Why book editors should NOT be a dying breed

Cover of "Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble C...
Cover of Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics)

The best way to learn English used to be to read books. We got some beautiful turns of phrases and excellent English from the classics.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

A woman after my own heart, there!

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Words that hold true even to this day, don’t you agree?

“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

What a beautiful, beautiful thought!

Cover of
Cover via Amazon

Then there are books like Prince of Tides, a story of a destructive family relationship, where a violent father abuses his wife and children. But the language – it’s sheer poetry!

“…the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of the filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils. Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold…”

The first tenet of writing well is to reduce adjectives and keep descriptions sparse. But if an author can write such sublime prose, words that paint pictures in a reader’s mind without taking away from the overall story, I say go for it!

Cover of
Cover of Book of Clouds

Even books that you don’t really like leave you with some profound thoughts. Like The Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis, which I didn’t like much. Maybe I just didn’t “get” it. Maybe if I read it a few years later, when I’m an even more mature reader, I might “get” it. Then again, maybe not. But despite the fact that I didn’t like the book, I enjoyed the writing.

“…even the most impoverished of souls, my mother always said, have an inner landscape, and I concluded that hers would have been an empty lot with tennis balls scattered like boulders, punctuated by the occasional peak of a NordikTrack or StairMachine.”

And then there’s this absolute beauty from Julian Barnes’ Pedant in the Kitchen:

“Why should a word in a recipe be less important than a word in a novel? One can lead to physical indigestion, the other to mental.”

This is one sentence publishers would do well to take to heart.

But not all beautiful prose is restricted to the classics or to literary fiction. Mass market paperbacks, pulp fiction, and genre fiction can teach you a lot! If you, like me, are not a big fan of non-fiction, you’d do well to pick up a Wilbur Smith or Leon Uris. I learnt about bushmen and spoor and how to trail big game from Wilbur Smith’s swashbuckling adventure stories set in Africa. Pulp fiction it may be, but its brilliantly written, with a deep understanding of the continent, of its indigenous tribes and culture. Leon Uris’ books also are meticulously researched and very well written. I developed a lot of interest – and understanding – about the IRS and the Palestine issue through his excellent novels. They’re fast-paced, gritty, filled with excellent characters, and deliver a crackling history lesson to boot!

p1160736_c (Photo credit: generalising)

Books can also make you, for a little while maybe, like a sport you hate. Like cricket. I hate the game. But Tushar Raheja’s Romi and Gang could have changed that. It is a simple story of a group of young cricket-obsessed boys. Of gali cricket. Of growing up. A book that could have been so much more than it was, if only it had received some TLC from an editor. Reading it made me want to bring out a red pen and get to work editing it. And that’s no fun. Especially when you really want to like a book. But you can’t. Because the language makes you want to cry.

“No cricket ball could be found out in the open. He searched behind the heap of old pads and stumps. There was a box full of racquets and other sports equipment. He put a brave hand into it and rummaged about.”

How, pray, can a hand be brave?!?

Horrible language aside, it wasn’t developed well either. There was an allusion to someone called Kim, someone who you could make out was of particular importance to the protagonists. But who was he? Why was he important to them? None of these questions were answered, and you felt like you were in the dark about something important. And that, dear publishers, is a big disservice to your readers.

I recently also had the misfortune of reading Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. Reviewers go ga-ga over his books, calling them little masterpieces. But don’t fall for the hype. Because none of the characters are properly developed and none of them have an original voice. All the dialogue in the book sounded stilted. All the characters talk in a similar manner – in atrociously similar English. In fact, they all speak Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) ALL THE TIME! Really Mr. Hall, and whoever edited that book, all Indians most certainly do NOT talk with na (no?) and yaar (dude) strewn through each and every sentence that comes out of their mouth. Especially not cricket bookies who catch the detective red-handed. He will not say “Shut up, yaar.” He will let out a stream of abuse so colorful your ears will turn red. So please, give the reader, and their intelligence, some credit.

Horrible grammar and stilted dialogue are not the sole fault of the author. A large part of the blame is to be borne by the editor, and even the proof reader.

Joyce Carol Oates, 2006
Joyce Carol Oates, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author Joyce Carol Oates says it best in this tweet: “It is not generally known that brilliant editors can make successes of manuscripts too unwieldy, too amateurish to be published as they are.”

To which author Lesley McDowell replied: “Indeed – success of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies largely down to his editor at Faber, Charles Monteith”

So this is a humble appeal to all the publishers out there – please, please, please, invest in a good book editor and in a good proof reader. And when you find them, never let them go! They are the people who turn an ordinary manuscript into a work of art. They are the ones who polish and burnish and hone the creativity of authors into shining brilliance.

And to all the readers out there – here’s a humble appeal. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s ask for well-written (and edited) books. Books with words that will send our hearts soaring, our minds racing…words that we would want to read again and again and again.

So share this post with your friends, fellow readers, and publishers. Let’s get our voices heard. Let’s ask for more books that we want to read and savor, not throw across the room in frustration.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who is frustrated by the recent spate of horribly edited books out in the market. And before you go, do tell me which book(s) you love – for the language, the story, the brilliance.

