Friday, February 1, 2008

Another Book Reviewing Dilemma

In my November 18, 2007, post "The Truth About (Old-Style) English Teachers and a Book Reviewer's Dilemma" here, I lamented being unable to review an interesting and well-intentioned book because it contained so many elementary writing errors.

As a relentless promoter of life writing and family stories, I hate the disappointment of reading a seriously flawed book, especially one that shows promise. I'm too honest to encourage readers to buy a book that I find hard to get through.

Now I've found a second book I can't review in a positive way. This book was sent to me by the author in good faith, and I have not intention of shattering her dreams with a published review. More writing errors? No. This book is very well written in the technical sense. Its "sins," as I see them, are an unrealized premise or unifying idea, weak organization, trying to cover too much ground, and a strange lack of vivid personal details. There's too much telling and too little showing.

I don't question this book's value to family members and friends. What I question is whether it has value for the wider reading public. The author, who has apparently formed her own publishing company to publish this book (I'm not attacking self-publishing; I've done it myself, although not by forming a company of my own), tried too hard to make her family's story special and unusual, and I didn't see it that way.

I guess my real point is that while I believe everyone has a story to tell, and that family lore should be recorded, not every book deserves general publication and distribution, at least until it has had serious copy and content editing. (See my eGenerations column, "Does Your Writing Need Improvement?" at Be careful!

As for the book in question here, I hope I am wrong, and that the author's dreams will be fulfilled. I still believe in big dreams.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Jerry Waxler said...

I think you are offering an important message and service, Marlys. It turns out that writing always becomes more readable after a good round of editing. If you are reviewing self-published books, I suspect they might have been missing this important step.

Memory Writers Network

seniorwriter said...

Thanks, Jerry. I am reviewing mostly self-published books (starting one's own publishing company to publish a first book is a self-publishing method I'd not thought about, but it's apparently becoming very common) so I'm frequently reminded of the need for editing. It's hard to avoid the conflict between urging memoir writing and insisting on some minimum editing standards. It's sad that some people who can't afford it spend tons of money self publishing a non-seller seniously in need of editing.