J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd

J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd

The Solitary House  Lynn Shepherd-smallLynn Shepherd’s latest novel The Solitary House, set in the gas-lit world of London in 1850, features a pair of detectives — one of whom appears to be suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s — in the employ of a powerful financier with a dark past. It sounds fascinating, actually, exactly the kind of book I’d be interested in reading.

Of course, that was before she took a swipe at the world’s most popular fantasy writer in an ill-conceived and mean-spirited article last week at The Huffington Post, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.”

I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them… But The Casual Vacancy changed all that… That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere… what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

And then there was the whole Cuckoo’s Calling saga… The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books — just as well-written, and just as well-received — to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do.

Now Rowling’s legions of fans are venting their anger at Shepherd in a cascade of 1-star reviews at Amazon,com, which are quickly overwhelming legitimate reviews of the book. As of this morning, there are 59; here are just a few snippets from the more entertaining examples.

This was one of the first 1-star reviews, published February 24:

Haven’t read it, but bear with me
By Samantha Davila
No, I’ve not read it…  I can, however, give Ms. Shepherd a taste of her own medicine. She published a confounding, maddeningly wrongheaded “Plea” to JK Rowling on the Huffington Post, advising Ms. Rowling to stop writing “Grown-up books” and go back to writing Young Adult fiction. Bear in mind that she… proudly claims in the very first paragraph to have never read a single word of Rowling’s work…
She is actively bringing down the entire institution of writing with her asininity… She only had to read a bit of ONE JK Rowling book to have at least SOME kind of legitimacy, but I guess that would’ve been too much trouble.

Here’s a sample of the ones posted just yesterday.

Portrait of the author as an embittered hack
By Ron Keller
Apparently, Ms. Shepherd doesn’t feel the need to read anything by authors whose work she deems unnecessary, so I hope she will indulge me if I do the same. In light of her recent HuffPo commentary, in which I hear she reveals herself to be a bitter, spiteful, no-talent hack, I would advise her to please free up some of amazon’s pixels and cease writing post haste…

Never read a single word
By S. Alex Martin
Didn’t read this book, but obviously I don’t have to in order to judge it. This author is jealous of more successful people. If you want success, how about you write better books appeal to people?… Now get over yourself and go write more stuff that I won’t read.

Didn’t read this… but DID read the HufPo piece…
By Rog O
I have a 6 year old daughter. If I am fated to do ONE thing for her, may it be to ensure she doesn’t fool herself into thinking this world or anything in it OWES her an iota of success… If I get a chance to do TWO things for my daughter, may the second thing be to teach her not to waste time on envy….
Shame on you Ms. Shepherd and shame on whichever adult gave young Lynn the loser attitude you exhibit.

I don’t need…
By Daniela
to read a book to review it…
This woman should have refrained from writing this book in order to give other books a chance to be read.

Nope
By Christine Foley
Terrible story. There are stories so much better for adults to read, that will stimulate their mind.
Haven’t read the book, though.

Read the complete set at the Amazon listing.

The Cuckoos CallingIronically, the flurry of attention and reviews has greatly increased the book’s profile on Amazon, proving the adage there’s no such thing as negative publicity.

Much of the outrage seems to stem from readers’ discovery that Shepherd isn’t simply a columnist with an axe to grind, but a crime writer trying to sell her own novels. Cranky reviewers we’re used to (yes, even ones that don’t bother to read). But if you’re going to throw mud at a popular writer, it helps not to look like a bitterly jealous rival while you’re doing it.

Still, I think Shepherd has well and truly learned her lesson at this point. There haven’t been any additional 1-star reviews posted in some time; perhaps Amazon has stepped in to stop them or perhaps the fan rage has simply spent. (You’re right — I laughed out loud when I wrote that. If there’s a true source of perpetual energy in the universe, it’s fan rage.)

But public shaming like this truthfully isn’t very effective. Yes, part of me enjoyed seeing Lynn Shepherd get her comeuppance in public, and where it matters most. But this isn’t instructive. It’s bullying.

The heart of this vindictive impulse is to teach the victim a lesson. But mostly, what public shaming like this does is teach about the mindless destructiveness of the mob. True instruction comes from dialog. And there’s no dialog here — just lashing out at a writer who made a mistake and is now paying a very steep price for it.

As for me, true instruction seems to come from reading. I think maybe I’ll read The Solitary House. Cause, I dunno, it looked pretty good.

But first, I’m going to read J.K. Rowling’s Cuckoo’s Calling. Because when all of this dust settles, I trust that woman to tell me a helluva story. And she earned that trust the hard way.

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Golgonooza

Interesting article John.

I guess I kind of find it hard to sympathize with Shepherd. Her column smacks of envy, pettiness, desperation, and sour grapes of the worst kind. And straight-up ignorance- saying it’s a shame that adults are reading novels which, by her own admission, she has no clue of the quality of, having not read them.

It’s weird, the cover and synopsis of Shepherd’s book look pretty interesting, but at this point I don’t think I’ll be reading anything from her.

Nick Ozment

Her condescending tone aside, Shepherd’s article is so wrong-headed as to be whiningly myopic.

