So, now I had lists of titles from 12 people, which seems a reasonable sample of the 21 users Kara mentions. It’s also entirely possible Kara is not completely accurate about the number of people targeted with deletion. For one, she keeps saying they can’t access deleted data, and for another, 12 is a transposition of 21. Given how small, in some ways, the very active Goodreader population is, I’m suspicious that this 12 is all the users who were subject to review deletion.

Unfortunately, these lists were only of book titles, and did not include  the author who wrote the book. In order for this database to be meaningful in any way, I was going to have to correlate books with authors. For example, let’s say that three different titles by the same author have reviews deleted off of three different users’ shelves. Without knowing the author, it doesn’t come out in the data that reviews of his or her book are being flagged in multiple places. Some of the titles are unique, so that eliminates guesswork. Some aren’t, but I could make informed guesses by observing which were Goodreads authors who had books published in the last couple of years, or had reviews still standing that talked about the author. I assigned as many authors as I could, and then submitted the lists back to the users for correction.

In cases of a multi-author book or an anthology, I listed the author indicated by the user as the reason the book was shelved as “do-not-read”. In cases where a writer works under several pen names, I listed their real name. (Or maybe more clearly, I listed the name that the writer uses publicly, even if it is a pseudonym too. My aim was to have all books written by the same person show up together, not determine what name is on the driver’s licence. That’s never important information.)

So this is my first large disclaimer: The list of titles comes directly from the Goodreads emails, but the list of authors assigned to those books is constructed data. In some cases, the user simply couldn’t recall which of the dozens of books entitled Inhale or Truth she had decided not to read. And the first disclaimer brings me to my second disclaimer: this list of authors should not be taken as hit list. Despite Goodreads’s surety that they were only deleting reviews based on author behavior, this was not the case for many of the titles listed. Before I get into specifics, though, I should probably talk about what these reviews looked like. 

There are a lot of things we can’t know for a fact, because obviously the reviews are gone, but I asked all the users if the reviews in question had ratings, or if the review field had any content. Almost all of the reviews in question had no ratings. All of these users adhere to a personal policy of not rating books they haven’t read, with the exception being books that they have read parts of. The only books that had ratings had been at least partially read. Here I would like to note that Goodreads does not have a policy against rating books that you have not read, as that would be both unenforceable and impossible to prove.

I have seen users bemoan that these reviews are somehow skewing the ratings for books, but I would like to point out two things. First, we are dealing with a few hundred reviews against the tens (and possibly hundreds) of millions of reviews on Goodreads. There is no way their removal is going to have a statistical effect. Second, there are thousands of users doing things like “rating on excitement” for unreleased books. Take something like Black Ice, Becca Fitzpatrick’s book which has a publication date more than a year from now. As far as I’m aware, there are no advanced reader copies, and likely the only people who have read this are Fitzpatrick’s friends and family, if even a completed manuscript exists. Black Ice has an average rating of 4.23, which is completely unheard of. 67 users have given it a 5-star rating , versus four who have given it a one. If you want to talk about skewed ratings – and I would like to note right now that ALL ratings are subjective by their very nature and therefore meaningless as some kind of objective metric – then you should start with the overwhelmingly positive ones.

For example, a comment from Goodreads CEO, Otis Chandler, in a Goodreads Feedback thread about pre-ratings:

Interesting thread! I agree that it’s a shame some books have to suffer ratings that clearly are invalid. However I can’t think of a way to prevent it, and I didn’t see any ideas in the thread either (I did skim though). I hope you’ll appreciate that if we just start deleting ratings whenever we feel like it, that we’ve gone down a censorship road that doesn’t take us to a good place.

As for manuscripts or yet-to-be-published books, I have no problem with them being in the database. It’s kind of cool to have a record of in-progress books, and I don’t think it hurts anything. I do think we’d need to remove any that weren’t serious in their intent to be a finished book one day.

