A scathing review is better than no review

Sarah Lacy doesn’t care for the recent New York Times review of her book, and is turning lose the hounds of blogging hell on the article author, Katie Hafner. Without, of course, linking to the article in question, which the egalitarian elite of Silicon Valley never do when peeved.

Lacy believes the review is overly personal, seemingly because to her, criticizing her book is somehow equivalent to criticizing her, as a person. However, the review is focused on the book, including issues of writing style, such as Lacy’s use of incomplete sentences.

The writing is, at best, informal. For instance, the last time I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, in spite of how computer trade journalists might choose to use the word, “architect” was not recognized as a verb, to say nothing of “rearchitect.” And Lacy’s fifth-grade teacher would no doubt wince at the profusion of incomplete sentences. (“Probably a good thing few women work there.” And “The time Jay and Marc were chatting when Sumner Redstone sauntered up.”) Then again, everything happens so quickly in Silicon Valley that perhaps there is no time to write a proper sentence.

Whatever anecdotal information is included in the review is all focused on the book, including the reference to the article that originally inspired the book, as well as Lacy’s seeming familiarity with the people she interviewed.

Though my books aren’t the Big Deal that books like Lacy’s are, negative reviews are just as painful, and I can understand Lacy’s unhappiness with the review. However, letting loose her fans on the review author is, to me, a tacky, rather childish action; especially since Lacy’s book has received primarily positive reviews. Did she seriously think everyone would like it? Lacy would do better to appreciate the fact that her book was reviewed in the New York Times—a negative review is better than no review at all, especially in a prestigious publication like the NY Times.

The worst thing that can happen to a book, and a book author, is no one caring about the book enough to write any review, positive or negative. Probably one of the most important points Randy Pausch made in his “Last Lecture”, linked in an earlier post, was the following:

when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.

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