Of Critics and Cavemen : Ginn Hale
We are delighted to welcome Ginn Hale to LYLBTB. She has been an amazing friend to the site, and we are thrilled that she has agreed to share some thoughts with us every now and then. I love how her mind works – so I am sure these posts will be fun to read, but also very insightful. Welcome, Ginn!! ❤
I imagine that when the very first human—let’s call her Og— slapped up a little charcoal, ochre and mud on a cave wall, maybe intent upon depicting some great hunt, other early humans voiced opinions about the work.
Maybe Oop the hunter loved it. “You genius, Og. You too beautiful for this world!”
But Gup, flint-chipper, disagreed. “Image derivative of real hunt, lacking in depth and make cave smell like dung!”
Perhaps Og felt tempted to heft a rock at Gup in response, or maybe incite super-fan, Oop, to do the dirty work.
But possibly Og possessed the sort of good nature that allowed her to consider Gup’s critique in a more balanced way; ignoring commentary that went counter to her personal vision of the work but respecting Gup’s right to an opinion—even acknowledging the solid points Gup made.
Gup obviously not grasp symbolic thought. Still, Gup right about use of ox poop for stunning yellow color. Smells bad!
In that case Og’s next work might well have turned out even more refined—and less malodorous—than the first. Between the support of Oop and the critical eye/nostril of Gup, a genuine work of art might have been inspired.
History—or my absurdist version— obviously does not relate the outcome of the first meeting of creative and critic. However, in the ages that have passed since we first flung dung as both creative expression and criticism, authors and reviewers have refined their callings. If my version of history is to be believed, then at the very least, we’ve all gained a much greater grasp of pronouns.
Nowadays, we authors (should) understand that every person is entitled to an opinion and most of us feel flattered and delighted when reviewers appreciate our books and then take the time and effort to share that appreciation with the world at large. We get paid royalties from the sales those reviews generate. To a great extent our livelihoods can be attributed to reviews of one kind or another. By contrast, most reviewers put in long hours and lots of thought simply because they love the genre they review.
Of course, not all reviews are good. And what would be the use of them if every review labeled every book ever printed as, “Best Book in the Whole F*cking World!” Empty praise is as meaningless. But honest praise can make all the difference for an author.
Though a negative review—particularly if it’s insightful— can feel like a straight razor cutting out an author’s heart and then slashing her wallet to bloodied shreds of overdrawn credit cards and expired cup noodle coupons.
It is in this moment when even the most mild-tempered author may, for an instant, discover herself hurtling back to the mental state of that primordial Og. She may find herself clenching her dung-slathered fist and preparing to hurl a nasty mass.
But as a fellow author I would advise against this. And not just because one is likely to end up spattered in a mess that does not wash out easily or cleanly. No, I would argue a more esoteric reason for authors to indulge and endure. No matter how harsh the review, no matter how terrible it feels, it’s never acceptable to attack a reviewer for voicing an opinion. Not just because it makes one seem petty, controlling and possibly crazy, but because the heart of our own art is about freedom of expression.
If all the wide varieties of folk who call ourselves authors could be said to possess a higher purpose, it has to be to advocate and protect the right of every human being to tell a story and to voice an opinion—even if that opinion is that one’s book felt derivative, lacking in depth and stank up the whole cave.
A bit about Ginn :
Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest, donates blood as a pastime, and tinkers with things.