It’s One Bad Review… Move On May 6, 2009

It’s One Bad Review… Move On

Occasionally, I receive books to review for this site. Some of them are good. Not all, though. Usually, I can tell if they’re bad within a page or two and I just stop reading. It’s just not worth the effort to read it. (Unless it’s *really* bad. Then that could be very entertaining.) I’d rather read the good ones and write about those.

Jen was in the same position, when she got ahold of John Harrigan‘s book, The Professor and the Dominatrix.

She wrote a classic review in which she outlined how bad this book is.

Instead of ignoring it, he responded by sending a letter denouncing her and her review

She sent him a personal email (she felt she owed him that), and he responded to that, too…

His email begins like this:


I don’t need writing advice from amateurs or lessons on how to take criticism…

Stay tuned for Harrigan’s next book, How to Win Friends and Kill Your Amazon Rankings.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I feel less and less guilty the more arrogant emails he sends me. The only thing keeping this situation from being absolutely hilarious is that I’m afraid I’m going to give the poor man a heart attack.

  • SarahH

    That book sounds truly horrific. I really hate Ayn Rand, and I felt that the comments comparing that book to Rand’s books were WAY too insulting to Rand.

  • Siamang

    I only got a couple paragraphs into the author’s email when I hit this:

    No cheers from Jen on the male characters I worked over: the killer, Officer Fudpucker, Senator Gaylord Sludge, Reverend Smiley Tuttle, porno Slick Wilson, governor’s aide Tom Collins.

    Wow. Those are really the character names?!? It’s worse than even Jen expressed.

    Senator GAY-LORD SLUDGE? Porno Slippery Penis? Governor’s aid DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE?!?!

    Awful, awful, awful.

  • grazatt

    What an Asshole that John Harrigan is!

  • I don’t need writing advice from amateurs or lessons on how to take criticism…

    Apparently, he does.

    Lesson #1 on how to take criticism: Ignore it, or take it to heart and learn from it — but do not respond by lambasting the critic. It will get you nowhere, and will make you look like an even bigger ass than the bad review did.

    Lesson #2 on how to take criticism: If you feel compelled to respond to a bad review — if, for instance, the bad review includes misinformation — do so with strict civility. A polite, respectful response — even if it’s poisonously polite and respectful — will be more likely to get the critic, and/or their readers, to reconsider their verdict. A tirade will, again, just reinforce the opinion of you as an ass.

    Lesson #3 on how to take criticism: Do not — repeat, DO NOT — question the critic’s right to criticize in the first place. (Especially if you sent them a frakking review copy.) If you can’t handle the idea that being an author or some other form of artist means that people will be publicly criticizing you in ways that you may not like, perhaps you should seek another line of work.

  • If you name a character “Gaylord Sludge”, you’re asking for it.

  • mikespeir

    I might skip this one.

  • AnonyMouse

    How old is he, fifteen? Honestly, he sounds like a Grade A jackass. If the person you sent your review copy to is qualified to praise your book, he or she is equally as qualified to criticise it.

    Tom Collins isn’t actually a bad name, but Tom Cullen might get confused.

  • lurker111

    So help me, when I clicked on the Amazon link, it said, after the description of the book,

    “Customers Who Bought Related Items Also Bought

    Scientific Facts in the Bible: 100 Reasons to Beli… by Ray Comfort”


  • Desert Son

    Why am I reminded of the Cigarette-Smoking Man from the X-Files episode where it’s revealed that


    [NO FOOLIN’]

    he’s just a frustrated writer? [END SPOILERS]

    Anyway, this reads like a classic case of someone who works in one field, turns to another one (particularly an artistic one, but not exclusively and not necessarily), makes an effort, and then is shocked – shocked! – when someone comments on the offering in the new field and it’s not all heaps of praise.

    Dear John Harrigan, he of the glass-jawed ego: tough it up, dude. James Joyce used his rejection letters as wallpaper in his apartment. Not everyone is going to like what you produce as art. Thanks for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you, and try again next time.

    P.S. On the completely objective observation side of things: those character names really, really suck. It’s hard enough to pull off names with vague entendre or similar device. Some people can do it in some writing contexts, e.g. Neal Stephenson’s character Hiro Protagonist from Snow Crash. When you write as well as Stephenson, get back to us. Until then, I sentence you to a sixteen-week writing course at your nearest community continuing education institution, and you have to keep your mouth shut the whole time, and just listen, and write.

    No kings,


  • Sock

    Do you think this book was written as a fundie attempt at satire?

  • My amusement at the whole episode is tempered by the guy’s age – he’s in his eighties.

  • John Harrigan

    Roy Fairfield e-mailed the following after reading my The Professor and the Dominatrix. For thirteen years, along with Paul Kurtz, Roy was an editor of The Humanist. Currently, he is a contributing editor to Free Inquiry. And, he leads a fiction-writing group at his local library. He is an avid reader, a published writer, and a fellow atheist.

    Just ask if you want to read why I corrected Purdue Jen for distortions and ad hominen attack.

    — On Sun, 8/24/08, Roy Fairfield wrote:
    From: Roy Fairfield
    Subject: Your Novel
    Date: Sunday, August 24, 2008, 8:36 PM

    Dear John,

    Late last nite I finished your insightful and inciteful novel, having hardly taken a breath for the six or seven hours I spent on Friday and Saturday completing the mission. Truly, I found it breath-taking for I encountered for the first time some of the scenes and situations which you depict in exquisite (if puzzling detail…puzzling as I wondered how and why they deviated from the so-called norm…assuming I know what that is? In reading your own bio in your August 5 letter, I seem to have overlooked the fact and form of your time in the “fence-surrounded seminary” in Terrytown, N.Y.! Talk about empirical research in the context of a “frozen-faced former Catholic nun.”