And if you’re wondering what to read next, do take a look at my bookshelf. I’ve rated each book that I have read, and linked all the ones that I’ve reviewed on the blog.

My favorite things

Now that I’ve got the bookshelf of my dreams – imagine a built-in bookcase along one entire wall, running from floor to ceiling, filled with books and a few nick-knacks – I’m on the lookout for a cozy reading chair. And as I look at designs and despair of ever finding anything that will fit into the tiny little spot I have, I leave you with these cool reading chairs.

Because, really, how could you not want this chair on wheels? After all, you never know where in the house you’d like to read. And of course, you have to have at least a couple of books along with you, because you never know what you might want to read!

Reading chair on wheels with storage

If space is a constraint, how about this bookshelf-cum-reading bench? It’s functional and oh-so-trendy!

Bookshelf cum reading bench

Or this reading chair with a built-in bookcase? Kill two birds with one stone!

Reading chair with in-built book shelf

And if you have too many books that you don’t know what to do with, why not recycle them into a chair a la artist James Thurman, whose reading chair made out of recycled books was featured in the McMuseum of Anthropological Archaeology’s exhibition of “Ancient 21st Century Art-i-facts.”

Thurman Reading Chair made out of recycled books

And finally, I leave you with the chair that has captured my heart and my fancy. I want, want, WANT this chair…made by artist Kelly Swallow using vintage and designer fabrics as well as grain sack and linens.

Patchwork reading chair

Now it’s your turn – which one of these is your favorite?

Take a look at some more of my favorite things…

A Reading Challenge for 2013

So apparently the world decided to chug along into 2013, leaving all the doomsday prophecies biting the dust. And seeing how we’ve been given a new lease of life – as those doomsday soothsayers would say – it makes sense to make the most of it!

Now, if you’re wondering if I was one of the naive innocents who bought into that prophecy, perish the thought! I just figured this would be a great way to start this post.

Why? Because I’m setting myself a few challenges this year.

Número uno on the list is my very first reading challenge!

I generally read as the whim strikes me. I hate being tied down to a genre or region or author. But this challenge sounds interesting, seeing as I get to set the number of books I will read as part of the challenge.

Considering that I read over 60 books last year, I’m guessing 10 is a good number for the Indian Quills Reading Challenge (IQR), hosted by The Tales Pensieve.


With the explosion of Indian writers, I'm hoping I'll be able to find 10 books by Indian authors that will rock my world!

What about you! Have you set yourself a reading – or any other – challenge for the year?

The reading deprivation challenge

Image by henry… via Flickr

Books have taken over my life.

In The Artist’s Way (which, by the way, I have never managed to finish…discipline has fled the house!) Julia Cameron recommends a week of reading deprivation – she bans books, newspapers, magazines, everything – for at least one whole week. When I first read that, I balked at the very thought of it. And needless to say, didn’t follow through with the rest of the program.

But now, as I think about it, it makes a lot of sense – at least for me. It boggles the mind to think of the amount of time I would have to pursue other activities if I wasn’t compulsively stuck with my nose in a book every free second of every single day. I finish one book, sit back, inhale, and then wander over to my bookshelf to pull out the next book and start reading again.

book and coffee
Image by Josh Russell via Flickr

It’s starting to get freakish, this obsession I have with books. It starts in the morning – I curl up on the sofa with my cup of java to kick me awake and a book in my hand, reading at a feverish pace. I have to keep reminding myself that I need to move my butt and get ready for work. Once I’m back home in the evening, I rush through the chores (of changing and washing my face) and sit down to read. And read until well past bedtime, with mini breaks in between to welcome the husband home, squeeze in some small talk so he doesn’t think I’m insane, and during dinner.

Pathetic. Unhealthy. Irrational.

I’m beginning to see the sense in Julia Cameron’s approach. It’s time to bite the bullet. For someone as addicted it as me, it calls for serious measures. SO…reading deprivation for a month!



Wait! Did I just write that? Think that? What the hell is wrong with me? I’m never going to be able to stick with that! So…a compromise….How about…umm…a week? Every month? Reasonable enough, don’t you think?

But first, I have to finish the book I’m currently reading. And the one I’ve already decided to read after I finish this one. (I told you I was obsessive.) Then, a week of no reading. At all.

I’m freaking out already!

Looking back 2010 – Top 10 books

girl reading a bookMy love affair with books started at a rather tender age. I grew up with Enid Blyton and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Since then, reading is my escape from the world, a time to step out of my life and live in different times and places through the trials and tribulations of the characters that inhabit the book that I am reading.

I’ve read a lot of books that I enjoyed this year, so choosing just 10 was hard! Still, I tried…so, here’s the list of the top 10 books I read in 2010 (in no particular order).

  1. Immortality – Milan Kundera
  2. Nefertiti – Michelle Moran
  3. The History of Love – Nicole Kraus
  4. The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga
  5. The Girl triology  – Stieg Larsson
  6. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace – Tamara Chalabi
  7. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  8. Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton
  9. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  10. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei

If you’re curious to see the entire list of books I read during the year, check out my book shelf.

You might also enjoy reading Dagny Taggart, or Scarlett O’Hara, or maybe…

What were your favorite books in 2010?

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