When there was content, the review content was generally terse, from quick dismissals to “not for me” to “see comments” to a link or screencap to whatever the controversy was surrounding the book. Many of these controversies, indeed, had to do with the broadly defined issue of author behavior. These controversies range from books being pulled from publication for plagiarism, racist or homophobic statements made by the author, the author’s conviction on the charges of owning child pornography, downvoting campaigns instigated by authors or agents , the doxing of reviewers by authors, down to just a bunch of dumb stuff authors occasionally say out loud. I have already written at length about how these  “author behaviors” are not equal, but just to reiterate: noting a book has been pulled for plagiarism, for example, is about the book’s unoriginal content, not about  the author’s behavior as a word thief. Noting a children’s book author is convicted of child pornography is the kind of author behavior that has a direct import on the content. Many, many people are currently boycotting Orson Scott Card for his political views, and deciding not to read the books by authors because of their beliefs is a political act Goodreads has no business getting in the middle of. The rest I’m going to shelve for the moment, and get onto the next point.

Additionally, some of the books were shelved “do-not-read” not because of the actions of the author, but because the book looked bad to the user. These are a vanishingly small number though. The other large minority of reviews deleted were shelved because the book was pulled-to-publish fan fiction e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey. A pulled-to-publish fan fiction is one where a freely available fan fiction is pulled, the content lightly edited – often a search & replace with the names “Bella” and “Edward” substituted for other names, not to be too snarky here – and then the book put up for sale. P2p books, as these are referred to, are a controversial topic, but I can’t really call the path to publication and the source of the plot lines “author behavior”, except in a way that nullifies most of literary criticism. (Also of note: no reviews of Fifty Shades were deleted, though I’m sure I could find you many that note its p2p status and not much else.) Whether you regard p2p novels as ethical or not, the information that a book is p2p is not about the author at all.

As far as the content of the review, most indicated that they had nothing in the review field for most of their reviews. Often the comments about the author behavior were occurring solely in the comment threads, as there was literally nothing – not a rating, nothing in the review field – about author behavior at all. From personal correspondence with rameau:

I kept the specifics in the comment field from the moment GR first announced they weren't allowing any non-book related information about authorial behavour in reviews.

Or from Miranda, whose reviews constitute 129 of the reviews deleted, a sizable minority:

“None of those books had an actual text review or a rating. Only shelved by me, but all had screenshots or links in the comments.”

If there was no content – no rating, no statement to the effect of “The author is such a dick. I’m not even going to read it!” – then what Goodreads has done here is delete forums on which Goodreaders have discussed their personal boycotts of selected authors, discussions which are going on all over the site right at this moment , and have likely increased exponentially since the vaguely worded new policy about author behavior. Though Goodreads is claiming this is about review content – such as the hypothetical review example from Kara “this book is by an a**hole and you shouldn’t read the book because of that” – many of these reviews literally had no content, and Goodreads has taken action against review threads I am appalled by this, and you should be too. More than anything else about this debacle, this is the thing I would like you to come away with: Goodreads has deemed the comment threads of a user’s review space actionable to the point of deleting the entire comment thread. 

The Database:

But let’s move away from the self-reported data into the actual data. A searchable database can be found here, and there are screencaps I’ll get up at some point to ensure that if there’s some kind of vandalizing of the data, a record of it in its original form is extant. (I don’t even mean to sound paranoid, but after the copious googling it took to compile these authors – not all, not even most, but a virulent few – I am actually feeling worried that someone might try to vandalize the data.)

So, some very basic numbers:

Number of delete lists: 12
How many reviews deleted, in total: 377
Average number of books deleted, per user: 31.4

The number of reviews deleted, by user:

Archer         6
Bitchie         3
Carla          76
Jane             9
JennyJen 72
Kara            17
Linda            1
Mirage       10
Miranda 129
rameau       5
Ridley        36
Steph         13

As yu can see, the number of reviews deleted by user varies wildly. Three users, Carla, JennyJen, and Miranda, had 277 reviews deleted between them, which constitutes almost three quarters of the number of deleted reviews. This looks incredibly personal.

Here is a graphic of the number of reviews deleted by user:

 

Archer 6 Bitchie 3 Carla 76 Jane 9 JennyJen 72 Kara 17 Linda 1 Mirage 10 Miranda 129 rameau 5 Ridley 36 Steph 13
Reviewers and reviews deleted.

