Every once in a while I get an idea for a clever pun, then find out I had the wrong reference. This is a bummer.
I was trying to think of an alternative to "grammar nazi," since that kind of hyperbole can be more than a little offensive. One can be a stickler for good grammar without being a jackbooted thug capable of real atrocities against real people. Hyperbole has its place, and it can be amusing as well as effective in making a point, but this particular one can be very offensive.
So I came up with the idea of "grammar ratchet." There are lots and lots of tools around my house, including several ratchets -- those little gizmos that tighten (or loosen) nuts depending on which way they're set. And I had thought to use that term as a play on the inflexible, by the book, mean as dirt Louise Fletcher character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, until I discovered her name was Nurse Ratched.
I've only seen the film once, and I can't say I enjoyed it. I'm not a big fan of that sort of film. The problem with Nurse Ratched, as I saw her, was that she couldn't see beyond the rules. They were there in and of themselves, not as tools or -- to pull a term from another popular film -- guidelines. Reality had to be bent to the rules, in Nurse Ratched's world, no matter what. She found her security, her rightness, in those rules, but she never found a soul.
Well, my pun on ratchet didn't work. I'm still looking for one.
But I guess that's as good an opening as any into an examination of what I find is a disturbing trend to compare negative book reviews to physical violence, and for the authors of books that receive negative reviews to liken themselves to the victims of rape, murder, and genocide.
Yes, indeed, one self-published author has said in public that the existence of a group of readers on Goodreads.com who address issues of "Badly Behaving Authors" reminded him of 1942-1945 Europe. The self-published author did not, of course, reference any of his own abusive posts on Goodreads, yet all anyone did to him was . . . . not like his book.
Words have meanings. Nazism, genocide, murder, rape, bullying -- all these words have very distinct meanings. "I didn't like your book" doesn't come close.
Even if one reader rallied her friends to collectively bash someone else's book, how can that equate to the experience of having armed men invade your home in the middle of the night, take your family into an alley, and shoot them all in front of you right before they shoot you? We're not talking apples and oranges; we're talking butterflies to B-52 bombers.
The same self-published authors who bitch and moan and whine and complain about the negative reviewers who gang up on their books never say a word about the rallying cries they send out to their own fans and supporters to flood the review sites with five-star fountains of praise. And the truth is that very few of those fan-rallies are ever really called out. Oh, some of the more egregious sock-puppet masters have been exposed, but for the most part your average self-published novel that gets five or ten or even 25 glowing reviews and a few one-star comments that are basically, "What the hell were they reading? This is crap!" get a pass. If customers on Amazon alert the system that there are obvious shill reviews, or the author's spouse is blatantly promoting the books, the reviews might be removed. But most of the time, Amazon and the other retail booksellers are in the business of selling books and they really don't care.
Needless to say, neither do the authors who are benefiting from the fandom.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, to lurkers, to readers, to my (so far) innocuous stalkers: You are not your book, and your book is not you. Criticism of it is not necessarily criticism of you, and very often even the most scathing criticism contains seeds of wisdom. It is only your own fault if you don't pay attention. Claiming that your critics are just meanies and trolls and bullies, Nazis and rapists and murderers is just childish exaggeration, and it will not change the quality of your writing. Only you can do that, if you really want to.