Thursday, July 9, 2009

Public profile

Last Monday I finished my review of Alice Hoffman's The Story Sisters and turned it in to my editor. It was a glowing review of a book that moved me deepBlogger: Union, Trueheart, and Courtesy - Create Postly.

Later that day, Noel asked me, "Did you know that she attacked a critic on Twitter?"

The whole story was revealed on Gawker. I'm glad that I didn't know about the incident before I turned in my review -- wonderfully relieved, actually. Even though it doesn't change how much I enjoyed the book, knowing that an author has taken personal umbrage at a review can't help but affect one's mindset.

I agree with the gist of the lesson Gawker drew from the incident:
For all the criticisms that exist about writing on the internet, this situation is a bright, shining example of one of the best things about writing on the internet—After a while it thickens your skin to the point where you're easily able to easily differentiate between valid criticism and hateful venom-spewing. At some point, the hateful venom-spewing fails to even faze you any longer, while the valid criticisms are accepted and processed rationally and learned from. Too bad Alice Hoffman never had a blog to help her overcome her hypersensitive ego. She'd be a better writer because of it.
Now I don't get casual readers of this blog in large enough numbers to generate negative comments, but I certainly get them on pieces I write for the A.V. Club. And while I'm small-time enough that I still sometimes fall into the mistake of taking them personally (even when they're just hateful venom-spewing), my skin has definitely thickened over the years. I do tend to think that's a good thing; it's not only part of adapting to the environment of the internet, but it's part of learning to interact with an audience whose opinions you'll never be able to control. It's an exercise in the death of the author and an opportunity to distinguish between valid criticism and, well, personal vendettas or ad hominem attacks.

There's a lesson in there for my students, if I can figure out how to apply it.

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