If you finish a 700-page book and are still happy with it, you know it was a darned good book. And yes, A Promised Land, by Pres. Barack Obama, was a really fascinating book. That’s saying a lot, because I have mostly been bored to tears by books about presidential politics, international relations, and recent history.
Somehow, Obama manages to talk about his life in such a way that it’s easy to keep up with who’s who, and you feel like you get to know the many, many people he comes across. Whoever helped him organize the book and recommended putting in the short-but-helpful descriptions of his friends, colleagues, opponents, and staff members wins my earnest thanks. I didn’t lose track of people in this story, at all. And they all seemed so real, not like names to memorize in a history book.
As you may know, Obama is a pretty smart guy (even if you don’t like him, that’s a fact). He loves explaining things, and this book gives him the opportunity to do so at length, rather than in sound bites. By taking his time and explaining why he did things, why compromises had to be made, and how he could see what other people wanted and needed from their perspectives, I was actually able to understand the complexities of elections, dealing with dignitaries, working with Congress, etc.
I think I’d have been drawn into this book even if I wasn’t already a fan, because he does a great job of pointing out where he screwed up, when other people were right, when hard decisions had to be made, etc. It helps to have the context and to realize how much those of us consuming the news don’t get to know (I’m not talking about Fox News, I’m talking about more moderate outlets).
We all make mistakes, right? Well I’m about to admit to making a big mistake. I spent $8.99 on a “book” that is only a book by virtue of having pages, a cover, and some printing. I had good intentions!
The work book club is going to read Dare to Lead, by my buddy Brené Brown. When I went to pick up a second copy (because I hid my first copy when I pitched a fit about how many times she said “lean in”), I saw there was also available a study guide for the book. I thought it would be great to have some questions and ideas to talk about when we have our meetings.
Today the books showed up. Coworker Maggie said, “Hey that’s a printout of a PDF; they always have those ugly rectangles on them.” I told her to check out the inside. There’s no author (unless the Review Press is a person), little publishing information, and no blank pages. You just jump right into a table of contents.
Then you keep going, or you try to. OMG, the whole thing is in “books for the visually impaired” size type, and it’s conveniently both right AND left justified. And because the huge print makes the lines quite short, the gaps between words can create not rivers, but entire seas within the paragraphs.
As I read the first part of the book, it because clear that it is a book report penned by a 14-year-old in the UK (there’s a “Lessons Learnt” chapter) trying to get the paper long enough to fit the teacher’s requirements. Poor Brené is referred to as “the writer” endlessly, and poor Dare to Lead is repeatedly called a novel. If it’s a novel, the character development and plot both suck.
But Wait, There’s More
The book report, replete with listings of the names of each section and verbatim content from Dare to Lead, mercifully ends after 22 zippy pages. Then ten pages of quotes from the book are kindly shared by, um, let’s call them “the author.” These are dizzily presented centered, but still full of huge gaps. And for fun, one’s occasionally left aligned. (I’m a hack writer too, though, how many adverbs ending in -ly were necessary in this paragraph?)
I guess “the author” got tired after picking out those quotes, because the “Conclusion” section slides into a description of the organization of the book and the names of chapters. Riveting. After carefully detailing Part 1 (though alternating on using and not using quotation marks around chapter/section titles), everything comes to a screeching halt:
“Haven discussed all the sections in part one, the writer further divided the book to part two, three and four and termed it living into our values, under section two the writer stated that giving and receiving feedbacks is one of the biggest fears at work…”
the author, Workbook for Dare to Lead
They then finally take a breath and give one sentence for each of the rest of the sections Brown so carefully put LOTS of concepts in. It’s okay, the author had to save space for the lessons learnt and workbook pages. I don’t think I’ll be using any of the workbook questions in the book club, though I could play connect the dots using the dotted lines between pages.
To Conclude My Most Excellent Review
I actually hadn’t intended to write a book report of this book report, but it just came pouring out, and was probably good for me in a cathartic sort of way. I realize someone wrote the study guide quickly to get something out there to make money. I was silly not to look carefully and see that it was from a self-publishing purveyor.
Mainly, I want to beg and plead with any of you who plan to self publish books or know someone who does:
Please, please, please have someone look over your content before you send it in.
Amazon is NOT gonna do it. They’re going to print copies of your PDF on demand and send them to innocent people who want to read an actual book.
At least glance at other books and see how they are set up. Large print and small pages are not a good combination. Most important, while Microsoft may say what appears at right about justified text, it helps to have professional typesetters and to use hyphenation. You might want to take note, too, that centering works best in very small doses.
Of course, you or someone else should proofread; “have4” is not a word, but it’s in the study guide. I forgive using semi-colons for colons in introducing lists, since whoever wrote this was trained in the British style.
One More Thing
Some very good books have started out self published. I am proud of some of the people I know who wrote them. Not all self published books are embarrassingly bad, but caveat emptor and all that.
On the other hand, I wonder if I should just PDF up every year’s worth of my blogs and offer them for sale? Suna Blathers On, Volume 1, and so forth. I could use some money, and I did write this all by myself, errors and repetitious phrases and all. I guess I’m a writer after all! Maybe I’m creative!
I’m gonna do the whole thing in Comic Sans! That’s pretty!
Oh, lulz, that was a joke, there. I’m not going to tell you how to perform rites, either, but I just wanted to remind you all that your Facebook posts, texts, emails, and blog comments are a safe space for you to express yourself however you want to. I’m not going to correct your grammar or spelling, even if you accidentally hit a pet peeve (grammer, for example).
I actually heard last week that someone was hesitant to comment on the blog, because they were afraid I’d say something about their spelling or punctuation. Nope, unless a typo is hilarious (the classic public/pubic one comes to mind), I am going to assume that in informal writing has not been proofread extensively.
You see, it’s true that I spent a zillion years in the distant past studying linguistics and editing. It’s true I make my living writing and editing things. And yes, I’m pretty well versed at American English grammar and punctuation. But, I don’t expect you to be an expert. I don’t even expect ME to be when I’m texting.
One thing a that study made clear to me is that writing for different purposes has different standards. Yes, if I am writing for publication or sending a formal letter, I will do my best to eliminate grammar errors, spelling mistakes, or typos. However, in Facebook posts, I do not expect residents of Cameron, Texas to realize that “wondering” is not something dogs who roam around neighborhood are doing. That’s just how they say it and spell it. Sort of like the garage sell. It’s an interesting way their spoken dialect affects spelling. I find it interesting.
And that’s the thing. I’m more likely to have an enjoyable time figuring what led to a typo or nonstandard grammatical phrase than to judge the writer or feel the desire to “correct” them. I feel rather guilty, in fact, that I corrected a meme someone posted that repeatedly used “your” for “you’re.” For some reason, this older person expects memes you publish to be grammatical, at least when they are not using slang I don’t understand or the interesting text terms lots of younger people use. Whoops.
So yeah (which is not the word for “yay”), I am not interested in being labeled a “Grammar N-word.” I save that for work and judging my own writing goofs, not yours. Just don’t ask me to review your novel or proofread a document without me pointing things out. In that case, you asked!
Getting in touch with your emotional truth, by processing feelings to improve the human condition in the 21st century. Living out loud by my motto,"Triumphing over Trauma" 🌈
In light and in shadow, always with ❤