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July 2009

Blogging, but not here
13 Jul 2009


Just a quick note that this week I’m guest-blogging at The Well-Read Donkey, which is the Kepler’s Bookstore blog. Kepler’s is a legendary bookstore in Menlo Park — and also happens to be the bookstore where I killed endless hours during my high school years. It is so beloved in my old hometown that when the store shut down a few years back, due to financial difficulties, the town rallied together in order to get it to re-open.

So come by and say hello. I’ll be blogging about the writing process.

Your local library
8 Jul 2009


Tomorrow, I drive north to San Francisco, for my last reading of the summer. This one’s at the San Francisco Main Library — my book was chosen for the “On the Same Page” citywide book club — and I’m looking forward to it tremendously.

I’ve been a library geek my entire life. When I was in grammar school, my first ever “job” was at my local library, where I spent my summer shelving books and hand-typing card catalog cards and taping up books with cellophane covers. I did not get paid for this work; I thought it was worth it just because I got first access to all the Lois Duncan and Stephen King novels.

Even now, I am an avid customer of the Los Angeles Public Library. About two-thirds of the books I read come from the library (otherwise, I’d go broke buying hardbacks), and the citywide library system here is fantastic. I can go online, search for the book I want, put a hold on it, and then the library system will locate the nearest free copy of that book and send it to my local branch (three blocks from my house). They even email me when it’s arrived.

My friends are always surprised when I talk about checking books out of the library — most seem to have last used a library sometime around college graduation. My only hope is that the recession is reviving interest in our local libraries, which (thanks to budget cuts) could use all the support they can get these days.

Responding to critics
1 Jul 2009

The literary blogosphere is all a-twitter right now about how the author Alice Hoffman posted more than two-dozen angry “tweets” responding to a review of her book that ran in the Boston Globe. She called the reviewer, Roberta Silman, a “moron” and “idiot” and proceeded to post her phone number and email address online, suggesting that her fans “tell her off.”

A bad idea, especially now that Hoffman’s twitter feud has been reproduced all over the Internet — Hoffman has come off looking sour grapes, unnecessarily bitter. Of course, she’s not the first author to go public with her pique. Mary Elizabeth Williams had a great piece in Salon yesterday that documented a long series of these kinds of feuds, from Dave Eggers’s spat with the New York Times to the time when Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead for a bad review.

As an author, though, I can empathize with Hoffman’s impulse. When you’ve spent (as I did) four years of your life working on a book, it starts feeling like your baby; and when a journalist then casually — or, worse, cruelly — dismisses your efforts in a piece they churned out in just a few hours, it’s pretty hard to take this lying down. And unfortunately, the low-attention-span theater that is the internet has rewarded us with an era of critics (film, book, TV, you name it) who use snark as their primary writing tool. After all, it’s so much easier to be cruelly funny than it is to be measured, and apparently readers love the juicy thrill of those kinds of hit pieces. It’s criticism as shark tank, with your book as the bait.

In my journalism days, I was guilty of this kind of criticism too, and I wrote a fair number of reviews that, looking back, seem unnecessarily catty or snarky or mean. These days, I cringe at the thought of even writing a review at all, knowing all too well what the author on the other end might be feeling. (I can’t even tag a book on GoodReads with less than five stars without feeling bad about inflicting pain.) Not that I think every book deserves a good review, but I wish more critics would take all this into consideration before they tear a work apart with vicious glee.

So yeah, I can relate to Alice Hoffman, even if she did overreact. But I hope she turns her Twitter account off for a while, in her own best interest.