Episode Number: 102
Episode Title: White People Are Creepy (listen to this episode)
Transcript by: Susan the Great
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Renay: Hey friends, I’m Renay!
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour.
Renay: Today we’re going to do some feedback and updates. We’ll also discuss Get Out by Jordan Peele, Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, and then a very scary topic—for me, I don’t know about anybody else—but putting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Which is terrifying, because it’s always scary putting opinions out about social media on social media. And then of course, recs.
Renay: Okay, feedback and updates. The first update is news about Soundcloud, which we used for a year to see if it would be for us, but it turns out it’s not! So we’re going to be transitioning away from Soundcloud. And so the place that you will find the episodes now is on our website and via iTunes.
Ana: Which is where most people find us, anyway.
Renay: And this is not a new update but I thought I would mention it again, because I’m still really excited about it: we have a new recommendation form for the newsletter, where we include recs from you guys!
Ana: There were so many cool ones in our newsletter this week.
Renay: Yeah, I really like everybody’s thoughts about the things that they love. The newsletter for this episode will of course have a bunch of spooky recs! You can bookmark our rec form and use it whenever you want. You don’t have to wait for us to call for themed rec lists. If you find something that you like you can drop in and use the form, and eventually your rec will show up in our newsletter.
Renay: And then the third update is not a podcast-related update but it’s something that I did and I’m super excited about it so I wanted to tell people. I am now a board member on the SF3 board. SF3 is the Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is the board that helps Wiscon Committee folks run Wiscon. If you’ve been to Wiscon, it’s a super great con. If you haven’t been, it’s a super great con. Wiscon has been running for almost fifty years? I went this year with my friends Ira and KJ, and everybody was super friendly and I loved it so much. Now I’m gonna be on the board! I’m gonna be the Vice President on the board.
Ana: This is so amazing. I am so proud of you. Congratulations.
Renay: Mostly my duties consist of liasing with the board and different committees, it’s gonna be really nice getting to know new people and helping SF3 succeed, and so I’m very, very, very excited.
Ana: How big is Wiscon? I have no idea. Is it as big as Worldcon?
Renay: Oh no. Wiscon is held in the same city every year: Madison, Wisconsin. They cap their membership at a thousand. I’m very excited about serving on the board. I’ll have a three year term. So sometimes I might talk about Wiscon and be like, “You guys should all go!” so just a warning now. So that’s feedback and updates for this time. That’s right. There is no feedback. Nobody sent us any email.
Ana: Please send us an email because Renay gets so sad when we don’t get any.
Renay: I sound so desperate. Let’s move on.
Renay: Get Out is a 2017 horror film by Jordan Peele and follows a young interracial couple who visit the mysterious estate of the white woman’s parents and enter a weekend full of a microaggression-laden nightmare. When the movie ended, Zach and I just looked at each other.
Ana: In terror? In fear? In disgust? In guilt?
Renay: No, not guilt. I’m not the type of white person who feels guilt about racist behavior by other people or white people in the past. But I think that we were shocked that this film was as on the nose as it was about how awful white people are.
Ana: We can’t talk about it without going into spoiler territory, right?
Renay: Yeah, I think it’s pretty hard to talk about this movie without spoiling it, because everything is connected to the end of the film. So if you’ve not seen Get Out, please skip this segment for now, and go watch it immediately, because it is wonderful. That’s a really weird word to use to describe this movie, “wonderful.” Thoughtful? Terrifying? At what part in the movie did you realize that Chris was in serious, serious danger?
Ana: The beginning. He was a very interesting viewpoint protagonist, because he seemed very chilled out. and every time he saw some kind of racist comment or anything, it kind of like he took it on stride, like, “It’s life for me.” The horror in this film is manifold. It’s in the normalisation of racism. It’s in the dynamics of white people and black people and then is the wider horror of the very specific horrendous thing that are being done to these people. I was kind of like expecting something horrible to happen when he got to the house, but I never guessed what exactly was being done to these people. Until we were told. Although the clues were there.
Renay: At some point during this film I asked Zach, “Do you think the daughter’s in on it?” and he was like, “Oh yeah, uh-huh.” I got real suspicious of her right after the first meeting with the parents, when they went up to the room and she was brushing her teeth, and just ranting. And I’m just like, “This is some real performative nonsense. What is going on?”
Ana: Right? I never suspected her at all and at one point, even when he saw the pictures of the previous boyfriends, I thought she was hypnotized, every time by her mum to forget about each boyfriend. So I kinda like hoped that she was just being used by the parents. When the whole thing with the keys, and she kept looking for the keys, but she wasn’t really looking for the keys! And I was like you motherfucker! You betrayed me! I guess I hoped a white person would be at least good in this movie.
Renay: No. There were no good white people in this movie.
Renay: They were all bad.
