Bad Reads

Well Amazon finally screwed the pooch with GoodReads.  I said this would happen as soon as Amazon acquired GR.  Blow hards like David Gaughran who were probably already getting kickbacks from Amazon provided Amazon apologetics but I could see through the hypocrisy.

What happened?  Well last Friday, as most of the GR staff were probably hitting the freeway, GR announced a new censorship policy.  They would now delete reviews completely, without warning or notice, that were prejudicial towards authors when they felt the author comments from the reviewer were not relevant to the book review at hand or just plain hostile to the author.  At the same time they said they would start deleting user book shelves where they deemed the shelf title or shelf contents also violated this policy, say if I had a shelf which was called “worthless authors who’s books I will never buy or read.”  They will delete these completely without notice.  Oh, and if you admit you couldn’t finish the book because it was so bad, they’ll delete that review too.  You have to finish the book now to post a review that won’t get “removed.”

They provided all this information strictly through a group thread, no real announcement to anyone and had already started deleting content without warning.  The Friday “bad news” drop is a typical ploy used by government and corporations so nobody has to deal with it, it in theory has no effect or a dampened effect by Monday.  Amazon, er, I mean GoodReads employed the same sleazy tactic.


When Evil Corporations Take Over

This entire fiasco comes out of the fact that instead of being an independent entity like GR used to be it is now essentially a division of Amazon a bookseller.  Smell something fishy in Denmark?  Do I see a conflict of interest?

Another factor was the whiny GR authors, many of whom never published anything worthwhile (GR is flooded with mainly worthless self-published authors as well as a few good ones).  These authors whined about being attacked and unfairly treated.  The fact that GR is now a division of a bookseller leads them to try to protect authors, delete negative reviews, negative book shelves, etc.  I assume the next shoe will be deleting one-star reviews from the ratings.  Who is unfairly treated now?

What can you do?  Well there are already fledgling sites like BookLikes that offer a level of competition.  In addition there is still LibraryThing.   You can export all your GR content (including all the reviews) to a .csv file that can be read into MS-Excel and usually transferred to the alternate biblio-social networks like BL and LT.

No AmazonBoycott GoodReads and Amazon.  There are alternatives to buy books from, even a lot of Kindle content can be purchased directly from publishers.  Go to an independent bookseller.  Barnes and Noble needs the money anyway if you want to see a viable alternative to Amazon in the future.


The Horror, The Horror

Another serious one so just go away now…  Besides I already put it up at BookLikes so it’s kind of old news.  Really no reason for you to stick around.


I’m a huge fan of horror fiction, all kinds.  I do tend to favor the more esoteric sorts of fare that don’t really have a concrete and neat conclusion, but not always.  I can appreciate a good thriller full of monsters, haunted houses, creeps from beyond the grave, space aliens.  I have to admit I’m kind of tired of the big three though:  zombies, vampires, and werewolves.  I’m also a little snobby and avoid the Dean Koontz, Preston Child, and Bentley Little fare.  I like a well written, as in higher literary aspirations, as well as a creepy, eerie, or weird story.  I will just read a suspenseful monster fest for fun however.


H.P. Lovecraft

Horror is another one of those shamed genres like Romance, Westerns, Crime, SciFi, and Thrillers.  For some unknown reason Mysteries seem to somewhat escape this literary pariah status.  No matter how well written and thoughtful a horror novel is it will be shunned by the true literati (= snobs).  The only novels that escape this fate are those that are written by writers that are already considered literary writers and not classed with the genre outcasts.  Therefore a Colson Whitehead can write a post-apocalyptic zombie book and the literati will accept it as “experimental.”  BS flows nonetheless, such novels are sure to be overrated within the genre because of their literary cachet.  Thus Gravity’s Rainbow, as much a genre novel as anything, is classed literature, while Misery, every bit a literary novel, is not.


Monster Fest – Robert McCammon’s Stinger

Wherefore does this nonsense arise, I ask?  Partly it is reliance on the short story in the horror genre.  The short story is actually the lifeblood of the horror genre and it has always been the red headed stepchild of what is considered true literature once the novel became the dominant fiction literary form.  Short stories are almost a literary genre unto themselves, treated as a sort of sub-literature or novelty for short attention spans.  This persists even though snob rags like The New Yorker have printed stories and novellas as high brow fiction for decades.  They get away with this by pretending the writers of these shorter bits are really serious novelists just moonlighting in shorter magazine fare.

CoyeNow that we’ve disposed of this bit of silliness, what is left?  Well I think the shunned status is partly also caused by horror being about unreality that largely doesn’t conform to a defined “art” category like surrealism say.  “Literature” is supposed to be about real or possible things.  This obviously is not always true, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Franz Kafka are again notable exceptions.

