When a book just doesn’t cut it

I read a book the other day.

Not that noteworthy an occurrence you might think, and you’d be right. I read a lot of books, especially now a slim, black-cased device has thrown open the doors to the miraculous world of e-literature. All those classics I never quite got round to reading; there for the taking and for free! Prize-winning novels by big-name writers at a more than reasonable rate, and the ability to ‘try before you buy’. A whole universe of original thought, at the touch of a screen, and all from the comfort of my own armchair. Bliss. I’m like a kiddie in a sweetie shop these days…

But I digress. Browsing the e-book biography section, I came across something of great current interest – the story of one family’s enforced move from a comfortable house to a near-derelict narrow boat – and was immediately hooked.

To say the account was funny would be an understatement. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious; embarrassingly so, as I found to my cost on the evening Virgin train to Manchester. One weird woman giggling quietly in a corner of a standard class carriage is apt to attract attention.

It was one of those books you don’t want to finish. But, with the final page rapidly approaching, I did have one consolation; the lady in question had written a sequel which was, even now, lurking unread in my e-reader’s electronic brain. I would not be bereft for long.

And what a disappointment it turned out to be. Not so much the content – the continuing family saga was as amusing as before. The problem was the writing itself. Our author had apparently, for reasons best known only to herself, dispensed with the services of her best asset – her editor. Far from the cunningly-crafted and rib-tickling prose of the first book, this one consisted simply of a succession of scenarios spewed onto a keyboard and punctuated by a seemingly random selection of commas and full stops.

Why did that matter, you ask? Not only because I found it irritating to read – although, me being me, I did. I never have been a fan of the ‘open your mouth and let your tummy rumble’ school of writing where phrases, clauses and sentences are all run into one another, it doesn’t seem to matter whether they have a verb or not and punctuated totally randomly, using the ‘pepper-pot comma’ system of sprinkling commas around, whenever a group of words seems a bit too long, it doesn’t matter where you put them, there’s no rhyme, or reason to it anyway is there?

It wasn’t just that, though. It was the clever crafting of the first book which was so sadly lacking in the second, the sheer skill of the writing itself which drew out the humour of the situations.

Think, for instance, of a stand-up comedian, on-stage. As much as the material, it’s the skill of the delivery that has you in stitches. Quite often you know exactly what is coming… it’s how it’s expressed that tickles your funny bone. The guy who stands up there mumbling in a monotone is just not going to cut it as a comedian.

For the same reasons, interesting though it was, this book just didn’t cut it. Put it this way, had I read the second book first, I would never have gone on to read the first book. Which would have been a pity, if only for the passengers of the Virgin train to Manchester.

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2 thoughts on “When a book just doesn’t cut it

  1. The value placed on an editor is rather lower than it should be! In the writing trade there tends to be a tier system – writer/originator, sub-editor and then editor and they all have key roles but with such different skills to contribute. It isn’t the role of the sub or the editor to make radical changes on a whim but to help with structure, uniformity of style, error removal, pace and so forth BUT…
    because we almost all in the UK get a basic grasp of English at school there’s a tendancy to think we don’t need help.
    I suspect good feedback on the first canal book resulted in over-confidence on the part of the writer! It would be interesting to read a paragraph from each of the books by way of contrast. I hope you have written to the publishers. As usual, a witty and thought-provoking blog.

    I haven’t had these paragraphs proofed/subbed/edited so any errors are therefore of my own making.

  2. Thank you, Shirley! I shall act on your suggestion and add a representative par from each book in the next day or so. Am investigating the publishers with a view to a note to them – shall point them in this direction, too!

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