Stephen King didn’t take away the market from other horror writers; he made the market bigger, and dozens of authors whose works otherwise likely would have never seen print were published. Rowling’s books, likewise, turned on a whole generation to fantasy — thank you, J.K., for creating this new mass audience for us! — and we might imagine that her now writing detective fiction will draw new readers to that genre who otherwise would have never bought a crime novel — not Sheperd’s, not anyone’s.

So, yeah, after a diatribe that severely illogical, I’m not terribly interested in reading anything by this author that involves characters using logic to solve crimes.

Nick Ozment

If only the Beatles hadn’t been so big, then maybe other rock bands might have prospered…

Nick Ozment

I wouldn’t go leave a 1-star review on a book I hadn’t read, but I do wonder if one can leave comments on the Huffpost article? Not that I’d bother doing that either, because I’m guessing by now that many others have made the same point about popular authors and markets that I did in my earlier comment here.

Nick Ozment

* Sorry to be flooding this post with comments today, but I did just check the Huffington Post article, and confirmed that the comments function is available on the post itself (which is the proper venue for such dialogue — not in the Amazon review forum). There are nearly 700 comments. As expected, dozens — hundreds — of people have made the points we’ve raised. I wonder if Shepherd’s read them, or taken any to heart? I’d be interested in reading a response or follow-up from her.

darangrissom

Far be it for me to encourage outrage culture on the internet, but if writers didn’t occasionally attack each other then fandom would be much less interesting. There’s an art to it, and more than a few masters. I’ve enjoyed Harlan Ellison’s comments for years.

This article, however, seems more like bear-baiting the Pottermore community than an attack on Rowling. I mean, how dare they buy Rowling’s work rather than her own, right? Everyone knows that you write one book, then retreat to New Hamphire or Alabama and are never heard from again. You know, like James Patterson, who is in no way eating up any of the crime market.

pmcnamee67

1.) I think Lynn Shepherd will be seeking out her own new penname now.

2.) If we should make room for new authors, then shouldn’t we move along all the stuff by dead writers to make room for new ones? You know, like Jane Austen.

And, perhaps, related spinoffs that use Jane Austen characters.

James McGlothlin

These online kerfuffles, or what I’ve heard called “flame wars,” are becoming so common nowadays–not just in the publishing arena.

There are a multiplicity of issues related to these things including internet etiquette (an extension of common or business etiquette?), moral implications and obligations of public forums, wisdom in making one’s personal thoughts available in public forum, and a host of others.

I really think that many of us have not quite thoroughly processed all the various implications related to expressing things in public forums. It’s NOT simply an extension of making opinions in other ways–that seems clear to me. But until we begin to understand the sort of boundaries that exist, or should exist, in such new forums, I think we’ll continue to see these sorts of public blowouts again and again.

Joe H.

On the one hand, I think her original article was (to say the least) ungracious.

On the other hand, I’m generally opposed to people using 1-star Amazon reviews to complain about things other than the item being reviewed — people giving 1-star reviews because of eBook region-locking, e.g.

On the gripping hand, since she admitted up front that she herself had not actually read any Rowling before saying what she said, I’m more inclined to cut the reviewers at least a small amount of slack.

Tyr

I say a pox on both their houses – a juvenile column met by an even more juvenile reaction.

Michael Moorcock’s rant against Tolkien was asinine but I haven’t heard anyone put down an Elric story because of it (nor should they!). People are entitled to their opinions. That doesn’t always reflect on the quality of their own work. Only a twelve year old would think otherwise – or people who obsess about books for twelve year olds….

Golgonooza

On the subject of authors’ personal lives/opinions over shadowing their work, someone mentioned Harlan Ellison. Much of the animosity directed towards this odious fellow comes not so much from his rants (or his inability to deliver the third Dangerous Visions) but from his shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.

He’ll never live that down.

darangrissom

“his [Harlan Ellison’s] shameful and disgusting sexual harassment of Connie Willis, in public, at an SF convention.”

I had not heard of that. I was thinking about the lawsuits. His fights with Gene Roddenberry, Stephen Spielberg, and James Cameron. And that news reporter who said Harlan pushed into an open elevator shaft (He only fell like a story). Hadn’t heard of sexual harassment. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised…

Scott Taylor

John, we all know you never read books, so don’t go making others believe you do, unless they are audio books you can listen to during your drive… 😉

[…] made their mark. Ann Rice apparently agreed, she wasn’t as nice as I was. Neither were a lot of readers who stormed Amazon to pelt the blogger with bad reviews. That’s largely unfair, especially […]

SAM

When did Ms. Shepherd apologize? I was curious to see if she had responded to the criticism and could not find anything.

BTW, while I agree that one should not post one-star reviews without having read the books, I did think that the comments on Amazon were pretty funny.

[…] but that doesn’t mean I think she should suffer abuse or be 1-starred into the mud. (And I’m not alone.) People are angry she criticized Rowling without actually reading her work. That’s fair. But the […]

Joe H.

>I don’t know, Joe… are you sure that’s not your desire for mob justice talking? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

You’re correct, of course, and you’re also correct that we need to be better than that.

(And now I wish I could find a YouTube clip of Homer Simpson telling Lisa that two wrongs make a right.)

[…] J.K. Rowling, The Solitary House, and the Public Shaming of Lynn Shepherd […]

[…] but that doesn’t mean I think she should suffer abuse or be 1-starred into the mud. (And I’m not alone.) People are angry she criticized Rowling without actually reading her work. That’s fair. But the […]

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