“Not Fond of the Author”
“I would never, ever hike with this woman”.
These are titles from some of the more scathing reviews Julie and I have endured since the publication of her second book, Between a Rock and a White Blaze back in December of 2012. Overall, the book has done really well, has sold thousands of copies, and has been the subject of many good reviews and emails. We are thankful for all the praise, both the random kind words posted on Amazon and GoodReads, as well as the personal emails which have resulted from people reading our story.
But the focus of this post is in response to the critics.
First, I read every single review that is posted and I check the status of Julie’s books at least twice a day. She did the same at first, but after awhile the negative reviews brought her down and she stopped looking at it all together. Every time I read people attacking her work I get a surge of adrenaline and my fight instincts kick in. I don’t want my best friend hurt. However, we’ve thus far chosen to be quiet and let opinions be shared without interfering.
Why am I now choosing to finally say something after we’ve quietly dealt with the negativity directed our way? Bottom line, this stuff hurts. I’ve watched as Julie has put months of her life into these writing projects. I have spent countless hours talking about how to word things and editing for mistakes. For her first book, The Trail Life, the biggest criticisms were regarding our writing and editing abilities. We worked harder the next time around and thankfully have not received any criticism to note in that regard. However, this time, the negativity has been much more personal, attacking her as a person and how she presents herself in her story. While there were tears after reading that we were not good editors and that her writing was “juvenile” with the first book, the tears and sadness that have resulted from the assaults on her character cut much deeper.
The second book is a different format and comes from a unique time in our lives so I understand why the criticism comes the way it does. First, her AT book is a personal narrative. The reader sees and experiences the journey largely through her eyes and consequently, if they’re not happy with the journey, the person that is taking them on the journey is to blame. Fair enough. I fully believe in the value of writing reviews and critiquing most anything in order to improve it. To that regard, some of the reviews, while painful to read, have aimed at objectivity with a seeming intent of informing other potential readers about their view of the product while still maintaining a constructive tone. As one reviewer states, “She was so focused on self that she seldom mentioned any of the truly amazing features on along the trail that other authors took paragraphs or even pages to describe for us.” This makes sense to me and helps inform other readers that a large portion of the book was focused on her personal experiences on the trail more than the description of the setting.
Even some of the reviews that focused on Julie’s attitude during the hike have their place. These hurt the worst but I can understand where people are coming from. “This book was a self absorbed journal of a woman that cannot stop complaining.” This trip was one of the most difficult challenges Julie has ever undertaken and the lens she often saw the world through during that time was often not a positive one. This is the bottom line truth. The trail is hard and it’s not easy to keep a good attitude when suffering. Some struggle more than others with this aspect of the trail and with life in general, but it can be a huge part of the trail experience.
Why do some of these types of reviews have their place? Not everyone wants a real account of how the trail experience can be for a large number of people, but rather, they would prefer a more traditional story of adversity followed by triumph, a story where the good guy struggles against the antagonist but emerges victorious. However, the reality of the trail is that most stories aren’t this way. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in 2011, the year we hiked the AT, only 27% of those setting out from Georgia, planning a northbound thru hike, actually finished their journey. There are all different kinds of reasons why people don’t make it to Maine but one of the big ones, and one that many don’t admit to, is that it is really hard to deal with the mental challenges that come with such a physically challenging endeavor. Reviews that point out that the narrator’s lens isn’t always positive are doing people a favor so they know they’re getting a very real account that highlights the struggles she went through to complete her hike and be part of the 27%.
There are reviews that are downright insensitive and heartless and these are the reviews that have finally prompted me to action. These are reviews that go far beyond the objective of informing the public about aspects of a product and instead spew negativity and hate that is in no way constructive. I am left wondering, do these people realize that there is a real person with real feelings who has put their heart and reputation on the line by sharing their life in print? I understand if someone doesn’t like the book, doesn’t like the way the journey was portrayed, but I do not understand the need or desire to attack someone personally. Even if one may think their view of the author is supported through the text, why bash them? What good is coming from words like, ”It made me want to reach through the pages and slap the sh*t out of her.”? This doesn’t build, it only tears down.
We have received tremendous support from so many good people. To you we are very thankful. Even to those that didn’t enjoy Julie’s books and gave it low marks, thank you for reading our books and for providing constructive criticism. To those that choose to somehow ignore the fact that Julie is a person with feelings just like you and me, and then choose to be unnecessarily harsh and insensitive, I hope you are someday able to realize the impact your words have not only on one person, in this case my wife, but in a larger sense, your words continue to support negativity and hate, which ironically is the same thing you’ve slammed Julie for.
I’m known as Optimist for a reason, and though I make an effort not to see the world strictly through rose colored glasses, I strongly hope that people can learn to see the consequences of their actions in situations like these and to treat people with more decency and respect. I’m far from perfect in this regard and am constantly questioning if my actions are constructive and helpful to those around me. I hope others can see value in this view as well.
And lastly, to you, my dear friend and wife, please never stop sharing your experiences with the world. Please keep writing. You are good at it and I love doing it all with you. Keep in mind the words of Teddy Roosevelt, the words I was forced to memorize my freshman year at the Naval Academy and which have stuck with me ever since:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
* Why the penguin? Julie feels like her book is more “March of the Penguins” than “Happy Feet”. Two different stories, but either way, they’re penguins, and hate doesn’t fit with either version.