Archive for July, 2009

What to Do with 15 Seconds of Fame…Make That 14…

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

So some of you by now have heard and/or read that I made it into Page Six over last week's "kerfuffle" with Alice Hoffman — my kerfuffle, of course, riding on the back of Hoffman's own. On Sunday, the Twitter messages she sent out about Roberta Silman's Boston Globe review of Hoffman's new novel resulted in a lot of tweets, several stories, and Hoffman's Twitter account being shut down entirely. You can read accounts of what happened here, and here, and here

It's very funny to see my name in such an infamous column, but I don't feel I can really take any credit for it. The item was really about Alice Hoffman first, Roberta Silman second, and me — a distant third. Various friends and colleagues have written to me in the past 24 hours to say "Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity!"

Opportunity? What were they talking about? I actually feel a bit creepy winding up with publicity due to an author's public outburst. I got involved in the whole "kerfuffle," as I called it in this blog and on Twitter, not because I wanted to humiliate Alice Hoffman, but because I wanted to defend a fellow book critic. Regardless of how good or bad Hoffman's latest book is, I felt her tweets about Silman crossed a line.

So, as my seconds of fame tick away on this "opportunity," I'll take them so that I can support all of my friends and colleagues who continue to read, review, and critique books. I'll take them so that I can respond to everyone who says "Reviews don't matter." 

Because what happened in the Hoffman kerfuffle was that people started talking about Silman's review. It had good points and bad points, according to the Twitter, print, and blog fray. Some people said it wasn't all that negative and said nice things, too; others pointed out that Silman really did give away too much of the story. Still other people were prompted by Hoffman's tweets to find out more about Silman herself, who has had a distinguished career.

If nothing else, this brief skirmish shows that book reviews can prompt discourse. Isn't that what social media is all about? I hope that with my remaining seconds of "fame" (7…6…5…) I might encourage a few people to read and talk about a book review or ten. 

So let me quickly close with something I can take (some) credit for: The Book Studio. The reason I want to talk about that site in this blog entry is because our team is making a focused effort to develop a new place for excellent book reviews. I write up the Book of the Week, but a small and growing posse of freelance book critics will be contributing reviews in a variety of genres (literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, women's fiction, food/cooking, biography/memoir, YA…and that's just to start). Here's a link to Sudip Bose's review of Love and Obstacles, the new short-story collection by Aleksandr Hemon. Later today we'll have a brand-new review posted, so watch for it.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported me through this interesting online debate.