When Questionable Editorial Decisions Torpedo Books

September 21, 2017 Discussions 18

Have you ever read a book and come upon a particular part that made you wonder, to borrow from Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir title, “who thought that was a good idea?!” 

Especially frustrating is that I absolutely adored specific parts of these books, meaning questionable editorial choices tarnished what would otherwise have been winners for me.

I realize things like this are strictly a matter of taste. Something that makes my head explode might totally delight another reader. But, why pull a stunt when you’ve already got something great? And, that’s what happened with the three books I’m going to talk about today.

Sourdough

Sourdough by Robin SloanSourdough is a quirky book melding the technology and food (baking, to be exact) worlds. I was immediately interested in the story and Lois, the main character. She receives a sourdough “starter” as a gift and dives headfirst into the art of bread baking as an escape from her soul-crushing computer coding job.

Sloan had me feeling actual emotions towards the starter itself…almost as if it was a human character. I was rooting for it like it was a sports team and I was thrilled about this! 

BUT…literally a few pages later, he made the starter sing. I first thought this was an exaggerated way to describe a realistic sucking or bubbling sound a starter could make. But, then he started comparing it to actual music. And, had it make faces. And, pit it against another starter as if it were an American Gladiator competition. Wha?! Too much. Who thought this was a good idea?

*For me, the starter’s over-the-top antics didn’t fully torpedo this book. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to others, I just could have done without the eye roll-inducing moments.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise WolasI loved the first half or so of this story about a woman whose life dream was to be a writer. At a young age, she decided she would forego marriage and children to focus on her goal. Yet, she got married and had children anyway. It’s a beautifully written, introspective story about Joan’s inner struggle between her very real love for her family, her continued desire to achieve literary success, and her resentment of the choices she’s been forced to make. 

BUT…this book is 544 pages. That’s long for an introspective story. And, at least 100 and probably more (I didn’t actually count, but this is my estimated guess) of those pages are excerpts from Joan the character’s writing. I admit that I generally hate what I’ll call “stories within stories.” They pull me out of the central storyline and kill a book’s momentum for me.

This case felt particularly egregious because of the sheer quantity, the overall length of the book, and Joan’s writing’s lack of relevance in helping the reader gain more insight into her life. Who thought this was a good idea?!

*For a more comprehensive review, Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books captured my thoughts on The Resurrection of Joan Ashby perfectly.

The Twelve Mile Straight

Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor HendersonAfter reading the first chapter of this doorstop of a historical fiction novel, I thought I was going to love it. It had a great first line, was hard-hitting, and hooked me immediately. 

But, the story just went on and on and on. I felt like I was reading this book for weeks (it was actually 10 days). Henderson told the extended backstories of seemingly almost every character in the book, which could have been cut back. I just wanted the story to be tighter, because it certainly had good bones (to use a real estate term).

And, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t care about the answers to most of the major questions…I just wanted to be done. Who thought this was a good idea?

*To be fair, I didn’t have much time to read during the first half of The Twelve-Mile Straight and I wonder if I would’ve felt differently had I been able to invest more time and mental energy to it up front.

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle ZevinI’ve already reviewed Young Jane Young here, but it’s a perfect example of today’s topic, so I’m going to talk about it again. I loved the first half of this one and particularly the focus on the reverberating impact of a public cheating scandal on the female cheatee…and how different it is from the impact on the male cheater. 

BUT…part of the second half was written as a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Not only that, it was a FAKE Choose Your Own Adventure story! Choices were indicated at certain points in the story, but there was never an alternate path to actually go down. This whole thing felt like a kids’ comic book to me and didn’t fit at all with the style or tone of the first half of the book. Who thought this was a good idea?!

Has a book ever left you wondering “who thought this was a good idea?” Tell me about your experience!

