The critical reader

I’m a harsh critic. I can’t help it. I will find fault with your book even if you are a soldier who rescued a little puppy from Baghdad. I’m probably supposed to make allowances for memoirs written by people who aren’t “writers,” but that’s what editors are for. You don’t get a free pass from my criticism just because your story happens to be particularly amazing. You got a book deal. Isn’t that enough?

I’m not completely heartless. I admire Jay Kopelman and all he went through. I just can’t stifle my tendency to edit books in my head while I read them.

Take Jaycee Dugard‘s powerful memoir, A Stolen Life. I mean, after all that poor girl went through, how can I possibly criticize her book?

The book jacket warned me, “A Stolen Life is my story — in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.” Later she discusses her strong desire to keep her family’s privacy and hiring a PR rep. She said she resisted writing the book. So my suspicion is, the deal she made was that the book would be printed just as she wanted it, with little interference from the publisher.

And in fact, the book reads as though it’s been published exactly how she wrote it and in the order she wrote it. She writes a bit about what happened to her during the abduction and captivity and then there’s a bit of reflection, under the heading “Reflection” about how she felt while she was writing it. I think that’s a perfectly wonderful way to write a memoir. Sometimes it’s the only way. At one point, she tells us that she’s procrastinating writing the part about the worst abuse by cleaning her computer screen. Heartbreaking.

In another place, she interjects a bit about her feelings toward her biological father who tried to get in touch with her in 2010, after she was freed. I’m merely saying that if I were a book editor, I would have gently suggested moving that section to the end and rethinking the use of the reflections throughout. They didn’t work for me as a reader. That’s all.

Still, Jaycee’s is a truly remarkable and devastating story, and that comes across, so what do I know?

She includes some of the journals she kept while being held captive for 18 years. Two things strike me. 1) Even after 10-18 years away from her mom, she misses her and thinks about her all the time. 2) She struggles with body image issues (no doubt as a result of being subjected to so much sexual abuse). Even while completely removed from mainstream society (although exposed to mainstream media such as TV), she hates her body and yearns to get in better shape.

In those journals, on March 28, 2006, 15 years into her captivity, she lists her dreams for the future. No. 9 is “Write a best seller.” (No. 1 was “See Mom.”)

One thought on “The critical reader

  1. This post is a great example of some of why I’m happy our paths have crossed. “Harsh critic” plus super funny, with Mom’s good pumpkin bread thrown in… That’s a good critique partner, there.

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