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June 30, 2009

Mad Alice

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Lit-fict vet Alice Hoffman shows how to respond classily to a negative review: here, here.



posted by Michael at June 30, 2009


On the one hand, I do agree that it's infuriating and lazy when critics resort to plot summary. (Movie reviewers are especially prone to this.) On the other hand -- ye gods! And the review wasn't even that bad. Can we get Dale Peck to write a takedown to see if that pushes her over the edge entirely?

Posted by: Bryan on June 30, 2009 10:03 AM

I like your Dale Peck idea! Yeah, I don't like it when critics spill too much plot or pass along too many jokes and punchlines, though sometimes it's the editors who demand that the critics do that. But like you I didn't think the review was such a bad one. Anyway, part of being an arts producer is learning how to take criticism. You might privately feel like Hoffman felt about the review, and you might bore hubby and friends with your feelings and reactions. But you shouldn't take it public. Complaining about the reviews you've gotten in public almost never works out well for anyone. Plus, honestly, she should be grateful for any kind of attention these days. She isn't *that* good that she should take getting reviewed in the Boston Globe for granted. The audiobook The Wife and I made? Hasn't gotten a Boston Globe review yet.

(And, FWIW, Hoffman -- shhh! -- has long been infamous for being pretty crazy.)

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 30, 2009 10:33 AM

It's fun too that the Internet's there, isn't it? Pre-internet, it was much easier for pompous people with huge touchy egos to get away with Hoffman-style behavior. These day, if you carry on like that you almost instantly get shot full of arrows. Yay for the internet.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 30, 2009 10:35 AM

I do love the internet in general and Twitter in particular (without ever having used it myself) for their ability to expose high-falutin types as petty ignoramuses. Yay indeed.

Posted by: Steve on June 30, 2009 1:14 PM

Yeah, those classy literary types. In The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby writes:

"If, as a recent survey in the UK suggested, most people buy books because like to be seen reading rather than because they actually enjoy it, then I would suggest that you can’t beat a collection of letters by an author – and if that author is a poet, then so much the better. The implication is clear: you know the poet’s work inside out [...] and you now need something else, something that might help to shed some light on some of the more obscure couplets.

So there I am, reading [Philip] Larkin’s letters every chance I get, and impressing the hell out of anyone who sees me doing so. [...] And what I’m actually reading is stuff like this: ‘Katherine Mansfield is a cunt.’ ‘I think this [poem] is really bloody cunting fucking good.’ ‘I have just made up a rhyme: after a particularly good game of rugger / A man called me a bugger / Merely because in a loose scrum / I had my cock up his bum.’ ‘Your letter found me last night when I came in off the piss: in point of fact I had spewed out of a train window and farted in the presence of ladies and generally misbehaved myself.’ And so on.


Every now and again you are reminded forcibly that the ability to write fiction or poetry is not necessarily indicative of a particularly refined intelligence, no matter what we’d like to believe; it’s a freakish talent, like the ability to bend a ball into the top corner of the goal from a thirty-yard free kick, but no one’s interested in reading [soccer player] Thierry Henry’s collected letters – no literary critic, anyway. And Thierry would never call Katherine Mansfield a cunt, not least because he’s a big fan of the early stories." (pp. 219-21)

Great book about reading, by the way. The Hornby, I mean. Better than most of his novels.

Posted by: LemmusLemmus on June 30, 2009 1:25 PM

My goodness! She was upset because of that??? I should send her some of the reviews I've gotten over the years. I've had reviewers who demanded I be banned from ever recording books again.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on June 30, 2009 3:56 PM

Hell hath no fury like an author whose book has been torpoedoed by a bad review.

I wrote a scathing review of a terribly bad biography and the author made the mistake of replying.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on June 30, 2009 5:22 PM

Steve - The internet's a constant reminder that there's ALWAYS someone out there who knows more than you do, or writes better than you do, or is prettier than you are ... It's a never-ending diet of humble pie. The wise writer will keep his/her ego under control!

Lemmuslemmus -- That's a great passage, tks. Hornby's good, isn't he? I especially like that bit about how writing fiction has little to do with brains. I've tried to make the point on this blog that the fiction-writing talent is more like an athletic or musical talent than it is like "being real smart," but I'm forever getting shouted down, whimper.

Charlton -- I know, weird getting upset about that pan, isn't it? Talk about an overtender soul ...

Peter -- Wise authors will either ignore the bad reviews or be appreciative of the attention and consideration (at least for public consumption). I'd love to read the review you linked to but it never quite comes up. 4 of 5 items load, and then it stalls. Is it me?

Posted by: michael Blowhard on June 30, 2009 8:10 PM


The link I posted works for me in both Firefox and Safari.

I emailed you the review and the exchange of comments that folowed.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on June 30, 2009 10:50 PM

I've always been fond of the Liberace quote in regards to critics. I hope someday to use it quite unironically. Only people born without ever having to pay bills can have qualms about selling out.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on July 1, 2009 2:01 AM

First Hoffman, now de Botton:


Posted by: Bryan on July 2, 2009 8:40 PM

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