(And a quick note on user names: several of these users asked that I keep their Goodreads screen name out of this. I have assigned pseudonyms to three of them, and shortened one screen name in the interests of brevity.)

A Statistical Sampling of Authors

Overall, the 377 reviews on this list were written by 174 authors, which gives us an average of about 2 books for each author deleted. The actual deleted number range from 1 to 14. It’s fairly easy to sort through the lists and find the author who has the most books deleted, but this isn’t statistically important information. Usually that is an indicator that  the author has written a lot of books, and/or the author was shelved heavily by one user only. The more important data is this: what authors’ books are showing up on multiple delete lists.

 

Authors and reviews deleted

Again, I want to reiterate: this list of authors is not a hit list. It is simply the authors whose books turned up on multiple delete lists, for whatever reason. In doing my research, I had to unearth the controversies that surrounded each of these writers, and I felt some of the situations were silly or overblown, while plenty of them had merit. In other words, I used my own judgement about the information. To quote rameau again:

BBA [badly behaving author] note doesn't stop me from reading a book (see Jamie McGuire and Orson Scott Card), it's supposed to stop me from spending money without serious consideration.

The following list notes the name first, and then the number of users’ delete lists their books were on:

Cassandra Duffy, 5
Melissa Douthit, 5
Jaq D. Hawkins, 4
Kiera Cass, 4
L.B. Schulman, 4
Layce Gardner, 4
Rebecca Hamilton, 4
Carroll Bryant, 3
Donna White Glaser, 3
Emily Giffin, 3
Heather M. White , 3
Jordin Williams, 3
Lauren Pippa, 3
Marla Madison, 3
Ruthi Kight, 3
Shannon Mayer, 3
Amy Plum, 2
Ava Michaels, 2
Betty Jay, 2
Hugh Howey, 2
Jessica Park, 2
John Simpson, 2
Judyann McCole, 2
Julie Halpern, 2
K.P. Bath, 2
Kendall Grey, 2
Kenya Wright, 2
L. Kirstein, 2
Leigh Fallon, 2
M.R. Mathias, 2
Rick Carufel, 2
Robin Wyatt Dunn, 2
Sharon Desruisseaux, 2
Steph Campbell, 2
Sue Dent, 2
Trisha Telep, 2
William Terry Rutherford, 2

 

These 37 authors out of the 174 total are important because they showed up on multiple delete lists. Rather than go through all of the authors and try to find the controversy behind their do-not-read status, I have used this group as a statistically important sampling. Of the 377 reviews deleted, 240 were for reviews of books by this 37 authors. 64% of the reviews deleted are covered by this list of 37 authors. All of the graphs going forward deal with these authors only. If anyone wants to do a more complete sample, the database is freely available.

First off, here is a graphic of how many authors on multiple delete lists were indie, with small presses, or with Big Six publishing houses. Sometimes the exact affiliations are hard to parse, and decisions had to be made about whether Big Six distribution was the same as Big Six publishing, etc. You are welcome to parse this chart yourself. Either way, the chart shows the general trends. We’re dealing with largely self-published books here.

 

19% small press, 16% Big Six, 65% indie
Authors and reviews deleted

Although the reviewer/authors conflicts have been sometimes been characterized as occurring in the Young Adult readership more than others, when you look up the genre of the books affected, that doesn’t turn out to be true. It is a large minority, but plenty of other genres are represented. This is not a boutique issue. Some books are in multiple categories or genres, which is why these categories add up to more that 37.

