|Photo courtesy of sxc.hu|
and Paulo Oliveira Santos
of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
No doubt I must sympathize with outrage in the tribe of inksmiths because I don't enjoy getting a negative review. I can remember several: one by an author who complained at length that a book was too short for the price. (The publisher had accepted a novella and nine stories and then decided to do them as two little books.) One who just disliked. If there are others, I have forgotten them entirely. Oh, yes, one who thought there were already enough books about the time period and that we ought to move on.
I have a friend who cried all day over her review in the old version of The New York Times Book Review. I'm not sure anybody still cries over reviews in the new incarnation.
But one should have rules for dealing with a bad review...
1. Creep off and deal with it, either with a large shrug (followed by later consideration of whether the critic might actually have had a point) or by a bit of self-indulgence--hey, go watch "Travellers and Magicians," why don't you?
2. Don't read reviews. Presto. Simple. This method seems to work for writers who can control their curiosity. (I always wonder if they peek.)
3. Or, don't read a review until three months have passed. As the words pierce your bodkin and outlying areas until you become a profane St. Sebastian, you will know that nobody anywhere will still be reading that review and jeering, chuckling, sneering, enjoying the thought of your howl of outrage, feeling pity at public evisceration, etc. And that's good. You will feel the balm of it on those nasty stings.
4. Manners. Courtesy. Manners are on the decline, so everybody says. Put them on the incline and then walk up.
5. Remember, a writer is a person who does a foolish thing and wears heart on sleeve for anyone to mock (or "like" on facebook.) Go on, go on: be a fool for your art and don't worry about what people say.
6. A critic is just like anybody else, with a slightly (or maybe greatly) silly backside and the need to commit undignified bodily acts. So recall that he or she is just a person, one who (one hopes) likes books and has just spent a piece of his or her short life with yours. It's fairly likely that somebody somewhere loves them! Astonishing. So give it a week. Give it a month. Is it really going to matter in a month? A year? (Okay, so it has been eight years and Jonathan Lethem is still slapping on quantities of rhuli gel. Make it a round decade. It won't matter by then. Something else will have come along in a decade...)
7. Go read pig-headed reviews of Melville, Hardy, James, etc. Very consoling.
8. Be grateful? You have a reader!
9. Have courage.
10. Sing a little.