June 30, 2009

I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.

A very famous novelist named Alice Hoffman flipped out over a lukewarm review in the Boston Globe on twitter over the weekend, publishing the reviewer's email and phone number and inviting readers to harass her. (Hoffman's twitter account has now been deleted and she has issued an apology, but the spate of ill-considered tweets will, of course, live forever on the internet.)

The title of this post is from a comment left by the British essayist Alain de Botton on the blog of Caleb Crain, who reviewed his latest unfavorably in the New York Times Book Review.

And in this interview (via EW's PopWatch), Richard Ford confirms that his response to one negative review was to take one of the reviewer's own books out and shoot it with a gun. (The reviewer was, incidentally, one Alice Hoffman.)

Clearly, two of these responses are unwise, embarrassing, over-the-top and kind of psycho. (The third, shooting a book with a gun, is so evidently reasonable that I find myself shaking my head in astonishment that it never occurred to me to do it.)

Yet even though it is clearly wise to contrive to appear to be a good sport in the face of a mean review, I would guess that the secret thoughts of approximately 100% of writers in that situation track Alain de Botton's sentiments more or less precisely. And the authors who claim they never read the damn reviews: well of course they're lying. They're the ones to watch most of all.

Nicholas von Hoffmann famously said he stopped writing book reviews because "it's not worth $250 to make an enemy for life." For good or ill, a writer never ever ever forgets an unfavorable review and maintains a meticulously-updated enemies list in his or her head.

Several of those commenting on the Hoffman-Silman affair have mentioned that the review in question wasn't even all that bad. But the reviewer, Roberta Silman, is a seasoned book reviewer and a novelist herself, so presumably she was aware that none of her incidental, conciliatory comments about what a big fan she was would prevent the inevitable result, which is the author in tears in the basement humming a jarring tune, sticking pins in a Roberta Silman-shaped doll and quietly plotting revenge against a background montage of black-and-white images of a troubled childhood. I mean, we've all been there.

Crazy system, I know, but that's the way it works.

Added: Roberta Silman's courtly response is here.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 30, 2009 02:22 AM | TrackBack

how would you compare a bad review for a novel with a bad review for an album? not that i think you've received either...

Posted by: aaron at June 30, 2009 04:49 AM

"it's not worth $250 to make an enemy for life."

Try $75.00!!

Posted by: Chuck Prophet at June 30, 2009 05:31 AM

Keeping a list in you head is bullshit, get it down on paper, inform your loved ones to avenge your death when the time comes.

Posted by: Leah at June 30, 2009 08:49 AM

Imagine if G.G. Allin had been a novelist...

Posted by: Ben at June 30, 2009 02:39 PM

It's all true - creative types instantly forget any and all praise, and yet every single negative comment is forever etched on their brainpan. I'm still seething over shit that happened twenty years ago!

Posted by: COOP at June 30, 2009 05:27 PM