My Thoughts on the Alice Hoffman Twitter Controversy

By now, you may have heard about the Twitter controversy which flared up last weekend surrounding author Alice Hoffman’s reaction to getting a tepid review from the Boston Globe. If you haven’t, her Twitter account has since been deleted so you’ll have to read the details on Gawker.

In short, Hoffman seemingly became enraged at Roberta Silman, the Globe critic, for being unenthusiastic about Hoffman’s latest novel, The Story Sisters (read that review here). The author proceeded to fire off more than 20 tweets attacking Silman (calling her “moron”), the Globe, the city of Boston, and people who try to keep women down.

So, she’s human and got her feelings hurt. What’s the harm, right? Except Hoffman posted Silman’s e-mail and (supposedly) unlisted phone number, rallying her fans to tell off the “snarky” critic. At this point, Hoffman became much nastier than anything Silman wrote in her review. My feelings towards the author shifted.

I’ve long been a fan of Hoffman’s work, have enjoyed most of her oeuvre, and Story Sisters is in my TBR pile. But I think she crossed a line. If someone posted my unlisted number, there’d be hell to pay. So I find myself pushing Story Sisters farther down the stack because suddenly, I’m not as eager to pick it up. I know this isn’t logical—the book was written before all this happened so one thing has nothing to do with the other—but I have to admit an author’s personality does affect how much I want to read his/her books.

Many years ago, I was a devoted fan of an author who shall remain unnamed. I thought his books were the most beautiful creations. But I attended a signing one night and he was so dull during the reading with his monotone voice, he actually put me to sleep. I haven’t picked up another of his books since, fearing it’ll have a similar soporific effect on me. I didn’t blacklist him or anything, but subconsciously stopped gravitating towards his books.

Conversely, I’d never read British author Peter Robinson when I went to a signing to get a copy inscribed for a friend who couldn’t make it. Robinson was so charming and smart and made me laugh so hard during Q & A, I had to immediately check out his books, hoping his sense of humor is contained in them.

This isn’t to say I expect authors to be perfect people or put on an act at appearances. In fact, if they try too hard to be “on,” that turns me off, too. But I do want writers to be a little entertaining since they are storytellers. If they come across duller than dirt, how exciting can their stories be? Then again, maybe they’re just shy.

I know I shouldn’t deprive myself of someone’s talent just because they lack a sparkling personality, but there are more good books in the world than I can read in my lifetime so why should I waste time supporting wankers and bores?

Do you ever feel this way when you hear about a writer behaving badly? What about actors? Did Christian Bale’s on-set decimation of a crew member deter you from seeing Terminator Salvation? Post a comment and let’s discuss.



  • Reply
    Lizabeth Ann
    July 2, 2009 at 7:13 am

    So, PCN, did you try a Peter Robinson book? What did you think?

    • Reply
      July 2, 2009 at 7:43 am

      I checked out his All the Colors of Darkness from the library. Didn’t get to finish it before it was due back but I liked what I read. You’ll have to e-mail me and tell me who did it!

  • Reply
    July 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

    While I wouldn’t necessarily read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, I try to keep the personalities/public persona of authors out of the decision making process when it comes to choosing my next book to read. Although, I do get what you are saying completely.

    I mean, the brain wants what it wants, right?

    • Reply
      July 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

      Yikes. I wouldn’t touch Mein Kampf.

      Would you read a humor book by Alec Baldwin after hearing that tape of him verbally abusing his daughter?

  • Reply
    July 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I don’t know, I think for me it really depends on what the actor/writer/whatever did, although I try to keep my oppinions on the persona apart from what I think of their work. But sometimes it’s like you wrote.

    If I find an author to be dull as a person, I would think his work is as dull as himself. For example, one of my favorite writers, German Dehesa (he has a column in the Reforma newspaper), is just as sarcastic, intelligent and witty in real life, so you couldn’t expect less from his work.

    And about their controversies, I think it depends on the degree of the controversy. As far as I’m informed, the thing with Bale is that he’s got a temper -terrible, and with possibly horrible consequences- but I’ve heard he’s apologized and tried to make ammends. His mistakes only make him human. The thing about Alice Hoffman, however, seems to me as verging on the limits of being a stalker, and she hasn’t really stopped harassing Silman.

    You know? If I made someone angry, I’d rather be yelled at -or even hit-, and then recieve an apology or whatever, than be harassed and stalked and made my life impossible by him/her as a result.

    I don’t really know. The fact that I try not to think about them makes MY life easier, you know? I don’t really care if Van Gogh was crazy enough to cut his own ear, I just enjoy his painting.

    • Reply
      July 2, 2009 at 1:52 pm

      You’re right, Poncho. It depends on what the person did. Throwing a tantrum and calling names isn’t the same as, say, molesting a child or running a dog-fighting ring. I also think it depends on how big a fan I am of somebody and how great that person’s talent is. If J.K. Rowling started abusing waiters, I’d be disappointed but still first in line to read her next book.

  • Reply
    Corey Wilde
    July 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Ms Hoffman didn’t display much grace, true, and giving out anyone’s unlisted number on a social network page is an obvious faux pas. She is right about one thing though: However qualified a critic Ms Silman may be, too much of the plot was given away in that review.

    A writer has the right, maybe even the responsibility, to stand up for her work. One doesn’t do it by namecalling and posting telephone numbers and so on. But I’m so cynical. I believe Alice Hoffman is not a stupid woman. Would she do something like this to ramp up sales? You know the saying about all publicity being good publicity.

    • Reply
      July 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm

      Wow, Corey, I hadn’t even considered it might all be a publicity stunt. If so, I’d say it failed, at least with me, because I feel less inclined to pick up her book now. A mistake is one thing but I hate being manipulated.

  • Reply
    July 2, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Okay, got all the info, did the research and am now ready to comment….WTF???? Is Hoffman off her meds or what? That is some crazya** Sh**!! If I hadn’t read it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. However, I am now mildly curious and will probably pull a copy of The Story Sisters off the shelf and read the first chapter just to see if I can see the insanity in the pages she writes. SO, if it WAS a publicity stunt (which, I mean really?….Wouldn’t the reviewer have to be in on it as well? Otherwise there’s gotta be some kind of lawsuit in the making.) it kind of worked in a half-assed way.

  • Reply
    Shelley P
    July 3, 2009 at 12:49 am

    I accept that creativity in all forms can bring a lot of eccentricity with it, and passion. For me, it depends on the individual circumstances and type of ‘transgression’. {As you’ve suggested, PCN, molestation or dog-ring fights would definitely put me off for life.}

  • Reply
    July 4, 2009 at 8:06 am

    All I can say is don’t believe everything you read. Ms Silman’s # is not unlisted. It comes up when you google her. The unlisted notation was added in this site [Gawker] to make the story seem worse.

    • Reply
      July 4, 2009 at 3:37 pm

      But you still have to agree this was a seriously classless thing to do, no matter how Hoffman attempts to justify her actions.

      If you want to note anything about this incident, note that Ms. Silman has chosen not to respond at all.

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