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18 Responses to “When Questionable Editorial Decisions Torpedo Books”

  1. Anna Baillie-Karas

    I’ve heard that A Little Life was not edited as much as it might have been because Hanya Yanagihara wanted it to feel ‘raw’. I respect this because she’s thought it through and it’s a deliberate decision, but it would probably still drive me crazy if I read it.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s actually one of the very few really long books that I didn’t think dragged. I thought it was just so good that I didn’t really feel the length.

      • Ann Walters

        I totally agree with you about A Little Life (which is one of my all-time favorites) but I think most books over 400 pages don’t need to be that long.

  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    Great idea for a discussion! The more books I read, the more I tend to be impatient with ones that veer off into crazy land, like YJY. After hearing about the singing starter, I wouldn’t even want to pick up Sourdough.

    I think the bigger problem is the books that just go on for too long, like Twelve-Mile Straight. I know it must in part be to an author being so wed to their story. It must be incredibly hard to see parts of a book you’ve put your heart and soul in cut away, but it needs to happen! I think The Lauras is another recent book that just had too much going on that wasn’t part of the main storyline. There was a character introduced more than halfway through who nev er needed to be in that story.

    It would be really interesting to hear from the editor of one of the books you’ve brought up here!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I agree. With how my life is right now, I’m really drawn to shorter, tight books these days. And I definitely have really low patience for reading shenanigans in general.

      Would LOVE to hear from an editor, but I’m pretty positive none of those would be interested in talking to me after that post…haha!

  3. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    I’m always hesitant to read books that are 400+ pages because I usually think they’re too long. Long books often hit saggy patches where NOTHING is happening. Then I get bored and tempted to skim.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Agreed..I’d been really good about staying away until recently. And it’s bitten me. Plus, my life isn’t conducive to super long books these days.

  4. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    Hahaha, the singing starter is a No for me, and the fake Choose Your Own Adventure as well. Looking at this from an editorial perspective, it’s probably easier to convince a writer to cut pages than it is to get rid of something “essential” like a singing starter.

  5. Catherine

    We’re split down the middle (as you already know!)- I loved Sourdough, but Joan Ashby made me nuts. even kind of angry because it should have been SO good.

  6. Bill @ Especially Books

    Great post Sarah! I have to say that I don’t like storylines that meander all over the place. But sometimes it works. I just finished Autumn by Ali Smith and it worked for me. You never know where you will be in the story when you turn the page. I think I’ll pass on Twelve Mile Straight for that same meandering reason though. I’ve been eyeing Young Jane Young too because I loved Zevin’s previous book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but it sounds like it derails at the end. Great post and good insights!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Here’s what I’ll say…I adored Fikry (was my favorite book of 2014), but not so much YJY.

      And I think if the writing is just amazing, I’m willing to tolerate some meandering…like with Pat Conroy.

  7. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Dude, I think length can just be a killer. What I think of when I read a long book that drags (which a lot of them do!) is that the author refused to take editorial feedback. And I find it frustrating when authors can’t take an edit. So yeah, books that stretch way longer than the average tend to earn a side-eye from me.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yep – totally agree! There are very few long books I don’t think should have been edited down. And most of them are older books.

  8. Donna @ OnDBookshelf

    I saw Gabrielle Zevin on tour and asked her why she did the choose your own story aspect in Young Jane Young. I wish I could remember her entire answer, but part of it was that she wanted to make a distinction between the Aviva and Jane sections of the story, since they were the same person. There were a couple more reasons, but unfortunately I can’t remember. I had read several reviews before I went, so wanted to be sure and bring that question up 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oooh – great info! Unfortunately – I wonder if there were better ways to differentiate b/w Jane and Aviva. Choose You Own Adventure just seems so random….why that?

  9. katy

    Thank you for putting in to words what I could not describe about Sourdough! I loved the hilarity of her learning to bake, but then, it seemed like the “climax” of the book was when the starter took over and, what took 200 pages to build up, all culminated in less than 40! I wasn’t super satisfied with how crazy things go at the end, but I loved when she was learning to bake. I agree, it didn’t totally torpedo the book, but I could have done without 🙂

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