Mistaken Review Leads to Editor/Character Friendship

This is a crazy story, but a neat example of how to not get worked up over bad reviews. Patrick Somerville wrote a book that was reviewed by the New York Times — only their reviewer made a pretty significant mistake about the characters, mixing up two of them, which would make the plot very confusing. He wrote about the experience, and what happened next, in the link.

I have some writer friends who claim to read none of their reviews, and some who claim to be indifferent, and although I can prove nothing, I believe that they are all, every one of them, lying through their teeth. …

I read the reviews of my books and I am greatly affected by the reviews of my books. I can’t help it. They matter, both artistically and commercially. They scare me and I love them. How other people react is a part of storytelling. What reviewers say affects the book’s life. And because of this, the week before the reviews come, I am catatonic, greatly troubled by the storms of anticipation.

I say this just to set the context.

It’s what happened next that gets particularly strange. Because the book involved email exchanges, the author set up actual addresses for the cast. An editor for the paper wound up emailing the lead character, Ben, to ask about the reviewer’s misunderstanding, leading to this reaction from the author:

This may be the most sadistic moment of belated fact-checking in the history of mankind. The New York Times, the paper of record, had written a fictitious character to verify a fact. …

I don’t want to speak for Ed, but at this point, it is my belief that he and Ben have become friends. At the very least, they’re right on the cusp.

As of now they have exchanged a total of 38 emails…. So far Ben and Ed have discussed, outside of the review and the correction, the psychology of reading, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Pynchon, and Twitter.

Well, at least that was a positive result, that the editor made a new imaginary friend. Overall, I applaud Somerville’s balanced response to what many would take much more negatively. The article also has an amusing sequence where they negotiate the wording of the correction.

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