Yesterday afternoon, the author Alain de Botton posted a comment to the personal blog of critic Caleb Crain, who over the weekend had written unfavorably about his latest book in The New York Times Book Review. In his post, Mr. de Botton told Mr. Crain that he had “killed” his book’s chances in the United States, and included the astonishing line, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”
In posting this angry message, Mr. de Botton joined the novelist Alice Hoffman in the unhappy ranks of authors who have lately given into the temptation of lashing out at critics publicly over a bad review. Over the weekend Ms. Hoffman posted furiously to her Twitter feed about Roberta Silman’s lukewarm evaluation of her new book in The Boston Globe. She even went so far as to post Ms. Silman’s email and phone number, and encouraged her fans to contact the critic and voice their displeasure.
Ms. Hoffman’s publicity team over at Goldberg McDuffie Communications moved quickly to throw cold water on the mockery and disapproval that followed the author’s outburst, no doubt panicked at the possibility that their client’s name would come to be linked to such an unsavory incident. The offending tweets were scrubbed from the record and an apology of sorts was issued.
Mr. de Botton’s publicists at Pantheon/Knopf will not be following suit. In an interview today, Knopf executive director of publicity Paul Bogaards said he exchanged emails with the author after the comment on Crain’s blog went up, and asked him if he had anything to say.
“He said no, which is, in my view, entirely defensible, in that he said what he needed to say in the forum where he wanted to say it,” Mr. Bogaards said. “He’s not deleting his post. It’s there and he isn’t retracting his statement. … Clearly, Alain objected to the tenor of the review from Crain and he made his objection known on his Web site. It seems an appropriate forum in which to register that complaint.”
Mr. Bogaards said Mr. de Botton’s post to Mr. Crain’s blog differed from what Ms. Hoffman had written on her Twitter, because he had not done anything as outlandish as posting his target’s personal contact information.
“That’s a little over the top,” Mr. Bogaards said. “Some people might not agree with the semantics or the language, but ultimately it’s two people arguing in conversation.”
He added, “All is fair in love and war.”
UPDATE (8:29 A.M.): It appears this morning that Mr. de Botton actually is a little sorry. Starting three or so hours ago, he has been posting reflective little dispatches to his Twitter account, starting with a quote from Montaigne (“To learn we have said a stupid thing is nothing: we must learn a more ample, important lesson: we are but blockheads”) and followed by an admission that the message he left on Mr. Crain’s blog was “clearly an insane thing to write in a new public age.” “I do apologise,” he continued, “and hope you won’t think ill of me forever.”
A little later, after apparently searching his name on Twitter and coming upon someone who’d referred to his latest book as “subpar,” Mr. de Botton wrote: “I won’t bite, but do sum up what makes it sub par? Sorry about outburst.”
UPDATE 2 (2:50 P.M.): OK so Mr. de Botton is a lot sorry! An hour ago: “i was so wrong, so unself-controlled. Now I am so sorry and ashamed of myself.”