    Since I do not know how you’ll use what I’m sending, I’ll simply say it as I saw it.

    Looking at overall structure: at first I could not figure out why you had such a long chapter 4 after such short ones opening the novel; and, of course, with the academic world my major organizational experience, I sorta anticipated a more frequent revisit to that political-wastelandish, hypocrisy-filled, pretense, etc. But I was rewarded in the second half by your trial via distorted logic when Slane gained his hypothetical freedom to pursue sex-oriented detective work with the police. I had to rethink his context and admit that he was not the major protagonist however important his part was in solving the mystery.

    As you can well imagine, I cheered during your every burst against the normative Christian doctrines, where I for years have argued that both church and “higher” education have battled to “make the world safe for hypocrisy,” with an assist from Woodrow Wilson’s famous phrase. I, too, have battled the neo-sanctimonious characters such as your “education lady” colleague at Farmington whose confrontation with the F word probably led to painful orgasms! I came very close to doing my PhD thesis on the censorship of American fiction and might have worked with Matthiessen and friends if I’d not have run out of money. Also the hypocrisy generated by Hollywood as well as the assumptions made by the Supreme Court re: “free speech” has hardly
    permitted total honesty when it comes to films and novels! In short, John I started with a bias toward your views of the so-called Christian society and the distortions/contortions it promoted even tho most citizens would hardly admit what humanists accept as human potential. And I especially appreciate the name of the town where your story is set…very appropriate.

    Returning to your letter of August 5th: When you say in your letter that you write to “intrigue, educate and entertain,” you succeed at all three levels. Also, it’s easy to understand that you “don’t have many sensitivities left.” And I love the way that you put suggestive pieces of names together, such as “Fudpucker!” I especially liked the
    name, Senator Gaylord Sludge.” Of all those combos you used that one hit hardest because I once had a student in a Miami Dade classroom who claimed that name; I say “claimed” because he jousted with me, verbally, as I read the roll that was provided me by his department head…as tho he were trying to set me up!????

    I find the descriptions of all the characters, vividly (shall I say “crisply”?) done. During the latter half of the book, even Slane sort of fades into the background as a host of other characters forge into the fore ground. The dungeon theme, too, seems to fade into the background until the final scenes. Possibly that’s the section where so much action happens, it’s difficult to follow the thread. Also, it’s somewhat vague as to how the New Hampshire dog scene/connection makes it all the way to Tennessee. Possibly I didn’t read it closely enough?

    Some powerful qualities: both sensate and sensuous…depiction of southern culture…boxing as a kind of passacaglia in the hearing scene/chapter…many images such as “soft-footed as a shadow” (shades of Homeric epithets); passages in the off-beat sex scenes which stretch the imagination….

    In short, John, I found the novel vivid, thought-provoking, both insightful and inciteful, challenging (if one uses the criteria of “realism” for testing (imaginative at the outer edges of sexual realism), Creative at the max, I hope you’re able to get plenty of advertising of the constructive sort; yet, even a few negative articles in appropriate places might test the Daring Quotient of normative “Christians.” I certainly think that THE HUMANIST and FREE INQUIRY should review it. How about sending a copy to Stephen King?

    Do you have any specific questions you’d like to ask me? If so, ship them along. I’ll not return the manuscript until I hear from you. Meanwhile, I’ll add a PS consisting of a few typos I found; I didn’t read it as a copy editor, but a few things popped out at me.


    Roy P. Fairfield

    PS. If you wish to discuss any aspect of the novel or my comments, I’m at 207-282-2653. I’m here most mornings except for Wednesdays; most evenings after 7:30, too.

  • John Harrigan

    To Your and Jenniferret’s Blog Readers:

    This is from John Harrigan, alive and well, and you might say still uncomfortably cranky. I remain surprised that the bright people who totally accepted Purdue Jen’s roiling words ignored the introduction to The Professor and the Dominatrix by Roy P. Fairfield, for thirteen years an editor of the Humanist along with Paul Kurtz, the person who established Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, Prometheus Books, and CFI.. Doesn’t it seem unlikely that Fairfield would praise a poorly written, homophobic, anti-fem, and anti-black book?

    The current issue of The American Rationalist contains a review of my book by G. Richard Bozarth, an experienced reviewer for free-thought publications (see Reviewer’s Bookwatch Sept.1). Some quotes: “The sexuality is pure vanilla, though I suppose a prude would be very offended . . . The cultural analyses, since they are based on Freethought and Secular Humanist philosophy, are often better than what is offered by many contemporary crime investigation authors . . . Chapter 4, Critical Thinking 101 succinctly hits many different Freethought and Secular Humanist nails squarely on the head . . . The Professor and the Dominatrix should be supported by us, and I’m certain many will be very glad they did.”

    The publisher has corrected the sixteen typos and reduced the price to $21.95 (that’s more than the competitive $12.50 I requested), effective in stores early November. Jen is still putting out the misinformation that I paid to have the book published. I explained to her and to her readers how the book came to be published. The girl speaks with a forked tongue.

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