February 25th, 2011
Book. B-O-O-K. Boooooooks.
This is the blog for The Book Don, my freelance editing and book doctoring business. It seemed appropriate that the subject of the blog should have something to do with books.
But then I began to wonder: what is a book? Is it the leather-bound volume of Ulysses that resides on my mom’s bookshelf? Is it a hardcover wrapped in paper, or a trade paperback sheltered by paperboard and bound by glue? Is it a book on tape? Is a “book” a voice heard through speakers? Is a book the electronic typeface viewed, one image at a time, on a Kindle? And if that’s the case, where exactly is “the book”?
And what about the book-in-progress? I’m frequently unnerved by the creeping thought that a manuscript is actually a book. I wonder what the second-to-last draft of Toni Morrison’s Beloved was like. Perhaps it was better than the version that millions read after it was packaged and marketed and released. And if this hypothetical manuscript is not a book, then we must concede that a book, ultimately, is a product. It is defined by its entry into the marketplace.
The definitive concern of my business – and therefore the topic that this blog will often return to – is that those books that enter the marketplace are good books.
What exactly is a “good book”? Everyone has a different answer to that question, and I won’t pretend mine is truer or more legitimate than anyone else’s. Some believe great writing should be beautiful. Oscar Wilde wrote, “All art is quite useless. So is a flower.” Others believe writing should be cathartic for the writer and inspirational for the reader. William Wordsworth wrote, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Others understand writing as a process of unmasking; an endeavor to reveal the true nature of our world. Anaïs Nin wrote, “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
My goal is to support books that harness beauty for practical ends. Beautiful writing is powerful writing. It can change the way that people think and act. Writers who advocate for social change often wonder if their writing really affects the world. I believe that it does, and in support of this hypothesis, The Book Don blog will publish materials that affirm the power of the written word.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the quintessential example of good writing that changed the world. Published in 1852, the novel chronicles the agony of slavery through the travails of its main character. It was widely read both before and after the Civil War, and many argue that the novel converted hearts and minds to abolitionism.
At the end of her novel, Beecher Stowe included her “concluding remarks,” which address the veracity of the novel and her impetus for writing it. In this section, she described the importance of telling stories:
For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding of escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens, — when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head, — she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality.
Click here to read “The Story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” an article from the September 1896 issue of The Atlantic Monthly that analyzes Uncle Tom’s genesis and effects. Here’s a quote about the book from this article:
The effect of this story was immediate and electric. It went straight to the hearts of tens of thousands of people who had never before considered slavery except as a political institution for which they had no personal responsibility. What was this book, and how did it happen to produce such an effect? It is true that it struck into a time of great irritation and agitation, but in one sense there was nothing new in it. The facts had all been published. For twenty years abolition tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and books had left little to be revealed, to those who cared to read, as to the nature of slavery or its economic aspects. The evidence was practically all in,—supplied largely by the advertisements of Southern newspapers and by the legislation of the slaveholding States,—but it did not carry conviction; that is, the sort of conviction that results in action.
In addition to writing about the power of writing, I will also write about writing itself. The Book Don blog is primarily for book authors rather than for industry professionals. Instead of reporting the latest news on ebooks or forecasts for the collapse of publishing, I will provide essays that are relevant to the process of writing rather than the business of writing. Insofar as the two become indistinguishable, I will also provide essays and news pieces that reference the financial snafus of being a writer.
I’m happy to share with you the debut essay about writing (or, in this case, about reading and writing): Vladimir Nabakov’s “Good Readers and Good Writers.” It’s a classic. I hope you enjoy, and thank you for visiting The Book Don!