Ana: They were all terrible.
Renay: And I think that’s a very pointed commentary, because this movie is not about racist white rednecks in the country. This is about educated white people, who are quote-unquote “liberal”, who would have voted for Obama a third time. As if their preference for one black dude gives them a pass to just spew microaggressions at black people.
Ana: But it becomes more sinister. Every single comment, every single commentary, every single snide remark, becomes more sinister when you know where they are coming from. And why they are making them, too.
Renay: For people who have not watched the film but are still listening, because I know there are some of you: the whole idea is that the father of this film, the white dad, is a neurosurgeon, and he has mastered a technique to remove the brains from old people and to put the brain into a kidnapped black person, so the white person rides around in this black person’s body while the black person is trapped as a passenger and they can’t control themselves anymore. It’s as gross as it sounds.
Ana: So the idea here is the admiration that white people seem to have for black people’s bodies, without also admiring their brains. The sense of superiority of the white person over the black person, so ingrained that they will still use their bodies for their own benefit. Ride them.
Renay: This is a very multi-layered critique of whiteness and white culture and appropriation. I was especially creeped out but also like, “Yep, mm-hm, that’s correct,” by Jim, the guy who is going to receive Chris’s body. They tie Chris up downstairs and they play a video with Jim on a television, and Chris gets to ask Jim a bunch of questions about, “Why?”. Jim was like, “I want your eyes,” because Chris is a photographer—he’s a really good photographer—and Jim is blind, and he wants to be able to see, and he wants Chris’ talent, he wants Chris’ worldview as well. And that’s such a both subtle and not commentary on how white culture will just take black culture and fold it into our own? Meanwhile we are fine with racism, as long as we’re comfortable.
When I was working, in a lot of ways it was really hard to communicate with my coworkers, because I really wanted to fit in with them. I wanted them to like me, so I adopted a lot of their mannerisms, I adopted a lot of their slang. But for several years the manager was white, and I was white, but everybody else on our team was black. And so of course I started thinking about that from my perspective. How often have I done—if not literally, then at least metaphorically—the same thing that Jim did about black culture, just taking it into myself and using it. Because often that’s how language works, too. So that was the scene that got me the most.
Ana: Everything got me. The wider horror of the experiment itself, obviously, but also the smaller horror of the personalized torture that was being done to Chris: the moment where he gets trapped in the Dark Place, or the small moments where he notices that there is something wrong with the black people that work at the house, especially Georgina. And the moment, that scene where she goes into his bedroom and stands in front of him, and you can see there is someone trapped inside of her? That was just so disturbing and awful. I never realized that it was the grandparents that were inside. That was a good twist.
Renay: After the scene in the bedroom where the person inside Georgina manages to fight back for a moment, that’s when I was like, “Oh shit, that’s why the other guy, Walter, was acting so strangely and talking so strangely.” Or so-called educated white people, they sure are bad at blending in.
One of my favorite things about this film was the friendship between Chris and Rod.
Ana: Yes, Rod knew there was something wrong from the start. Once it was established that Chris was in danger, he just did everything in his power to save his friend. And there was some comedy in there which was welcome. It was lovely, their relationship.
Renay: Because there’s so much going on in this film, it’s really hard to unpack everything. Because you have racial microaggressions, you have outright racism, you have cultural commentary on how white people engage with black bodies.
Ana: And black culture.
Renay: So Jordan Peele managed to put so much in this film. I have only seen it once, and I feel like if I watched it multiple times, I would find something new every single time.
One of the funniest parts, but also the scariest, was the thing about the milk at the very end, where Rose is sitting in her bedroom eating a single fruit loop and taking creepy sips of milk. I don’t know if Peele did this on purpose. I have no idea. A lot of white people can drink milk, but a lot of people who are not white cannot drink milk. They can’t digest it, so to have this white woman sitting on her bed creepily sipping milk, felt like another layer of, “Holy shit, holy shit.”
Ana: I didn’t have that reading from that bit, that bit for me was more like, “Wow, this woman is a complete psycho. She’s just calmly browsing sites to find other black people for her to date, meanwhile the pictures are all back behind the wall behind her. At that very moment where she was just calmly browsing the internet and drinking her glass of milk, Chris was being tortured downstairs.
What was the scariest part of the movie for you?
Renay: Everytime Chris is sent to the Sunken Place. I’ve done a lot of reading on slavery, and when I think about the Sunken Place, I automatically think about slavery and I don’t know if that was the intention. But imagine being not in control of your own body. A white person controls your body. You don’t have any say over your body anymore; the white person does, your master does. And so I couldn’t help but associate the Sunken Place with that.
