Sunday, June 28, 2009

Alice Hoffman Tweets Her Meltdown

[Edit 6/29 7:30am: Hoffman deleted her Twitter account. Tweet-by-tweet screenshots are available via Gawker.]

This is a good example of What.Not.To.Do when a writer is introduced to a negative critique of his or her work.

One Roberta Silman reviewed famous author Alice Hoffman's latest The Story Sisters for The Boston Globe, saying, "...this new novel lacks the spark of the earlier work. Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired. Too much of it is told rather than shown..."

To this, Alice Hoffman responded via Twitter with: "Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books?." She followed this up with: "Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?" and "My single bad review in my hometown. This is a town where a barking dog is the second top story on the news." and "Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don't have to. And we writers don't have to say nothing when someone tries to destroy us."

Are you cringing yet? Are you shaking your head about how a writer should NOT be responding to a critical review? Because if not, then this tweet will do it: "If you want to tell Roberta Silman off her phone is [phone number]. [e-mail]. Tell her what u think of snarky critics."

Ron Charles, fiction editor for the Washington Post, tweeted back: "@AliceHof Posting reviewer's phone & e-mail address and encouraging hate mail is just plain immature. Write a sharp, witty response instead."

Freelance op-ed writer and critic Edward Champion offers a scathing analysis: "Silman’s review and Hoffman’s disproportionate reaction is the intellectual equivalent of confusing a few droplets of water hitting your skin with a torturous session of waterboarding. Hoffman has gone out of her way to invade Silman’s privacy. And maybe this is a desperate form of publicity or a desperate cry for attention. But I’m with Ron Charles on this. You write a sharp, witty response instead. Or even better, you develop a modicum of humility."

To answer @AliceHof's question about who Roberta Silman is: She's an essayist, short-story writer, novelist, and critic. She's been a recipient of the Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships and won the National Magazine and PEN awards.

[Edit 6/29 11am: The New York Times covered Hoffman's apology forwarded by her publisher Shaye Areheart, an imprint of the Crown Publishing: "I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course, I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that’s the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and I’m truly sorry if I did."]

[Edit 6/29 9pm: The LA Times reports Silman's gracious response to Hoffman's allegations: "I wouldn't change anything about my review. I have written many reviews for The Globe and say what I believe, and, in this case, I praised her earlier work, which was clearly better. I'm sorry Alice could not take pride in the good things I said, and perhaps mull a little on the criticism. That is what I have always tried to do when professional people have criticized my work."]


Diane Gaston said...

I'm shocked that such an author as Alice Hoffman would respond like that to a negative review. Negative reviews, reviews with spoilers are part of the business. If you don't want a reaction to your work, then don't show it to anyone, ever.

I do understand the temptation to respond, especially if there are factual errors in a review, but one must resist the temptation!!!

Keira Soleore said...

It's such a pity, isn't it, Diane? For someone of her stature to sabotage her own career this in the world did she think it would help her?

Virginia Woolf says, "Criticism, whether praise or blame, should be accepted in silence as the legitimate comment which the act of publication invites."

A conversation between a reviewer and an author is a very, very dodgy place to be. The reviewer writes for other critics/colleagues and for readers.

And what's a spoiler for you may not be for me, yeah? For some of my fave authors, I don't even read back cover copy much less talk to anyone else about it. I consider everything that is not a pristine reading experience a spoiler. So for me, a review by definition is a spoiler. But for most folks, that's obviously not the case.

And if you want to throw a tantrum, do so privately, among your nearest and dearest.

Diane Gaston said...

This has gotten broader coverage!

Keira Soleore said...

The NY Post covered it and as earlier incident during the week when Hoffman was upset by another dissenting reviewer's viewpoint.

Nicola Cornick said...

Oh dear. Alice Hoffman isn't the only one. I read yesterday that the philosopher Alain de Botton had ranted on the blog of a New York Times reviewer who criticised his latest book. The Bookseller reported that he had said: "I will hate you until the day I die" and various other choice phrases. Apparently he had intended it as a private email.

I agree with Diane that an instinctive reaction might be to respond to a snarky review, particularly one with factual errors, but that you have to resist the temptation. That is where self control, several deep breaths and in my case a very big chocolate eclair come in.

Keira Soleore said...

"Oh, dear." is the perfect response to Alain de Botton's and Alice Hoffman's reactions.

Jennifer Weiner also weighed in on Huffington Post and her message was to vent privately if you must.

Negative reviews have been around for long enough that readers do not require their authors to have an opinion about them one way or another. So there's nothing compelling the authors' defense, other than personal affront. Unfortunately, the quickest way to make uncomfortable things go away is by not pulling attention to them.

Nicola Cornick said...

Keira, one of Alain de Botton's comments was that this one poor review had cost him *all* his sales in the US and therefore wasted two years of work. Okay, that has to be an exaggeration but I'd be interested to know if you thought it would be very influential. Perhaps his rant is more likely to alienate readers!

Keira Soleore said...

My suspicion is that more readers went and read that review after De Botton's wild reaction to it than they would've even "found" it on the web, much less read it. His very positive reviews on Amazon will do far more to sell his books than Crain's review will do to harm the sales.

Harsh but true: Petulance never endears, not in children, never in adults.

Nicola Cornick said...

Hmm, the cynic in me says maybe it was all for promotion, then. I'm sure that can't be the case but it certainly garners attention.

Keira Soleore said...

A lot of folks made grumbles about it, when Hoffman tendered her apology through her agent/publisher via a piece in the New York Times.

Turns me off though...