1 non-fiction, 11 erotica/romance, 3 mystery, 1 historical fiction, 9 SF/F, 13 YA
Deleted Books by Author

Next up we have the nature of the controversy that landed the author in question on multiple users’ do-not-read lists. Admittedly, this involves some guesswork, but generally the controversies were easily googleable, and I relied on the reportage of the people involved. I’ve broken the kind of controversy into categories, based on my own sense of how they are different. The categories are:

  • Political: racist, sexist, & homophobic statements made by author, in addition to one instance of the author being convicted of owning child porn.
  • Marketing: use of sockpuppets for rating inflation, spamming bloggers, spamming in general.
  • Reviewer conflicts: personal attacks against readers/reviewers, downvoting campaigns instigated by either authors or proxies, impolitic statements.
  • p2p fiction or plagiarism: either the author has written pulled-to-publish fan fiction, or there are allegations of plagiarism either in the book, or in sockpuppeted reviews of the book.

7% political, 7% marketing, 10% p2p/plagiarism, 75% reviewer conflicts (Several authors showed up in multiple categories, just as a clarification.)

The elephant in the room here is affiliation with the website Stop the Goodreads Bullies. I urge you strongly not to give these people traffic, as they are doxers, cherrypickers, and generally people you don’t want to get involved with. The only good thing I can see coming out of this mess is showing the average Goodreader just how unhinged these people are. They lie, they insinuate, and they post out-of-context screencaps of conversations occurring on Goodreads (some on my own thread, and you can read the entire context here yourself. I apologize in advance for how much cussing I do, in general.)

 

27% yes, 73% no.
STGRB Affiliated

A sizable minority of the reviews deleted were authored by STGRB affiliated authors, and I’m struggling to understand why Goodreads is going after reviews of books by authors they have banned from their site, people like Melissa Douthit and Carroll Bryant. By the numbers, these are largely self-published authors. I don’t even mean to sound snarky, but who even cares about these writers in the larger literary context? Maybe it’s ridiculous to give these writers platform by shelving their books do-not-read and linking to their myriad social media meltdowns, but it is so much more ridiculous to delete the discussion of these events. Goodreads is a social media platform, and this seemingly personal, yet also arbitrary, deletion of conversations should give the average Goodreader pause.

Whether you think these conflicts have any merit, whether you think doxing is legitimate, whether you think sockpuppets are are a valid marketing strategy, it makes no sense to me that users cannot be allowed to exchange this information about the professional, personal, political, criminal, and sometimes, just sometimes, the literary merit of living authors. It is not just a marketplace of ideas, but an actual marketplace, and often the only power we have as consumers, as citizens, is in where we spend our hard earned dollars. Where we spend our hard earned dollars on a leisure activity. The only vote we have sometimes is the one with our dollars, and Goodreads coming in and stifling discussion of who users believe merit their time and cash is, and I’m sorry for the cussing, bullshit.

While I was writing this post, Goodreads “announced” on their Feedback thread that they were going to try to reinstate the reviews lost in the deletions, and some clarification of their policy. Frankly, I haven’t had time to read this, and I’ll leave its consideration for a later date. The reviewers who were subject to deletion also received the following email:

Hi [Goodreader],

We are contacting you to let you know we are working on retrieving the content that was deleted from your account on September 20. We’re very sorry about how that was handled. In retrospect, we should have notified you and provided you with a copy of your content when we deleted the reviews/shelves.

We also mistakenly deleted your shelf called “due-to-author”. We know we were not clear in our previous response about this. A “due-to-author” shelf fits within our guidelines and is allowed on the site.
We’ve discussed this in more detail with our engineers, and while the reviews have been completely deleted from the database, it turns out we can retrieve the content through back-up servers. We will email it to you for your personal records as soon as the import completes in a week or two. Feel free to re-import your “due-to-author” shelf, but please note that the content that violated our guidelines cannot be re-posted on Goodreads.

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team

So, sorry we deleted your reviews, but they are still illegal according to a policy we absolutely refuse to clarify. If you look at the data, reviews are being arbitrarily and personally deleted, according to no standard I could discern. I leave it to you, fellow Goodreaders, to make sense of these numbers.

 

A quick note of thanks:

I have been using the word “I” though this essay, but that is inaccurate. This database would not have come to be without the help of dozens of people. Thanks to:

The 12 people who forwarded me their delete lists, anyone who passed notes, sent me links, and otherwise made this social media social; for technical help, a shout out to DMS who built the spreadsheet, and sj for making graphs, and Ziv for number crunching; general thanks to Steph and Wendy Darling for link-farming and karen for reader’s advisory, plus just dozens and dozens of people who found me and told their stories. As sickened as I am by this action by Goodreads, I am cheered by the overwhelming power of concerned people acting together. Single tear, guys.

