Does Book Twitter Actually Reflect the Reading Community?

Every year in free speech week, I try to exercise my freedom and talk about aspects of this (apparently contentious) topic. Yet this year I want to do something different. Not because we have reached the zenith of free speech- far from it. Despite the job losses, tragedies and general morose of 2020, the Twitterati have nothing better to do and have been busy cancelling, well, anything and everything. Which is why I wanted to talk about this tweet:

Maybe (most likely) it’s just my confirmation bias talking, but I think it’s such an excellent point. Disclaimer for book twitter: there are some nice little bubbles where you can play around with likeminded people (/primates)… Buuuut it’s not all fun and games. Twitter is kinda known for how toxic it can get. While it’s not the only place cancel culture thrives, it’s certainly one of the hotspots. I can’t tell you how often I go on twitter, see people congregating round an issue and think “oh no, who’s getting cancelled today?” Even if it’s a case of valid criticism, the platform doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuanced conversation and this leads to things getting heated pretty fast. And too often publishers get a whiff of the smoke and are scared off- but this needn’t be the case.

You see, (and forgive me if this is obvious) twitter is not reflective of the public at large. This is hardly a revelation. Looking at just some of the research (focusing on the States, given that 70% of users are from there… which you should bear in mind if you’re from outside the US like me), most twitter users in the US are more likely to have a college degree and have a higher income than the national average. Just 20% of US can be classed as active users (ie go on the platform once a month)- and of that number 80% of tweets come from the most active 10%. Meaning we’re only hearing from about 2% of the population. It probably isn’t any wonder then that (and many people will hate me for saying this) twitter often strikes me as an elitist club. As much as people claim that twitter is designed to give a voice to the voiceless, that it’s a great way for the powerless to have some power for themselves, that the gangs running rampant on there are noble “working class” vigilantes… I can’t see any evidence it’s representative of this. Observationally, I’d say the vast majority of big users are marketing/PR people, the so-called faces for faceless corporations, journos, professional activists and politicians. Ordinary people (ie consumers) aren’t represented on there for the most part… making me question, why is it taken so seriously?  

Time and again, it’s proven to not be a good source for elections for instance (which makes sense, given that even if a politician gets 100,000 likes, this isn’t a huge number considering… especially considering this can come from a global audience). Likewise, buzz on twitter doesn’t mean much- as excitable as twitter can seem about a reboot, this may not translate to actual fans buying tickets.

Similar logic can be applied to book twitter. A lot of readers don’t hang out on twitter. As the above tweet shows, it’s not necessarily going to reflect how well a book performs (especially since big names are so often targeted). It’s always been pretty debatable whether this particular platform even sell books. Anecdotally, I can also say that a lot of readers see the fires burning and run away. And even if they do stick around, a lot of people don’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation (giving the false impression that the debates are one-sided).

Which is why I wish publishers would take twitter with a pinch of salt. Instead of going off how angry someone can get in 140 characters or how many clapping emojis a person can use in one go, maybe just maybe, they can hold their nerve and wait for the general reading public to vote with their wallets. Maybe it’s time we ignored the drama flaming on twitter.

Ooh err, hope I don’t get burned at the stake for this one! 😉 But given I do actually like free speech- I’m open to hearing your thoughts! What do you think about book twitter? Do you think it’s representative of the reading public? Let me know in the comments!

Calling Out Call Out Culture

thoughts orangutan

What with freedom of speech week coming up, I thought now would be a good time to start pissing people off *ahem* saying all the *controversial things* I’ve ever wanted to say. Starting with the fact that I HATE cancel culture… which I guess means I’m going to cancel myself with this post 😉

Just kidding- I know that the blogosphere is basically the sanest place on the internet and I’m probably just talking to an echo chamber of people who agree with me 😉 But you all know what I mean by cancel culture: those dumpster fires that rage online daily and seem intent on destroying everything in their path.

two minutes of hate
And people call 1984 too far-fetched 😉

I’m referring to the fact that many ordinary people are walking on eggshells for fear they’re about to receive their FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME! I’m talking about the way people try to cancel YA for being too dark or daring to cover a controversial topic or the author saying something that strays from a rather niche-and-ever-evolving hymn sheet. Many of the articles I’ve included in my sources will give you examples, yet the one of the most striking is the curious case of Blood Heir, where critical advanced reviews promoted the incorrect idea that the reference to slavery in the book must inherently refer to the Slave Trade and therefore this was cultural appropriation (gosh, so many things wrong with that view, not least that slavery is endemic across history and an ongoing global issue). There was good news on that front recently, with the book now being scheduled for release in November (after people came to their senses and realised Zhao did *nothing wrong*), but not everyone that comes under fire lives to tell the tale.

