By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 24, 2003 11:55 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winner author A. Scott Berg’s swiftly published memoir of his recently departed friend, Katharine Hepburn, “Remembering Kate,” may have shot to the top of the bestseller list, but its reviews have been decidedly mixed.

In one surprising case, however, the notices have been outright hostile: from generally friendly (and constant book booster) Liz Smith, who was also a friend of the late screen legend.

The nationally syndicated gossip columnist has repeatedly attacked the tome (“Hepburn would have hated it,” she wrote) and its author (“vain and narcissistic”), a fact that the weekly New York Observer has noted and investigated in its Sept. 29 edition, which hit newsstands Wednesday.

While Berg did not speak directly to the paper, he did defend his book in a statement issued through his publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

“I am unaware of any personal ax Liz Smith has to grind,” his statement reads. “Whatever the explanation, she seems to have given me more ink this summer than she’s given Liza Minnelli and David Gest!”

In response, Smith told the Observer that she would read Berg’s remarks once they hit print.

The newspaper speculates that Smith’s ire has something to do with the book’s chilly depiction of Berg’s possible rival for Hepburn’s attentions, ABC-TV journalist Cynthia McFadden, who is also a close friend of Smith’s. The Observer could not reach McFadden for comment, but it does say that McFadden was not expected to write her own book about Hepburn.

Meanwhile, in other book news, The New York Times reports that in China, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Living History” is a bestseller, just as it is on home shores, but with one big difference: Passages relating to China’s poor standings in terms of human rights have been excised from the translated version.

The former First Lady tells the paper she is “amazed and outraged to hear about this. They censored my book, just like they tried to censor me.”

Clinton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has reportedly demanded a recall of the truncated Chinese edition.