 

 

 

 

How NOT to go about executive recruiting

This book was written by Roald Dahl. Wait a sec… isn’t he the same guy who wrote James and the Giant Peach? Yeah he is. And that’s all you need to know, to figure out his angle. He’s another one of those guys who likes to write about kids in fucked up food situations. Just a year after James…, Dahl couldn’t be satisfied with just one boy and one peach; he had to write this little gem, about a whole group of kids having crazy things happen to them with food, like the one kid who gets sucked up into a chocolate syrup pump, and then the little girl who gets turned into a blueberry. I read this book before I saw the movie, and I was pretty sure that one of the kids was going to get eaten, since a lot of the classics like Hanzel and Gretyl have child cannibalism. (Is a witch eating a kid considered cannibalism, or is a witch sufficiently other-than-human for it just to be run of the mill predation?) Jack and the Beanstalk doesn’t actually show cannibalism, but the giant (that means a giant human, right?) is such a connoisseur of human flesh that he can discern the blood of an Englishman from other nationalities. (does he go by family heritage, or citizenship? I wonder.) Even the kids’ stories which don’t have cannibalism still usually have somebody or something eating a child, like the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, or the whale in Pinocchio. (Does that count? I think Pinocchio was still a puppet when he got eaten.) And even if the kids don’t get eaten, there’s usually at least some sort of completely surreal food antics going on (baking 24 blackbirds into a pie? Somebody call the ASPCA!; gingerbread men who come alive and go running through town? And don’t even get started on The Nutcracker.

To my amazement, there was no cannibalism in this book. It turned out to be a sort of cautionary tale about safety in the workplace, and how NOT to go about executive recruiting. When I was little, my Dad worked at a factory which made industrial presses, and I remember two occasions when he came home and told us about somebody who was either killed or severely injured by a workplace accident. That was usually followed by a lecture about how the individuals in question hadn’t been following some precaution or another, and how “the rules are there for a reason”. (Yeah, like the rules that I have to pay a sizable fraction of my income to a bunch of old robberbaron families who own the “Federal” Reserve?) I was never allowed to actually go inside where Dad worked; it was too dangerous; so when this story started out with a contest whose prize was a tour of a chocolate factory, I thought they were all completely insane. Of course, a chocolate factory might be safer than a machine shop, but considering how this book plays out, I’d have to say it probably isn’t.

Pretty soon into the narration, Dahl starts laying down the old class warfare themes: Charlie’s family is poverty-stricken to the point that his grandfather has to go hungry, just to provide Charlie with enough to eat. But it’s a weird sort of poverty, where nobody is suggesting that Charlie or any of his apparently-retired grandparents get a job. Later, when Charlie tours Wonka’s factory and sees the Oompa Loompas, he demonstrates no particular compassion or identification for his bretheren in the exploited underclasses. Willie Wonka claims that he rescued them from a monster-plagued homeland, and they all work in the factory of their own volition, but the whole thing seems a bit dubious, and nobody probes too deeply into it. I was disappointed in Charlie for failing to do anything about the Oompa Loompa situation. They’re small, and orange and foreign, and Willie Wonka seems to be taking advantage of them; the whole set-up smacks of racism and neo-colonialism in the worst way. It’s hard to take Charlie’s complicity as anything other than tacit endorsement of their exploitation. Whenever anything bad happens to the kids on the factory tour, the Oompa Loompas make up a song about how the kid totally deserved everything he got, and probably worse.

I saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie when I was a kid in the early 70′s, and I think this image kind of scarred me.

