The New York Times had a story a few days ago about Amazon deleting reviews from its site that I found amusing. The opening seems to want us to feel at least some mild outrage:
Giving raves to family members is no longer acceptable. Neither is writers’ reviewing other writers. But showering five stars on a book you admittedly have not read is fine.
Writers can’t review other writers? But writers often make the best critics. Reviews for books you haven’t read are fine? That’s just crazy!
Amazon customers are the outraged ones, and have been complaining. Some of the outrage is understandable, considering that some authors like to game the system.
The mystery novelist J. A. Konrath, for example, does not see anything wrong with an author indulging in chicanery. “Customer buys book because of fake review = zero harm,” he wrote on his blog.
Zero harm? Apparently Konrath thinks being conned into spending money is never harmful. Con artists are generally sociopaths, but I guess as long as they’re conning people into buying a bad book the sociopathy is acceptable, at least to the people selling the books.
The biggest customer outrage is reserved for someone named Harriet Klausner, who apparently is an Amazon “Hall of Fame Reviewer,” as if that means anything. Klausner claims to be a former acquisitions librarian who reads two books a day. Since she has at least 28, 366 reviews on Amazon, she’s apparently been reviewing there for over 38 years, and everything she reviews is really good. That sort of enthusiasm for the mediocre is so typically librarian.
It has to be rare that a former librarian and basic nobody gets a hate blog dedicated to them, but it’s happened to Klausner. What I read of the blog is a pretty good indication that Klausner doesn’t really read all the books she “reviews.”
There’s also a whole group formed on Amazon to criticize Klausner.
“Everyone in this group will tell you that we’ve all been duped into buying books based on her reviews,” said Margie Brown, a retired city clerk from Arizona.
The poor dears. Not that she minds the hostile and probably accurate attacks:
Mrs. Klausner, who says ailments keep her home and insomnia keeps her up, scoffs at her critics. “You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she said. “You can finish it in one hour. I’ve always been a speed reader.” She has a message for her naysayers: “Get a life. Read a book.”
And this is where the article started to amuse me. I actually laughed out loud at that paragraph.
So here we have a retired librarian who doesn’t leave her house and who spends her hours reading Harlequin romances telling critics to “get a life” and “read a book.” Oh my. Sitting around all day reading romance novels hardly qualifies as a life, and romance novels hardly qualify as books.
The more accurate advice would be, “avoid life by reading escapist trash.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with avoiding life by reading escapist trash every once in a while, but as life advice it’s pretty sad.
But it’s also hard to feel sorry for customers who were duped into buying a “bad” romance novel by a good review. After all, they’re all bad books. It’s not like people are reading romances for their literary quality. I almost feel sorry for the people who get so worked up over this.
Amazon helped with the hilarity.
A spokesman for Amazon, which published “The 4-Hour Chef,” offered this sole comment for this article: “We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.”
Should we be outraged? No, I think we should still be amused. For one thing, there’s no way they could “require people” to have read the books they review. How would they possibly be able to do that? Thus, we shouldn’t be outraged.
But it’s pretty funny to think that Amazon thinks that a review system that is full of reviews from people who have never “experienced the product” is anything more than a joke. Suckers and marks who don’t mind the sock puppets and amateur reviewers gaming the system can spend their money on bad popular books praised to the sky by shills and con artists.
Knowledgeable people can avoid the reviews altogether and get their bad popular books at the local public library, because that’s what it’s there for.