by Christian Holub
March 23 2016
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March 23 marks the 30th anniversary of one legendarily bad review: Alice Hoffman’s 1986 New York Times take on Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter.
The review itself was not entirely vicious – it’s actually full of backhanded compliments like “Mr. Ford’s admirable talents, which include an extraordinary ear for dialogue and the ability to create the particulars of everyday life with stunning accuracy … are not well served in a novel given to abstract analysis” – but you wouldn’t know it from the way Ford reacted. As he casually told The Guardian decades later, Ford and his wife retaliated against the review by taking Hoffman’s latest novel into their backyard and literally shooting it.
Although writers should theoretically be prepared for criticism when they send a piece of work out into the world, Ford is far from the only one to react so poorly to a bad review. In celebration of March 23, here’s a collection of some of the more enraged.
One would think that being the target of Ford’s review rage would have made Hoffman herself more understanding of less-than-effusive criticism. No such luck! When Roberta Silman gave Hoffman’s 2009 novel The Story Sisters a mild review in the Boston Globe, Hoffman went off on Twitter. Silman’s review threw in praise just as Hoffman had done with Ford, calling Hoffman’s Illuminated Night “one of my favorite books” and criticizing The Story Sisters mostly for lacking “the spark of the earlier work.” Nevertheless, Hoffman tweeted a 27-part rant about the review, even going so far as to publish Silman’s phone number and email address, instructing followers to “tell her what u think of snarky critics.” Nowadays, this is known as “doxxing,” and is a particularly dangerous form of cyberbullying. Afterward, Hoffman deleted her Twitter account and said the situation had been “blown out of proportion.”
Rather than getting her own hands dirty, Interview with a Vampire novelist Anne Rice turned to her fans to help her get back at a bad review. After blogger Kayleigh Herbertson critiqued Rice’s Pandora and then turned the book into a decoupage, Rice posted the link to her Facebook page, telling her 740,000 followers “comments most welcome.” Commenters responded with all kinds of colorful contributions, from “you bitch!” to “even if you don’t like a book I don’t get why you have to destroy it, Nazi memories perhaps?”
Alain de Botton
To be fair to philosopher/author Alain de Botton, Caleb Crain’s New York Times review of The Pleasures of Love and Work was unsparing. The book is made up of interviews with everyday people about the triumphs and tragedies of their day-to-day jobs, but Crain criticized de Botton for “condescension” and “mockery” towards his subjects. The author reacted furiously, commenting on 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.” De Botton later apologized on Twitter for the outburst.
Unlike Ford or de Botton, the review that inspired revenge from Something Borrowed author Emily Giffin didn’t even appear in the New York Times or from a professional critic. No, it was an Amazon user review on Giffin’s Where We Belong that inspired this bout of rage. A user named “Avid Reader” claimed to have read all of Giffin’s books but called this one “disappointing” and gave it one star. An account named “a reader from ATL” responded to this review, noting that this so-called avid reader had only written one review and calling out “psycho alert.” It was quickly revealed that this account had ties to Giffin – it was her husband. Giffin then posted the comments on her Facebook page. Like Rice, she invited her followers (then numbering more than 100,000) to pile on the negative reviewer. Giiffin and her husband eventually apologized for starting the whole thing.