”Look straight ahead; never reply with a word in the papers; if in your writings you become polemical, then do not direct your polemic against this or that particular attack; never show that a word of your enemies has had any effect on you; in short, appear as though you did not at all suspect that there was any opposition.”
(Ibsen to George Brandes, quoted here at Ed's blog, within his interview on Alain de Botton's recent adventures in the blogosphere.)
There have been, to put it mildly, words on Twitter and in other places this week, leading to this discussion of reviewing response etiquette in The Telegraph by Philip Hensher, taking a somewhat unfortunate (but by no means unusual) delight in the hurt he has occasioned.
But let's begin at the beginning. So, first author and sometime reviewer Alice Hoffman got excited about the review of her latest book and decided to voice her concerns on Twitter, then deleted her cranky tweets which included the reviewer's email address and phone number.
Then Alain de Botton, no less, went onto a blog to make his disaffection with reviewer Caleb Crain both real and permanent.
His interview with Ed Champion on Ed Champion's Reluctant Habits has now attracted the suggestion that de Botton is somewhat naive.
Not surprising considering his perception of conversation on a webpage prior to this excursion was as follows:
The precursor, of course, is this guy who (surprise surprise) was reviewed by Alice. (One would, of course, rather interview de Botton.)
And we think Oz is a little pond. In these cranky times it's good to revisit this article by Wyatt Mason, (also quoted in Ed's interview)
not just to acquaint yourself with Updike's six reviewing rules, but also to consider that critics ultimately perform a service (and to wonder if any of those books he was picking over at the Manchester shop are still there.) As he says in closing:
Do check out Ed's incredible collection of audio interviews with authors, if you haven't already.
The words that make all this a living conversation for me, however, come not from Mason, Updike, Hensher or Ibsen, but from a commenter on de Botton's essay at Ed's blog, King Rat (where the conversation to date has been civilised and thoughtful, and a credit to blogs everywhere):