Critical Zen

I don’t have much to add to the discussion of Alice Hoffman‘s Twitter meltdown last weekend—the Los Angeles Times‘ book blog, Jacket Copy, does an excellent job of summarizing the foofaraw, and gets some comments from the critic whose phone number Hoffman posted in a fit of pique. Truth is, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if writers were more open about how they feel about the reviews they receive; it’s just that Twitter, which is great for many things but not sustained, nuanced argument, is a lousy forum for it, and posting a critic’s phone number is both immature and pointless. (If you’re a writer who feels I’ve reviewed you unfairly, I’d be happy to give you my phone number to distribute to your readers. Now, how many angry phone calls to me will satisfy you? And how will you feel if nobody cares enough to call?)

Reif Larsen, author of the new novel The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, seems to have the right idea here. In a lengthy interview with the Examiner online, Larsen talks about how he responds to what critics are writing about him. He also notes that he’s a practicing Zen Buddhist, and his sensible attitude about reviewers tracks well with his beliefs:

I don’t read any of them. That’s how I handle it. (laughs) I haven’t read anything since the book came out. When a book comes out you’re in a pretty vulnerable position. During this time I wanted to be not cynical and open, and generous. I’ll read them at some point, but I don’t think now’s the best time for me to read them. I ask my agent to collect the ones that are smart. I don’t really believe any reviews. What’s more important is me talking to readers. A lot of reviews have some kind of weird agenda that’s not about the book.

But it is weird, going from being a very private person who’s working away for years and then suddenly having to talk a lot about yourself and your work. It’s a very strange transition and one of the challenges is staying normal. I’ve tried as much as possible to keep a really level head, to navigate the waters that way. I imagine it’s very easy to drive yourself crazy or believe that you’re something that you’re not. I could see how people could believe they’re the greatest or the worst. The praise will come and so will the criticism. And if you tie your self-worth to that, you’ll either be very uplifted or very crushed. And so I think it’s important to have some kind of internal compass.

2 thoughts on “Critical Zen

  1. Excellent. Thanks for posting this.

    This dilemma isn’t as great for some authors, as it is for others. It doesn’t require as much discipline to resist reading reviews when there aren’t that many to read. But it does still require that one derive one’s sense of self from some source other than reviews, for better or worse.

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