On one hand, these songs seem judgmental and cold-hearted, but I can imagine how the misfortunes of these human children might be a salve to temporarily satisfy the seething Oompa Loompa rage boiling just below the surface. My big question for this entire book is: do the Oompa Loompas know that one of the kids on the tour is going to end up as their new boss? It is an incredibly insulting scenerio Wonka has constructed here. You’ve got the Oompa Loompas running the place with such skill that Wonka candies are considered the world’s finest. At the top of the organization sits Willie Wonka, contemplating his mortality. He sees that he can’t run the place forever, and he needs to start grooming an heir. Does he even consider recruiting from within, bringing one of those hard-working, experienced Ooompa Loompas up from the ranks into the executive suite? No… they are categorically precluded from any HOPE of career growth. Instead, (and here’s the real knife in the back) Wonka decides to give the senior executive position to a RANDOMLY SELECTED KID! The story seems to end on a happy note, with Charlie literally breaking through the glass ceiling (what glass ceiling? he’s a friggin’ white male in the early 1960′s!) and flying away in a magic elevator, bubbling with excitement that he’s just become – at age 12- CEO of a transnational corporation. But honestly, Charlie’s long-term prospects don’t look good; this ending has workers’ rebellion written all over it, and while I am absolutely opposed to planned economies and monolithic authoritarian states, I can understand how the Oompa Loompas’ rage and humiliation could easily result in a Russian revolution-type uprising, where they seize the means of production for themselves and put Wonka (and maybe Charlie too) on trial for his crimes against their people.

 

Apologia for a broken machine

 

This book was very patchy… I really enjoyed Gladstone’s exploration of the history of journalism. The first publication of community news was written by scribes of the Egyptian pharaohs, for PR purposes. Bad events were blamed on pharaoh’s enemies, good events were credited to his fair leadership.

Skipping ahead, the book delves into trends and biases in the media.

One interesting tidbit: up to the Civil War, journalists’ names didn’t appear with their stories in print. All articles, investigative or editorial, were anonymous. There is a bit of a debate going on today about the value of anonymity vs. requiring authenticated identification of posters online. I hope Ms. Huffington keeps in mind that most editorials shaping public sentiment during the Revolutionary War were anonymous. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry all published thoughtful and influential editorials under humorous pseudonyms.

Quite a lot of this book has to do with war reporting. World War II saw the widespread “embedding” of journalists with combat units, thus adding drama and realism to news stories, and predictably bonding reporters with soldiers in a way that inhibited negative reportage (e.g. of war crimes, or concerns about the ethics of tactics, etc). In the Vietnam era, many journalists shunned embedding, and ended up submitting stories which fueled anti-war sentiment back home. Anti-war reporting which found legs was frequently attacked as treasonous (i.e. “aiding and abetting the enemy”).
To avoid this, official policy in the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts has been to “discourage” (a deceptively mild-sounding verb) any and all non-approved, non-embedded journalism.

 

In remote and hostile regions like the mountainous terrain of rural Afghanistan, there has been almost no unapproved reporting. As a result, it has taken much longer for public to question the wisdom of our most recent military adventures abroad. The widespread opposition we see towards officials who wish to start conflict with Syria suggest that there are still tight limits on the extent and duration of  “message control” achievable under current policy.


It’s a bit disheartening that Gladstone’s conclusions at the end of the book are that the public essentially has the quality journalism it deserves. If I follow her correctly, she’s saying the public has the burden of demanding the sort of “Fourth Estate” journalism which speaks truth to power, and which holds our public and private institutions to account, which asks hard questions and pursues the answers doggedly. Unfortunately, when our journalists fail in this charge, it isn’t always clear to the public. An easily understood lie often supplants difficult and nuanced truths.. and when it does, how is the public to know? We often don’t find out (if at all) until much, much later. Sometimes, the truth is learned too late to reverse bad public decisions, like the decision to go to war in 2003.

 

To say the public got the journalism they deserved in that circumstance strikes me as a case of “blaming the victim”. Ms. Gladstone seems to be telling journalists they can be as slack, lackadaisical , and biased as they can get away with. That is the sad effect our profit-driven media has sunk to. What we need is an idealism, an allegiance to an idea of Truth and the notion of journalism as a noble calling.

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A page of the comic, to give you a feel for it: