Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween, Personal Book Critic Won’t Leave Me Alone, Chris Stevens

Starting out here with Halloween shots, in a surprisingly lively scene only a day after Hurricane Sandy, lots of fun to perk us up after the storm. I usually don’t post here so soon after the previous posting, but cheering up is in order, as per the item below.

Mudslinging is not unique to Obama-Romney. If I knew how, I’d start my own Twitter defense. As indicated last time, sadly and inexplicably, a fellow Honduras Peace Corps volunteer disparaged my book on Facebook’s “Goodreads,” after attacking it before on Amazon, the latter removed by an irate reader. Now, I find, he came right back on Amazon with another inaccurate and unfair review, designed to boost his own rival memoir. You who know my book, please put your own truthful review on Amazon under “Barbara Honduras” and on Goodreads Help fight cyber warfare with the same! Gracias

The guy is relentless and obsessive. I wonder about his mental health. This time, he concludes: “Of the nearly four dozen Peace Corps memoirs I have read, this is the worst… Don't waste money on this one.” And Amazon let him post again!! This time, the rebuttals against him from the first time are gone, because they were erased with his first review. He is being deliberately hurtful. He chides me for using the term “Fast forward,” which appears exactly once in my book. He cites another unfavorable Goodreads review (did he plant it?), and never mentions my favorable reviews in the Washington Post and elsewhere, the many awards my book has received, invitations from librarians and radio shows, a feature in Woman's Day and in a worldwide video posted by Voice of America, and that PC director Aaron Williams loved my book. I’ve never met the man and the only thing I ever read that he wrote was quite mediocre, but did I go on a tirade against him?

To make a special point of coming back like that after his first review was removed and to bad-mouth me on Facebook (and who knows where else?) is incomprehensible. To falsify the contents of my book is worse. His descriptions of my book are unfair and completely untrue. Why this vendetta? We're fellow Honduras RPCVs, after all, part of a special family, supposedly in solidarity. I've reviewed some pretty terrible PC books for Peace Corps Writers, but, even then, I've tried to go a little easy to salvage the authors' feelings and it would never occur to me to deliberately seek out websites to put up bad reviews and to recommend not buying those books. It's really strange and hurtful to be treated that way by a stranger and also worrisome. I hope that most people looking at my Amazon site will see that he is an outlier, a kook. I will contact Amazon again and try to get them to remove his review again. If they do, will check more often than before to see if he comes right back a third time. I've thought of contacting him directly, extending an olive branch, and trying to see what his beef is but that might put him on the defensive and he kind of scares me.

A friend with experience with this sort of excessive behavior believes it calls for law enforcement advice. She says, “If it were just a single review I’d say ‘forget it,’ but it’s his obsession with you and on-going slurs that makes it uncomfortable and personal. I just beg you to contact the cops for their advice. I don’t want to alarm you, but I’m worried about your personal safety. The man has a screw loose. He’s probably perfectly harmless, but at least go to the cops for an expert opinion.”

She cites similar cases she has known which turned out to be serious. I think DC cops would laugh at me and consider me kooky if I came to them about some on-line book put-downs. They have more serious matters to attend to. My friend disputes this: “The cops will not laugh at you to your face, believe me. You will not be wasting their time. Since this involves the internet and a man who lives across state lines, they may quite possibly refer you to the FBI, but they won’t laugh. This is not a single negative book review. He is aiming to ruin your career as a writer and has written a number of scathing ‘reviews.’ How many negative book reviews have you read that personally attacked the author? Not many and not repeatedly. That man does not have both wheels on his bicycle. He may not be dangerous, but why wait to find out?"

What do you out there think? Other people advise ignoring him. He hasn’t actually threatened me personally and I’m afraid to stir him up any more and escalate things. On the other hand, his actions do have an unsettling flavor that, in hindsight, observers have said were signs of impending violence in other cases, something they should have seen coming. What might work best would be for a friend to approach him in confidence and advise him to knock it off, but I don’t know any of his intimate friends.

In a more mundane and practical level, if anyone reading this has read my book and should want to put a legitimate review on Amazon, just go to books and to “Barbara Honduras.” There you will see his relentlessly unflattering review and can also post one of your own.

Admittedly, my book is not the typical Peace Corps memoir. I was much older when I joined and already knew Spanish, having lived in Latin America. I’d been to Honduras several times before, so wasn’t an innocent, starry-eyed new college graduate in travel-advenure mode. But Peace Corps needs all ages and I especially wanted to appeal to those with experience under their belt. From the feedback I’ve gotten, some readers have actually been inspired to join Peace Corps by my book.

On another subject, someone staying at my house right now once worked with Christopher Stevens, the late U.S. ambassador to Libya, who, he says, always insisted on making his own itinerary and going out among the people, whatever his security detail advised, a legacy of his Peace Corps experience. Although, obviously, he was not with Stevens when he died, he suspects that even if Stevens had been advised not to go to Benghazi when he did, he might well have gone anyway, “He was just that kind of guy.”

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