It is sometimes disturbing to read reviews on Amazon. Sometimes books I consider masterpieces receive the most vicious criticism. I wanted to send a friend a copy of John Gardner’s Grendel, which I consider a superb novel. I re-read it often, and have always considered it a model of prose and pacing and characterization. I believe it is one of our greatest modern fantasies.
My eye was drawn to the bright yellow stars, and then I saw that some people gave the book 1 star. Unable to look away, I clicked on the disaster, and found comments like:
So due to this piece, I disregarded John Gardner as a complete idiot. A moron. An inept hack. The worst kind of author. One who has gained notoriety through some kind of fluke. John Gardner became a swear word within my group of friends, something only to be braught up so one could watch me rage against, “That idiot who probably didn’t even read the source material!”
It’s hard not to marvel at something like that. (Also: it’s curious that some people act so personally hostile. Why insult John Gardner? Does he think Gardner isn’t a human being? Does he think Gardner didn’t try his best? Not to mention, of course, that this person would not have had the courage — nor, one hopes, the bad manners — to insult Gardner like this to his face, were Gardner still with us. Why does print make it acceptable?)
But there is also something liberating about seeing these critical vomits. They remind us that every book — every work of art — has to find its audience, and the people outside that audience might be not just uninterested, but even actively hostile. Even hostile to a vile degree.
For a writer, it’s always painful when people write dismissive or mean things about your work, and always someone does. But seeing that any work, even great works like Grendel, will earn some dismissive and mean criticisms reminds us that everything is hated by someone. Indeed, everything is hated by someone eager to shout personal attacks on Amazon.