Back in the good old days before I was a professional writer, I was a book blogger who focused heavily on young adult fiction. I spent a lot of time on Goodreads, where I cultivated a large circle of fellow YA loving friends who prized the community as much as the literature they discussed. In October 2014, the author Kathleen Hale, who had written a YA novel called No One Else Can Have You, published that same year, wrote a piece for the Guardian. It was entitled, ‘“Am I being catfished?”’ An author confronts her number one online critic.’ The piece was strange to say the least, but it waded into truly terrifying territory when Hale admitted to stalking a critic from Goodreads who gave her book a bad review. The ‘revelation’ of the piece was that the reviewer, known as Blythe Harris, did not live under the name she used on Goodreads. I, like many YA bloggers, had also negatively reviewed Hale’s book. I also knew Blythe and her disappearance from the community left many of us shaken. One of our own, someone who had done nothing wrong, had been stalked by an author, who then turned the story into a quirky essay that once again positioned critics as spiteful shrews. Stalking was simply the cute framing for the age-old tale of evil reviewers.
It’s too long to screenshot all of it, but here are some highlights of the article where she READILY ADMITS to stalking pic.twitter.com/9FQAehmcav— Samantha Randolph (@samantha_k_r_) January 3, 2019
The response to the piece was divided into two clear camps. The YA and book blogging world were disgusted at this flagrant romanticizing of a criminal act. Yet many journalists and professional critics hailed the piece as a candid piece of self-reflection by Hale, and another sign of the internet gone wrong. They didn’t seem to care that the piece was literally about stalking and few of them were aware of the torrid context within which the piece was written. I and many other YA bloggers had been subjected to harassment and online abuse, often from authors of the works we reviewed. A blog called Stop the Goodreads Bullies was set up to dox a number of our community. The following year, a man named Richard Brittain would be jailed for traveling 400 miles to attack a teenage girl who had given his book a bad review. He smashed a wine bottle over her head.
So you could forgive us for thinking that it wasn’t a brave act of journalism for an author to admit to stalking a critic.
The YA community responded swiftly with #HaleNo. Blogs refused to review her next book or offer any promotional coverage to it. No blog tours, no interviews, no cover reveals. We denied her the emotional and unpaid industry labour that YA publishing is so often dependent on. There was little else we could do because so many much bigger names were in Hale’s court, heralding her as a hero for taking on ‘the bullies’, even though she was a literal stalker.
And now she’s back at it.
Kathleen Hale is a Crazy Stalker is an essay collection set to be released this June by Grove Atlantic. As described on NetGalley, ‘Kathleen Hale has been known to stalk people from time to time. Not recently, of course, and only online. Well, mostly online.’ The blurb describes Hale’s stalking and terrorizing of a blogger, who once again did nothing wrong, as part of her being an ‘exhilarating new voice whose commentaries on womanhood, obsession, and the Internet are both hilarious and profound.’ The essay on her stalking, titled ‘Catfish’ (this wasn’t catfishing. She doesn’t know what catfishing is), is described as recounting ‘standoff with a caustic Goodreads reviewer who writes under an alias, spurring Hale on a treacherous Instagram investigation that ends badly at the reviewer’s house.’ Contextualized in this blurb, it’s seen as another example of Hale’s quirky talent and ‘complicated personality’. Once again, her obvious misdeeds become serious literary fodder and it is aided by an industry that pretends such things are okay in the name of art. The key selling point of the book according to the publisher compare her to Maggie Nelson and Roxane Gay. It is also noted that this book is part of a two-book deal.
I’m not sure what level of privilege being rewarded for stalking a blogger for giving you a bad review with a new book deal is, but it’s a pretty high one.
I know a lot of you are probably thinking that this is silly or that the blogger must have been truly terrible to deserve what happened to her. I was there. She did nothing wrong. Her review was brutal but honest, and that comes from someone whose review of the same novel can still be found on Goodreads. Using a pseudonym to protect yourself online is not catfishing, nor is it something that gets to be used as proof of your dishonesty or meanness as a critic. Hell, it became more necessary than ever following Hale’s stalking. Wouldn’t you want to avoid the same fate?
I haven’t been a book blogger in a few years now. Instead, I write criticism and pop culture commentary professionally. Yet so much of the rhetoric surrounding what I do is near identical to what it was when I was just an unemployed 20-something running a blog with my friend. We were always seen as the bullies because the basic act of criticism was seldom afforded the worthiness of ‘true art’. You’re always the enemy to the poor beleaguered artists and anything they do in retaliation, from snarky clapbacks to literal stalking, is justified not only by societal demands but an industry quick to reward such ‘bravery’. You get to stalk someone, you get to terrorize them, you get to lie about their actions to the Guardian, and then you get to repackage it for profit, just to screw them over again. Now, it’s just a cute joke they get to hashtag for promotional purposes.
Kathleen Hale stalked a reviewer for no reason other than her inability to deal with criticism. It was not a personality quirk for her to do so, nor was it a cute story she got to package for literary prestige. Bloggers aren’t your puppets.
Hale f-cking no.
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