Most authors can easily have their career ruined by these actions. No one is immune- I’ve seen the most famous authors and virtual unknowns attacked. And I’m often ASTOUNDED by how blasé so many creative people are about it (sometimes even being ringleaders in this regard). Too many seem to be kidding themselves that “oh well I believe all the ‘right’ things so they couldn’t possibly come for me”- when in reality I’ve seen the goal posts change a million times in the last few years. I’ve seen some books praised for covering difficult topics… and the next one condemned. The perceived *target* seems to be as guilty as the next person. All at the whim of select reviewers, social media activists or journos.

Now, far be it for me to criticise negative reviews! You all know I’ve defended them at length. No, I’m talking about targeted campaigns to get a book cancelled because of something (usually) one individual disliked about it. Which to me is a bizarre attitude- as Angela Carter said “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms”– no two people will read a book the same way (I know, very death of the author 😉). And I think we all experience this with reviews. I know I can’t be the piles of booksonly contrarian that’s read a negative review and thought “huh but that thing they’re complaining about really appeals to me- ADDING IT TO MY ALREADY INSANELY LONG TBR!” (#bookwormlogic) That might even be why some authors seem to thrive off a little healthy debate.

let it goOf course if you had a problem with a book *wrestle with it, examine it, dissect it to your heart’s content*, but also LET IT GO! Because, not only are we all individuals who experience books differently, but it isn’t a healthy attitude to have such a visceral reaction. You know why I write negative (and to some extent positive) reviews? To get it out of my system. I think the thing, say the thing, move on from the thing- never have I thought “I’M GONNA GO ON A CRUSADE AND RUIN THIS AUTHOR’S LIFE!”

Shockingly, there are people who do think like that. Annnd this is the part of the post where I’m going to throw some real shade. Cos the agitators behind this know *exactly* what they’re up to. They think they’re getting good publicity and that no one could possibly think they’re the jerk. They think that the cover of social media grants them anonymity- and yet I’ve spotted a pattern with repeat offenders. While they may be happy to destroy careers on a whim, they like equally problematic things in other books (cos it’s pretty easy to have a little looksie at their goodreads 😉). Hypocrisy aside, there’s nothing wrong with them liking some books over others- the problem arises from them trying to act as the moral arbiters here. Because who the hell crowned them the king or queen of taste?! Most people rightly realise opinions are *SUBJECTIVE*.

Being the worrier that I am, I fear I’ll get a chorus of “name names” and “tell us who’s doing this”- but that is the antithesis of why I’m doing this post in the first place. I don’t see how turning the mob on these individuals will help calm things down. Besides, too often we’re so fixated on the named “criminal” we forget what we’re even talking about. Recently, I’ve written articles in response to some statements by famous authors and, rightly or wrongly, I chose not to include names. While I don’t want to rely on hearsay, I personally think it’s usually better to focus on their ideas and avoid the possible (totally unnecessary) author-bashing. Especially since the one time that I did name an individual for off the cuff comments, it ended up being a distraction to the point at hand. Naturally, this isn’t to say every journalist or commentator is wrong to do so, I just think sometimes it is possible to argue your point without making it personal.

As much as I hate call out culture, I know not everyone who gets caught up in it is an awful person. We’re all human (or in some cases monkeys) and we all make mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop liking those tweets from people saying “let’s end so-and-so’s career”. Maybe we can stop posting and reposting the angry diatribes directed at individuals. It might just be a little too late in some other areas of life, but we can do better in the bookish community at least. Or else, all art will be dictated by the mob and books can be nothing more than drab, colourless, lifeless autobiographies. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 😉

Other blog posts on the topic…

Katie @Never Not Reading – Book Twitter is Kind of the Worst

Nicole @Sorry I Am Booked – Bookish Thought Sensitivity: Cancel Culture in Literature

And elsewhere around the internet…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/15/torn-apart-the-vicious-war-over-young-adult-books

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture

https://slate.com/culture/2019/01/blood-heir-ya-book-twitter-controversy.html

http://www.papermag.com/cancel-culture-doesnt-work-2602364106.html

http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/the-problem-with-cancel-culture

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/own-voices-movement-ya-literature-impact

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/writers-blocked-even-fantasy-fiction-is-now-offensive/

Phew- that was a big topic to get through! And now I’m terrified of what everyone is going to say! Even so, this has always been a platform for free speech and I want to know your thoughts on the issue. So, do you agree with me that cancel culture goes too far? Or should I just head off to the gulag? 😉 Let me know in the comments!