If reading mean blog comments or tweets about yourself is inherently masochistic, then reading your own book review has to be a completely brutal affair.
The reviewers themselves, especially the meaner ones, have become celebrities in their own right, loved by the everyday reader and probably both feared and respected by authors. Who hasn’t laughed with glee reading one of Michiko Kakutani’s crueler lines — while at the same time resenting the fact that she made David Foster Wallace cry with her particularly harsh review of The Broom Of The System?
There are critics who provide fair and balanced reviews of books, and then there are critics who devote 11,000 words to attacking their authors. I’m speaking of misogynist extraordinaire (and unpublished author) Ed Champion, who runs the literary website edrants.com. Here, he publishes interviews with authors, and more importantly, infamous book reviews — which really consist of bizarre stream-of-consciousness rants which are often insulting and even violent in nature. In late June of this year, Champion wrote an obsessive, disturbing, misogynistic, and tellingly lengthy response to Emily Gould’s novel Friendship.
But before getting to the novel, he wrote a critique of what he refers to as “middling millennial” writers, whom he describes as “largely white women who are almost totally in the dark about their privilege, many bolstering a blinkered neoliberal feminism” and who “often confuse the act of literary engagement with coquettish pom-pom flogging.”
The article includes photographs of exclusively contemporary women writers (including Emma Straub, which particularly infuriated me), compares Rachel Fershleiser to a “chirruping red-billed quelea” and accuses Emily Gould of “careerist bedhopping.” Champion attempts to invalidate Gould’s feeling of being objectified by her male coworkers by using an embarrassing “not all men” line, while obviously suggesting he doesn’t find her attractive enough to receive much male attention.
What else does he call Emily Gould in the essay, which feels more like a deranged love letter from a mentally ill prison inmate? An “easily manipulated rube fueled by the prospect of spite,” a “dim bulb,” a “cowardly writer,” a “heap of shit,” (excuse me, that one’s about her book), “lacking any real talent,” “a narcissist” who possesses an “astonishing egocentrism,” and my favorite, “not a real writer.”
Because anybody who doesn’t write whatever it is that Champion wants to read, or doesn’t have the Champion-approved process, doesn’t count. In case there’s any doubt about the misogynistic leanings of this amazing piece of literary criticism, I’ll just leave this last line from June 2014 here: “But when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage, it’s often hard to see the sunshine.”
As one can imagine, the article didn’t exactly sit well with much of the publishing industry, and reactions to the embarrassingly revealing vitriol soon peppered literary twitter, prompting The Daily Dot’s Miles Klee to declare it “The Great New York Literary Subtweet War of 2014.”
Mallory Ortberg of The Toast tweeted, “Anyhow an important lesson to be drawn from this is never write 11,000 words on anything for free.” Her colleague Nicole Cliffe echoed, “I received a TON of DMs from industry ppl who’ve been terrified of him for years.”
More articles, tweets, essays, and gossip cropped up condemning Champion for the Gould rant and exposing his threats to writers and publishers — both on the Internet and off. He’d called for people to be fired, stewed over presumed insults for years, and attempted to blacklist dozens of writers. Anger management and megalomania seemed to be just the tip of the iceberg for Champion.
Gould herself tweeted, “Can’t emphasize enough how many women writers have been in touch with me over the last 24 hours saying they were targeted in a similar way by this same guy, but thought speaking out would make it worse. I don’t know what to do with that.”
My rule on shit talking is: if you really feel you can handle having it served back to you tenfold, go ahead. Champion, clearly, could not.
I’ll pause here to say: I believe, alongside pretty much everyone else, that he is seriously mentally ill, and I hope he’s getting help. But what made me so angry, and what I found the most offensive, was his reaction. He halfheartedly live-tweeted a suicide threat.
Champion tweeted, “No money, no job, no gigs, no agent (a MS out with three). Not good enough. So I’m going to throw myself off a bridge now. No joke. Goodbye.” Then he tweeted a photo of a bridge with the caption “Low Guardrail. Great view.”
I have a lot of thoughts on this, none of them very charitable, but I will say that I found the fact that he did all this wildly offensive and disrespectful to people who really are suicidal, and that I don’t know many who would live-tweet their despair. I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong, but to me, it felt like an act, not to mention hypocritical. He attacked Gould for playing the victim card (his words, not mine) and said her apologies and “reinvention” since her early days as a writer weren’t good enough. But then he does the exact same thing — makes himself out to be a victim when all that’s really happening is a reaction on par with his own tirades. Is his form of mental illness, like his writing, the only “real” option?
After the suicide threat and live-tweet, his girlfriend Sarah Weinman (whose influence many also credit for their fear of coming forward) tweeted, “You are all responsible,” and attacked even those writers who had gone to Champion’s apartment to check on him, those who sent words of encouragement, or attempted to find out where he was and stop him.
Champion, who didn’t jump, said he would take a break from social media for a while and that he would seek help.
That was just round one. Stay tuned for part two: Porochista Khakpour is threatened with nude photo theft, other writers come forward.