If you haven’t done a ton of reading about slavery, if you’ve only ever got the whitewashed public school version, but if you’ve done some really deep readings, if you’ve read slave narratives by the slaves themselves, if you’ve read books about how white people treated black people—especially how white women treated black people—I think this movie takes on another dimension. I don’t know to separate those two things. It’s just a repeat, white people feeling entitled to use black bodies to make profit whether that profit is extended life, an economic system, it just felt really, really awful. So the Sunken Place for me, immediately just became a metaphor for slavery, this inescapable thing where a white person controls everything you do, and your autonomy is gone. I was not okay during the Sunken Place scenes.
Ana: Yeah, they were terrifying, but the historical repercussions and for the loss of agency and the powerlessness of it. For those very same reasons, for me the scariest moment, the moment where I actually stood up and screamed at the television, was the very ending. At the very ending where Chris had escaped surgery, had escaped his torturers, had fled the house, fought off the last people, killed the grandmother, the grandfather, the ex-girlfriend, and he was free! All of a sudden, a police car arrives, and I was like, “Fuck, he’s gonna get killed.” And it’s the same feelings and the same control over the life of a black person, and it’s happening right now.
Thankfully, it was his best friend driving the car, and I have never felt so relieved in my entire life. But when that police car appeared, that was really upsetting.
Renay: Black twitter has this phrase called, “Watch whiteness work,” and so you have this white woman on the ground, and she immediately goes, “Oh I’m saved, I’m gonna be fine”. And you know that’s what she’s thinking because at the beginning of the film when they’re on their way, they hit a deer and they end up hitting a deer, and the police try to ID Chris even though he wasn’t driving. And she throws a big White Lady fit about it and gets the cop to back off. You already know from that scene, which I think was the point of that scene, that she’s aware of that dynamic between cops and black folk. Especially black men. So as soon as she was like, “Help, help,” I don’t know how I would have reacted if the film had ended any other way than it did, because I did not breathe between the moment where Chris just gives up, you see him just give up. He puts his hands up.
Ana: Yeah, that was the scariest moment of the movie for me, because I truly believed that at that moment he could not save himself. I guess throughout I could see him getting him away from things, and in that moment I thought, “There’s no hope.”
Renay: And I’m pretty sure that’s what that scene wants you to feel. It wants you to feel that complete lack of hope when faced with police.
Renay: Instead of being saviors, they’re murderers. They’re part of the scary movie.
Ana: In any other movie, starring a white person, the police arriving is the moment when you go, “YES!” and that’s horrible in itself. That realization.
Renay: I think every white person should have to watch this film. I mean, I don’t think that all of them will get it, and a lot of them will just leave defensive and angry, but I think some would benefit. And this movie as a white person, I think might make some people—because it did me—critique how they exist in black spaces? These white people try so hard. The whole time I’m like, “What are you doing?!” Like, as a socially anxious person I’m very aware of how I’m reacting and interacting with other people, so a lot of my social anxiety in groups makes me just a complete asshole, but not as big of an asshole as the white people in this film interacting with a black man. If you want an example, white people, of how not to interact with black people, feel free to watch this film because it will give you a lot of tips. They’re just people!
The last thing I wanna talk about is that one of the reasons that is not stated in the film but the film I think makes it implicit: the reason the white people are choosing black bodies is because no one looks for them.
Ana: I there’s an element to it, for the safety, but I’m not sure that that’s what it is. Remember, that white people always said about slaves that they are made to endure things? So in terms of physical strength, theirs the superior to white people’s, and I think like I said in the beginning, it’s the combination of the physical superiority that white people think black people have, but with white people’s brains. And manners. And money. This is why that guy was just like touching his arm and saying, “Wow, you are very firm.” That’s what I read into it, right?
Renay: I mean, I see where you’re coming from, but also think you’re missing an element of racism in America. I pulled up some stats. “Although black people only comprise 13% of America’s population, we’re 34% of America’s missing, a reality that exists as a result of the melánge of socio-economic factors that is rendering black lives demonstrably less valuable than the lives of the white counterparts.” When black people go missing versus when white people go missing, the societal structure that we’re in does not value of that black body as much as it values the return of the white body.
Ana: Right, I didn’t know that.
Renay: So when you look at the stats, that’s when the implicit commentary in the film of why these white people are not really just choosing the black bodies because of strength and power and whatever else, they’re also choosing them—they’re making a deliberate choice to choose black bodies—because they know that police are less likely to come to look for them. How far away from the city was that estate? It was pretty far away, but it couldn’t have been more than a six or seven hour drive.
Ana: I think it was actually less than that.
Renay: One of the black people that Chris meets acts completely wrong. Chris gets a very very bad vibe from Logan, and when he tries to take a picture of him, he basically breaks the hypnotism Missy has him under, and he attacks Chris. Although if you rewatch the scene, he’s not actually attacking Chris, he’s trying to warn Chris to get the fuck out.
