Posted by: oneyearbook | July 3, 2009

Who criticizes the critics?

Well, I think I have to blog about this story, because it’s pretty much consuming the lit community right now. It’s even made it into the mainstream gossip community. What story, you ask? Why, the story of the authors who really, really hate their reviewers.

Alice Hoffman got things kicked off: you can read the details of this particular scandal here. Essentially, Hoffman used her Twitter account to tweet her rage at Roberta Silman, who reviewed Hoffman’s latest, The Story Sisters, for the Boston Globe. The first tweet called Silman a “moron,” and made the complaint that the review gave away too much of the book’s plot. She then went on to further insult Silman and, indeed, went to the extent of (incorrectly, as it turned out) listing Silman’s email and phone number for readers to call and complain. Hoffman’s Twitter account disappeared soon after the story broke, and she did, eventually, release an apology. At Jacket Copy, Silman responded, and seemed pretty calm about the whole thing. In the interests of research, I actually did go and read the review in question. It’s not a terrible review – there are complimentary things said, here, and Hoffmann would probably not have lost readers because of it, as she may have with her Twitter actions. But I admit, I kind of think an awful lot of the plot is given away. Perhaps there was a better way for Hoffman to have taken that particular argument up with Silman?

Alright, so, from there Gawker picked up the story, and expanded on it, here. Turns out that Alice Hoffman herself has written a review that drove the reviewed author crazy. Richard Ford actually shot one of her books (or, he says, his wife did) and sent it to her in retaliation. Okay … that’s probably not the best way to start dialogue, either. But what do I know! I’ve never been reviewed!

Nope, story’s not over. Now Alain de Botton has announced his feelings about a reviewer, Caleb Crain, on that reviewer’s personal blog. He says, among other things, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.” Harsh! You can read more about what he said here. Philip Hensher, at the Telegraph, suggests that de Botton is going to regret this move, reminding authors to “Never Respond.” Then he goes into the history of authors responding badly to reviews – albeit, he points out, in ways that are less likely to remain in the public record, as Internet-posting does – and includes this hi-lar-ious bit about Norman Mailer:

“The late Norman Mailer was famously not one to take an insult lying down. In later years he wrote of one biographer that “P D. Manson is looking for gold in the desert of his arid inner life, where lies and distortion are the only cactus juice to keep him going” and called the Japanese-American reviewer Michiko Kakutani a “one-woman kamikaze”. Truman Capote said that Mailer “had no talent”; Mailer, in public, sat on him.”

Onwards! Now Open Salon has a post these previous author-reviewer throwdowns are discussed AND another one is revealed. Ayelet Waldman has done it, too, also using Twitter, responding to a bad review of her Bad Mother book by tweeting, “May Jill Lepore rot in hell. That is all.”

Earlier this week, Ayelet Waldman did too. Responding to a review of her new book, Bad Mother, in The New Yorker,  Waldman told the world “May Jill Lepore rot in hell. That is all.” Yowza. Has something gotten in the water – something that’s really getting authors angry? We’ll just have to see if this trend continues.



  1. OMG I love internet trainwrecks, snark, and other ridiculousness. I am a total rubbernecker.

    That is hilarious. There was another twitterfight like this a while back that got really out of hand. Can’t remember who was involved, though.

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