This week, we read a fascinating article in The Atlantic about the “tortured history” of book reviews, and agreed that some of the issues inherent in the form come from the murky provenance of reviewers themselves. But of course, some of the issues come from authors being testy about criticism, or reviewers lashing out where it’s inappropriate. The article got us to thinking about some of our favorite feuds, fights — or in some cases merely ferocious battles of snark — between authors and critics, usually arising from a critic’s comments about an author’s work. Click through to read about a few of our favorites, and let us know if we’ve missed yours in the comments.
Edmund Wilson vs Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov and Wilson (or Volodya and Bunny, as they called each other in letters during their years-long friendship) fell out over Wilson’s negative review of Nabokov’s translation of Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Their relationship, already bruised from Wilson’s chilly response to Lolita (“I like it less than anything else of yours I have read,” Wilson had written to Nabokov. “Nasty subjects may make fine books; but I don’t feel you have got away with this… The various goings-on and the climax at the end…become too absurd or horrible to be tragic, yet remain too unpleasant to be funny.”), hit a wall, as Nabokov struck back, writing that Wilson was a “commonsensical, artless, average reader with a natural vocabulary of, say six hundred basic words.” They didn’t speak again for years.
Dale Peck vs Rick Moody
In 2002, Dale Peck began his review of Rick Moody’s novel The Black Veil with the now famous dismissal: “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” The literary world erupted at this indecorum, and some bitter back and forth ensued, with other critics weighing in on either side (though most often Moody’s). Of course, their feud famously ended six years later with Moody nailing Peck in the face with a pie at a fundraiser, which is pretty much our favorite end to any feud ever.
Stanley Crouch vs Dale Peck
Obviously, Dale Peck is not anyone’s favorite person, but in this case, we’re inclined to take his side. After Peck wrote an unflattering review of Crouch’s Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome in the New Republic, Crouch called Peck “a troubled queen,” adding “and the only person who cares about him being a troubled queen is himself.” Later, he explained that “review he wrote of my book was really about him… Bitchiness is his version of macho.” But that’s not all — a couple years later, Crouch ran into Peck eating lunch at Tartine, walked up to his table and offered to shake his hand. While they were shaking hands, Crouch slapped Peck in the face. Twice. Then he said, “Don’t you ever do that again. If you do you’ll get much worse.” Yikes.
Richard Ford vs Colson Whitehead
A full two years after Whitehead panned Ford’s A Multitude of Sins in the New York Times, Ford spat on him at a Poets & Writers party. Oh yes. Apparently, Ford approached Whitehead and exclaimed, “I’ve waited two years for this! You spat on my book.” The he proceeded to spit on Whitehead, and, rather ironically, call him a kid who needed to grow up. Later, Whitehead quipped, “This wasn’t the first time some old coot had drooled on me, and it probably won’t be the last. But I would like to warn the many other people who panned the book that they might want to get a rain poncho, in case of inclement Ford.”
Richard Ford vs Alice Hoffman
Spitting isn’t the only thing Richard Ford might do if you dare to give him a bad review. After Alice Hoffman “wrote nasty things” about his book The Sportswriter in the New York Times, Ford took one of Hoffman’s books out back and shot it — oh yes, with a gun — before mailing the mutilated thing back to her. “Well my wife shot it first,” Ford shrugs. “She took the book out into the back yard, and shot it. But people make such a big deal out of it — shooting a book — it’s not like I shot her.”
Alice Hoffman vs Roberta Silman
Speaking of Alice Hoffman (see how these things cycle?), a few years ago the young adult author flew off the handle when one of her novels received a lukewarm review by Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe, calling her a “moron” and an “idiot” before posting her phone number and personal email adress on Twitter and encouraging fans to harass her. Quickly thereafter, Hoffman issued an apology that was rather lukewarm itself, writing, “I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that’s the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and I’m truly sorry if I did.”