Ana: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
Renay: When Chris sends that photo to Rod, he’s like, “I know that dude!” That dude was part of Rod’s social circle and the guy had been missing. He’d been missing, but only a few hours away. So who the hell tried to find him? It doesn’t seem like anybody tried to find him. The white person who was wearing his body was just wearing it like he had no concern in the world of being mistaken for this missing person. Only a few hours away from where that person was from. And so that’s what I mean when I say there was a reason they were choosing black bodies. So there’s a new terrifying, awful layer to add to your experience of this film. You’re welcome.
Renay: It feels really weird to rate this film in space bees.
Ana: Let’s rate them in black panthers.
Renay: [laughs] How many black panthers is this worth?
Ana: Five. If we borrowed the black panther for our reviews, aren’t we as bad?
Renay: That’s what I’m wondering! I don’t know. I don’t have a rating for this film. I don’t—I don’t have—my feelings about this film are so complicated, I just really believe that everybody should watch it. I think it’s incredibly important.
Ana: Yeah. It’s really good.
Renay: Mr Splitfoot is a 2016 ghost story following orphans Ruth and Nat through their lives as wards of the state, and what happens when they come into the orbit of Mr Bell, a conman. In the second narrative, set years in the future, Ruth’s niece, Cora, unexpectedly pregnant and at odds, until Ruth appears, mute, and leads her on a mysterious walk to an unknown destination.
This book was not what I expected at all.
Ana: It was like a fucking dream. It was really difficult to read. There’s so much abuse in it and the narrative was really confusing at times.
Renay: I didn’t have that much trouble with the narrative once I figured out that it was alternating and that the narratives were going to converge.
Ana: No, that was obvious. I meant, I kind of like the writing itself, it just felt so delirious all the time, and I couldn’t quite grasp what the characters were doing or seeing or feeling, and I think maybe part of it’s because Ruth and Nat’s narrative places them as wards of this really religious leader, who takes care of them and uses them. And meanwhile Cora, it was just really—really confusing to me to understand why she would follow and walk.
Renay: So again this is a very hard books to discuss without spoiling the end.
Ana: Yeah, I’m so sorry. It’s impossible.
Renay: I don’t know how we’d do it, so we’re not gonna do it! Just a warning, this is also a spoiler-filled discussion. If you have not read Mr Splitfoot, and I can’t tell you whether you should at this point. If you like ghost stories, maybe? Go ahead and skip this segment.
Ana: Just be aware that I would not recommend this book.
Renay: Ana would not recommend this book.
Ana: For most of this book I thought Cora was dead.
Renay: Not a bad assumption.
Ana: I thought the abortion had killed her. Did you like the book, Renay?
Renay: I disliked parts of it, but the parts about the women, I liked. The parts about motherhood I liked. It’s a very complicated book.
Ana: It’s a very complicated book, yes, but it’s also a book that doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you think of it in the great scheme of things, when you get to the end and realize what’s happening and why, I don’t understand why Ruth would go and get Cora. Why Cora of all people? Why not her sister? I understand for Cora’s perspective, because her meeting with Ruth when she was a teenager was so important to her. However, when we see that same meeting from Ruth’s perspective, she hardly mentions her niece. This is a problem in this book, where the editor didn’t get the writer to write about the scene from Ruth’s perspective to make me believe that Cora meant something to her, that she would go back to get her, to come and help her to get through to Nat. And I guess that part of the thing that she wanted to do was to get both of them together too. At the end when I realized what happened, that Ruth was dead, that she went to get Cora to bring her to Nat and to the money and I’m like, “Why?” There’s nothing in the narrative that makes me believe in that.
Renay: That’s true. I don’t know why. When I got to the end, I was like, “Well she wanted to give her the money? Because she was struggling and Ruth wanted to give her a way out?”
Ana: Why? How would she know any of that? Because she was dead?
Renay: I guess?
Ana: She was always self-centered apart from Nat. I would imagine that she would go back and do things for Nat, but not for anybody else.
Renay: Going back for Cora and bringing her to Nat might have been a way to do something for Nat specifically? Because he thought that she’d just abandoned him.
Ana: Yeah, which was awful. That was the saddest part of the book. At the same time though, we don’t really know Nat.
Renay: No, he’s very much a question mark. He’s a mystery to us.
Ana: And so it was hard for me to get the emotional grasp of this novel, because most of what Ruth did was for Nat, because of Nat, and yet who the fuck is Nat? I didn’t even get to see him through her own eyes.
Renay: The most we know about Nat is they are extremely close and he has some problems with emotional connection with people, and they’re also not fucking. Those are basically the thing we know about Nat. So the characterization on his part was not good. The ultimate reason for Ruth bringing Cora on this journey and not her sister instead—I don’t know if it was really about the money.