However I think the main reason horror literature is snubbed is because these fears that we entertain are formed in early childhood and somehow intellectuals think we should be largely beyond these things as adults.  To enjoy, or maybe I should say, savor and ponder these symbols and subjects is considered a sign that we haven’t grown up.  After all grownups don’t believe in ghosts, monsters, aliens, or haunted houses.  The fact that these can be deep seated symbols worth considering is dismissed.


Pickman’s Ghoul – H.P. Lovecraft

Many horror writers and fans attempt to artificially jump out of the genre by referring to it as “dark fiction” as scifi tried to unsuccessfully re-brand itself as speculative fiction in the ’60s and ’70s.  I’m from Chicago and I believe you should call a spade a spade; used cars are not pre-owned cars.  Like Bentley Little, if a horror writer tries to tell me he/she is a dark fiction writer bad things will result.  Horror fans who want to be called dark fiction fans have an inferiority complex when it comes to their “literature” brethren but this doesn’t justify painting over the genre label.  Get used to it, you are a horror fiction fan and certain types aren’t going to want to discuss your reading list whatever you brand it.


Thomas Tessier’s Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty

Labels are useful things.  They help us to define and choose what we want.  They provide a convenient place in say a bookstore to filter what we want to look at.  If all books were filed together the shopping experience in a used bookstore would be infinitely more difficult.  Dark fiction isn’t an accepted genre, so filing said books in with regular fiction is silly no matter how inferior the writer/fan feels for having to shamefully go to the horror section, even for a literary masterpiece.  There is little purpose beyond snobbishness for shucking the horror label.

The horror, the horror.




Robert Dunbar is a really good writer.  Most people would categorize his writing as horror but he would chafe a bit at that.  He is a genre bender and his prose is on the literary side along a sort of Hemingway path.  Good Stuff.  I think his novel Willy is brilliant.  I liken it to A Catcher in the Rye. His short story collection Martyrs and Monsters is excellent. Buy it. Buy both of them right now, you won’t regret it. I own all of his books.

Now I come to the theme of my present post. Mr. Dunbar and I have had a little disagreement, let’s call it a matter of ethics. Nothing illegal going on here, let’s get that straight also. Mr. Dunbar is a moderator for a little group called Literary Darkness on the ego-driven biblio-social network GoodReads, which is now owned by Amazon I might add. Now this group has a monthly book reading. The group sort of nominates a book and we sort of vote on it and read it and discuss it that month. Kinda cool for a swell-head like me. Some time ago the group read Dunbar’s story collection Martyrs and Monsters. Well and fine. This month the chattering in the monthly reading thread was trending towards picking another of Dunbar’s books, a brilliant novel entitled Willy.


There is a little “cult of personality” going on in this group as well. Robert doesn’t encourage it but he doesn’t discourage it either. He’s a big time, okay not Stephen King big, but bigger than all of us are, writer and pretty good. It’s not his fault that the masses don’t go for class. But on the other side intelligent members of this group do fawn just a bit at Mr. Dunbar’s feet. He’s polite, responsive, a good moderator, and answers all queries which is a big deal to fans of a real talented writer.

Well your’s truly starts to smell something fishy in Denmark. I jump into the thread and say Robert’s a good guy and his books are good and all, but doesn’t it seem a little funny that another of Dunbar’s books (he only has 7) is coming up in this group as a monthly read. Now I don’t accuse Robert of priming this at all. He’s not pumping it. But he also is not politely bowing out. See where I’m going?

There are well over a thousand people in this reading group. It is not called Robert Dunbar’s Reading Group, it is called Literary Darkness. A group called Robert Dunbar’s Reading Group should read Mr. Dunbar’s books just like the Robert McCammon group reads all of Robert McCammon’s books. See I’m from Chicago and a big fan of calling a spade a spade and not messing around. No hidden agendas here.

Well, Dunbar deletes my post. It’s gone. Pfffft. He doesn’t tell me in the group or privately that he has done this evil thing. I notice it when I go back to the thread to see the new posts. It’s just gone. Now you know me, I never get excited. Mr. Dunbar and I have a terse private exchange of messages when I call him out, also in private. I ask what’s the deal? He basically says that the group has been clamoring for this for two years. So what, that is not the point. Taking the high road when both the high and low are offered is the point. Are we getting anywhere? There is also an intimation, no, more than an intimation, that yours truly is a little too negative. Hmmm. So the world of literary criticism and discussion is supposed to be fairies and rainbows (see below) especially when it comes to Mr. Dunbar’s creations?


If this goes down, as I think it will, and it will, it will (how much wood woulda woodchuck chuck..?) just be too bad. I don’t have any heroes anymore but I would expect an intelligent and talented person who certainly appears to not be a hypocrite to take the high road when it is offered. Start a separate group to discuss Dunbar’s books. Start a “Buddy Read” with the author as moderator on the side, but don’t intentionally or unintentionally hijack the whole Literary Darkness group monthly read when it smells of merchandising and not literary criticism.