Once upon a time Richard Ford picked up a pistol and shot a book by a reviewer, Alice Hoffman, who’d been lukewarm about “The Sportswriter”.
Fast forward 23 years to 2009 and Alice Hoffman tweets another critic’s email and phone number urging fans to give that critic their views on snarky reviews, accusing the critic of being a “moron”.
Within days Alain de Botton posts a comment on Caleb Crain’s blog, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.” A comment more suited to the playground than someone who turns 40 in December.
He also commented, “You have killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review.” Really? Even the New York Times has that much influence?
Apparently Alain de Botton didn’t expect his comments to reach a “large audience”. “I think a writer should respond to a critic within a relatively private arena. I don’t believe in writing letters to the newspaper. I do believe in writing, on occasion, to the critics directly. I used to believe that posting a message on a writer’s website counted as part of this semi-private communication.”
In other words the writer doesn’t regret what he said, just that it reached a larger audience than he intended. Anyone following the row over MPs expenses in the UK would find that position eerily familiar: MPs were only too quick to suggest that claims for luxury items were within the rules with the implication that their only regret was to be found out because they hadn’t expected the electorate to react so negatively.
The most disappointing this about both responses is their lack of creatively. Writers are creative. At least they are if they are any good as writers. Imagine if Richard Ford’s wife had videoed him shooting Alice Hoffman’s book and posted on somewhere like YouTube. Wouldn’t that have gone viral and attracted a greater audience than the original review? Far better than resorting to playground insults.