Ana: No, probably not. About closure.
Renay: I wonder if it was more about Cora herself and pulling her out of the cyclical place that she was in. Because the book is very much focused on a critique of birth, life, death, and how people just slide into it and then stay there and get stuck. And so maybe that was the reason Ruth pulled Cora out to go on this walk? And when we say “go on a walk,” we mean go on a walk because she’s like, what, a month pregnant when Ruth comes to her? And then they go on this walk.
Renay: At the end of the walk she is about to have this baby.
Ana: Full term.
Renay: A nine month walk. And during this whole time, she’s out of touch with her job and she leaves her mom behind.
Ana: She doesn’t have a phone or anything.
Renay: I don’t know where she’s getting her money from, or maybe Ruth has the money?
Ana: How? Ruth is dead.
Renay: Well there’s clearly some slippage between life and afterlife in this novel, because other people can see Ruth just fine.
Ana: Can they?
Renay: Yeah, I think so.
Ana: I don’t think so. I think it’s all Cora’s assumptions.
Renay: But they talk directly to her, multiple times.
Ana: I’m not sure they do.
Renay: I’d have to look at the book. But I seem to remember people actually commenting.
Ana: Did you ever see the Sixth Sense?
Renay: Yes, I hated that film. A Lot.
Ana: But that’s the same thing, right, because it’s from Bruce Willis’ perspective. He think people are talking to him but they are not. But at the same time I think we meet other ghosts. For example, the whole motel, because we meet Doctor Bell there, I think the whole motel is on the other side, that’s when I figured out that Ruth was dead.
Renay: So you think that everybody that they meet and talk to—
Ana: I think the vast majority of people, yes, were dead.
Renay: This book was real confusing. It’s definitely a ghost story though, that’s for sure. If you like some ghost stories, sign yourself up for this book.
Ana: Or maybe not, just go read something else.
Renay: [laughs] Before we started this, she was like, “I don’t know how I feel!”. I think you know how you feel Ana.
Ana: Yeah, I feel angry that I wasted my time reading it.
Ana: I didn’t even get scared. I was looking for some scary ghost story.
Renay: That’s what confused me a whole lot. I expected this to be scary in some way; psychologically. I didn’t expect gore, but I expected some psychological…something. Because Get Out, the other thing that we watched for this podcast, was very much a psychological horror story. But this was not.
Renay: The reason that I even had this on my list was because it was on a ton of Best of Horror lists in 2016.
Ana: The scariest thing for me, the scariest thing, was the lover, who drugged Cora and then slipped something into her vagina without her knowing, so that she would abort the child. I didn’t even know this was thing that could happen.
Renay: That happened at the very beginning of this novel.
Ana: Yes. So that was peak, and then it was all downhill for me.
Renay: There’s also a romance, which I thought was odd, but in the end really well done.
Ana: I agree. It was lovely the way that it progressed and eventually they got together, but then they ended super badly too, okay.
Renay: Yeah, the end was not great. This is also a critique of cults and the ways in which religion, real or made-up, although as…
Ana: Well, all religions are made up. We are both historians.
Renay: Sorry, religious people who are listening. I don’t mean to undermine your faith. Faith and religion are two different things for me, and this book is definitely a critique of not faith, but organized religions.
Renay: And how people can use them to manipulate others.
Ana: Also of fanatical religions too. That center on their one charismatic leader which was so rife in the seventies, right? But by the sounds of it, they still exist.
Renay: The blurb makes a big to-do about the convergence of the narratives, and the ultimate ending, and I just find the ending to Ruth’s story so awful. Not scary.
Ana: Completely devoid of any hope.
Renay: Which is what happens when you give men the power to feel like he owns another person’s body.
Ana: And there are two of them here, at the very least. Three.
Renay: It’s such a damning critique of the social work system as well, who lets men like this prey on the system itself and the kids inside of it.
Ana: Exactly. Oh my god. That’s the horror! The true horror story in this novel.
Renay: While I really liked the romance, and while I really liked the motherhood stuff, especially with Eleanor and Cora and how Cora uses her journey across the country to where Nat is as a way for her to grow up, a way for her to come to terms with her life, and the motions that she’d been going through in the past few years, that had gotten her pregnant and in the situation she was in to begin with. Ultimately, like you I didn’t buy the reason that she ended up where Nat was. I mean I think it’s very nice, oh how nice, Ruth came back from the afterlife to lead her niece to a bunch of money, so she could have a nice life and not be trapped, but why?
Ana: There’s nothing in the novel that explains the why. That makes me convinced.
Renay: I’m convinced that Cora would follow Ruth based on her admiration, but like you said there’s nothing to convince me that Ruth would go back for Cora.
Ana: Maybe if she had gone back for her own sister, it would have been more interesting because then we could also see the story from Eleanor’s point of view.
Renay: Anyway, once again a mainstream celebrated novel leaves me feeling a little cold. And this is why I read genre fiction.
Ana: Well this is genre fiction. This is magical realism. It’s horror.
Renay: Yeah, but it’s also filed in fiction.
Ana: Because they know! They know that genre readers are smarter than this.
Renay: And it’s written in a very specific way to evoke a feeling of mysticality.
Ana: Yeah. Do you know what, yes, exactly. I hate that bullshit. I just don’t get along with that kind of narrative at all. The magical realism thing, is just not me.
Renay: Magical realism by a white lady! The magical realism that I’m used to came out of Spanish-American writing, right?
Ana: Which I hate. There is this whole school of Latin-American authors that write that type of thing and I could never get into it. It’s like it’s so big in Brazil too and then everybody’s like “Oh Isabel Allende,” “Oh Borges,”, “Oh, blah blah blah!” I’m like “Oh bleeeeh” [retches]
Renay: We learned something new about Ana today, she does not like—but wait, we both liked Bone Gap, which used some of the same techniques. I mean Bone Gap was fantasy. It was a fantasy novel.
Ana: It was a YA novel. It was not disguised as literature.
Renay: Yes, but it also used a lot of elements of magical realism.
Ana: Yeah, but I liked that one. So I guess there’s one exception to the rule.
Ana: Sue me.
Renay: Tell me how many space bees you’re gonna give it.
Renay: Well I’m gonna be a little nicer, because I think if you like ghost stories and stuff about mothers you might like this book, but definitely read the blurb and know it’s not as supernaturally as it makes it sound.
Renay: We can agree to disagree about this book, I’m so sorry I made you read it! Next year you’re choosing all our Halloween stuff.
Ana: Thank you.
Renay: As the book industry has changed, and the internet has grown and the bookish internet has bubbled up and become a force to be reckoned with, there has been a trend of authors asking readers to put reviews of their work on Amazon and Goodreads, because it helps them sell books! And there’s something about algorithms in there as well. And I thought it would be neat to discuss the consequences of having readers do this kind of work, what it means to put reviews on these services, how it changes book discussion culture, and as a bonus we have a publisher perspective with Ana.
Ana: That’s me.
Renay: Do you remember when authors started asking readers to do this, being like, “Hey it really helps me if you put a review on Amazon or Goodreads?”
Ana: I think it has become more prominent in the past couple of years, maybe because blogs and independent reviews are not as popular as before, and so many people are congregating on Amazon and Goodreads, and other social media. To cut on the suspense, as a publisher, those are invaluable. Especially from a smaller publisher perspective, it helps with discoverability, right?
Renay: So even with things like novellas, novelettes, short stories, it helps?
Ana: Oh yeah, it’s the only way to sell our short stories, right? The more reviews there are on Amazon the better it is.
Renay: I know how you feel about it as a publisher because obviously it helps you when people review your stuff on these sites, but as a reader, how do you feel about it?
Ana: I used to put reviews on Amazon, but those reviews on Amazon that I used to put, they were copies of my reviews from The Book Smugglers, and then I thought I shouldn’t do that anymore because I already have The Book Smugglers. So as a reader, because The Book Smugglers is such a huge blog with such a huge readership, I feel like I’m contributing to the discussion so I don’t do Amazon reviews. Which makes me feel like a little hypocrite, but that’s my internal logic. I do leave reviews or thoughts on Goodreads. And I tweet a lot about books that I read, too.
I have heard from publishers, publicists, agents, saying that anytime the Book Smugglers say something good about a book or do a really good review, sales spike. It does help, guys. And it’s the same for us. We’ve had one person right when Superior came out, do one of those threads on Twitter, and it was someone that is well-known within the YA community, and they included Superior, and that’s when Superior became our best-seller of all time, and still selling to this date, because it creates momentum. And of course this is invaluable to me as a publisher, especially as a small publisher like I said. It might not be as valuable to huge books with huge marketing budgets that are able to put ads on newspapers and sell and get the books reviewed on the New York Times or whatever. As a reader, though, I realize this cannot be my sole responsibility. I suggest, and I hope people will do, but it’s not an expectation that I have that people must do it. If people don’t want to give a shit about reviewing my books, there is nothing I can do and I do not begrudge anyone.
Renay: I used to put my reviews on Amazon a long time ago, and then I started reading the Terms of Service of these places, the rights that give these companies to take your words and use them, and not compensate you for them, made me completely back off doing that. The TOS at Amazon and the TOS at Goodreads: yikes. I’m not putting my longform writing on those sites for any reason.
Ana: Well, but even like a couple of lines, not your full review, but just a couple of lines. This book was great, five stars.
Renay: Yeah, that’s what I do now. I largely will give a littl bit of commentary then link to Lady Business, or I’ll link to a twitter thread, or I’ll link to Barnes and Noble.
Ana: Yeah, that’s fantastic.
Renay: But putting the review itself on these services feels very not safe to me. I value my intellectual property and I want to be able to control it.
Ana: Yeah, no I completely see that. Yeah.
Renay: And so that’s why I don’t do it. But I also think that maybe encouraging people to do that has changed blogging culture a little bit, especially book blogging. What does it do to communities that form groups where suddenly instead of writing reviews on blogs, they’re spending their energy putting reviews on these social services. Because I know on Amazon at least, when I tried to link to my stuff, my review would be flagged and deleted.
Ana: Yeah, you can’t. Well, Amazon, it’s a completely different animal. But I know that communities exist within Goodreads, I know people have moved from blogs to Goodreads and have created communities there. You congregate around a favorite reviewer just like you congregate around a favorite blogger and you have conversations you have comment threads, you have lists, and you have conversations still happening, but only in a different way.
Renay: This shift toward moving to what amount to retail sites. I mean, Amazon bought Goodreads so Goodreads doesn’t feel like a retail site but technically right now it’s a retail site. They want to encourage you to buy the books, so what ways do we think that that has changed how the discussions about books go?
Ana: I don’t think it has changed that much because even though those platforms would like to encourage book buying, there is still book discussion because the amount of negative reviews on Goodreads is immense! Actually, the best—and some of the worst—discussions around books have happened in Goodreads in the past few years.
Renay: For a while there I was worried that Goodreads was going to not be a safe place. You encourage people to add their books to your to-read list, or add it to their shopping list or put it on a wish list, so people are more connected to the retail avenues, right? But then something goes wrong. Then you get a bunch of people like, going on these places and giving authors low ratings, or rating a book without reading it, or before reading it. Did that behavior come because we encourage people to go support authors and give them that avenue, “Here’s how you support an author,” so immediately if you wants to hurt an author, the way to hurt the author is to go to the retail place is to go to the retail place and hurt the author by creating drama and low ratings? I don’t know if that’s what happened, but I know that if you create a positive association with retail sites, like Amazon or Goodreads, and you encourage people to put their reviews there and you say, “It helps me,” if somebody—if an author makes somebody upset, they have this predetermined path to hold an author quote-unquote “accountable.”
Ana: Yes, that is true.That happens and I think that’s just part of being human. The same way that before those sites existed, even blogs and comment thread you had trolls. Coming over and being really negative and also they’d say, “I’m not going to buy this book,” and then creating a chain of blog posts across blogs that said the same thing. Perhaps not directly connected to an actual retailer.
Renay: That’s the big difference for me. Before, with blogs, it was a little separated, but now it’s right on the book’s page. It happens right there. All these fights and negative associations, and arguments about whatever people are upset about at the time, and is that healthy for books?
Ana: I would wager that it doesn’t ultimately impact sales as much as we want to think.
Renay: I don’t know if it impacts sales. I’m just talking about the emotions associated with book discussion. I kinda wonder if it creates like a negative association of discussing books in online spaces. Does it make people more scared to discuss books? Does it make people more scared to share an opinion? I mean obviously in most cases, no, because people have opinions and they love to share them.
Ana: I think it’s likely that it will put some people off, yes, and I think also some people would thrive on this, and I don’t know if ultimately this is good or bad for book discussion.
Renay: The most recent drama was over some book at Kirkus that lost a star.
Ana: American Heart?
Renay: I didn’t really follow the whole drama that closely but I did read some article from a person of color who was like, “Hey, these campaigns? It’s kind of silencing other people of color.”
Ana: Well, because the reviewer who wrote the starred review for Kirkus was a Muslim reviewer, and the book is about a Muslim, well, is actually about a white girl who learns lessons about respecting Muslims. So the Muslim reviewer thought it was a really good book, obviously gave it a star review. And then other people of color started reading the book and then think, “Oh, this is too much from the white lady’s perspective and therefore hurtful.” There was a lot of conversation around it, and Kirkus took down the review. Took down the star of the review. I think this is a completely different discussion, though.
Renay: I think it’s a different discussion, but it also aligns with our discussion because, I mean, if you go look at the Goodread reviews and stars for that book, it’s a nightmare scenario over there. Because we have these avenues now that we’re encouraged by authors to go and put our reviews there and that’s a positive request like “Hey, you can help my books do better and you can help me write more books if you go and support my books on these services.”. And if people wants to do that, great, but it also teaches people how to have a direct impact on a retail avenue to that author if they get upset.
I sometimes feel a lot of pressure to put reviews on these services from authors that I like, and I know that they’re not doing it to be pressure-y but I also do sometimes feel guilty that I’m not doing that because I don’t like how the TOS handles ownership of my writing. And I don’t really know what the compromise is.
Ana: It really depends on the person. I don’t think there should be a rule. I can tell you what is helpful. I can tell you that reviews on Amazon are helpful to publishers, especially smaller publishers and self-publishing, but beyond that it gets complicated, obviously.
Renay: I get so stressed out by other people’s books. Like complete strangers, I’m like, “I don’t even know you, I don’t know who you are, I’ve never heard of you before this moment, but I’m looking at your reviews and there’s all these jerks leaving you one stars, calling you names.”
Ana: I know, it’s horrible, but at the end of the day though, remember, that maxim is still true. Once the book’s out of your hands, it belongs to the reader. So even though we tell you to leave reviews that will help us at the end of the day, Goodreads belongs to readers. And that’s my blogger/reviewer hat now.
Renay: You have to switch hats.
Ana: And I mean, that’s how I approach whenever I send books out for reviews. And then some people ask me, “So would you like me to leave a review?” And I said, “That would be helpful, but it’s completely down to you.”
Renay: Space bees, we are curious. Do you put your writing, your reviews, on Amazon and Goodreads? Let us know.
Renay: Ana, what is your rec?
Ana: I have two! Ooh-hoo!
Thor: Ragnarok came out in the UK yesterday, and it was the funnest, funniest, silliest Marvel movie to date, and I loved it to bits. It had great cameos, great relationship stuff. They really used Chris Hemsworth’s comedy skills. His timing was and delivery was absolutely pitch perfect. Him and Mark Ruffalo’s scenes were just a delight.
There’s some heaviness there too because obviously there is a lot of death given that the goddess of death comes back to Valhalla to bring havoc, but overall the movie is just a silly romp of light shenanigans and I loved it.
The other thing that I want to recommend is another romance novel that I read and was completely obsessed with it: could not stop reading. It’s kind of like it’s romantic fantasy or fantasy romance? It’s mostly romance, really, and it’s The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and it’s about a young woman who has telekinetic powers and a man who has loved another person for like gazillion times and doesn’t see the brilliant woman in front of him until it’s almost too late. But it’s a romance novel so you know how it ends.
What do you have for us this week?
Renay: I have a podcast rec! Yes, another podcast, I know. It is Stay Tuned with Preet, and it’s by Preet Bharara. Everyone probably knows Preet Bharara as the attorney that the President of the U.S., noted dotty racist, fired earlier this year. He started a podcast which is super chill and relaxing. He is a lawyer, so doesn’t raise his voice, he doesn’t get excited like we do, he’s very chill. Because Preet is a lawyer he doesn’t engage in a lot of predication or speculation. He’s very much concerned with realistic expectations? So it’s a very emotionally healthy, but also kind of sad sometimes too, podcast to listen to versus more partisan political podcasts. He’s very, very smart, and he does really great interviews with people associated with law and governing, and if you wanna know what happened with him and the president, you should listen to his first episode because he tells the story. It is bananas.
Ana: That Time President Trump Fired Me. That’s the name of the episode.
Renay: Highly recommended. It’s pretty new, so if you like to back listen to your podcasts, this is a good time to jump on the wagon.
Okay, Ana, what are we going to talk about next time?
Ana: We are going to talk about The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin and Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss, and we will finally finally have our cooking segment in which we cook cinnamon rolls. You just have to wait to see the disaster that happened in the Cambridge headquarters. Head’s up.
Renay: It’s real good guys. It’s real good.
Renay: Our show art is by Ira, our music is by Chuki Beats and BoxCat Games.
Ana: If you’d like to support our show you can follow us on Patreon.
Renay: We’re on Twitter at @fangirlpod and everywhere else as fangirlhappyhour.
Ana: Fangirl Happy Hour’s transcripts are by Susan. You can find all available transcripts at fangirlhappyhour.com.
Renay: Have a snack. Contact your reps. And go share some love with a creator that made something you liked recently.
Ana: And since this is our Halloween episode, I will end this episode not with a nice little funny advice, but with a short Halloween horror story. Here it comes: it’s been eleven months and Donald Trump is still the president of the United States of America. The end.
Renay: Thanks for listening, space bees!
Ana: See you next episode!
Renay: I also have every CD Smash Mouth ever made. Even the EP where they have a song that is, “Sorry about my penis.”
Renay: What are we gonna do today, Ana? I’ve just totally blanked. Whoa. Today we’re going to totally blank on what we were just saying!
Ana: Good to know.
Renay: Ana, you would never guilt me.
Ana: Won’t I?
Renay: No, you are really bad at it in fact, you’re like, “Here’s this thing, you can review it if you want! I know you’re busy!”
Background: [quiet meow]
Renay: I know.
Ana: She loves it.
Renay: Even Pash loves Stay Tuned With Preet Bharara.