I just finished an audio book not good enough to review here. As kids, we had a phase: “Close, but no banana.” I don’t remember the genesis of that idiom, but it was definitely true about this book. A friend of mine joked with me after seeing Charlie’s Angels that I could see moral lessons in anything, and I suppose this blog post is another proof of that. A book that wasn’t good enough to review has given me just as much to think about as a great one.
The book had something going for it or I wouldn’t have read it to begin with. Like a book I reviewed last fall (see here), it was lost due to bad editing. Unlike that book, which needed major paring down, this book foundered due to petty redundancy and needless reiteration.
In life, we know we say the same thing to more than one person, but in a novel, we don’t want the same information twice; whether in dialogue or otherwise; it bogs us down making us impatient, restless, and it’s inconsiderate of our time. Also, please don’t repeat the same language, phrases or words. “The water sluiced down over her in the shower,” was wonderful the first time, annoying the second time, and downright exasperating the third, even if each instance was separated by a hundred pages.
It was fascinating to me how frequent slight things like these were enough to turn me off to the entirety. Without getting these minor details right, overall effectiveness was entirely jeopardized. When incidental components are carefully attended to, we can move past them, to enjoy a larger message.
What was also interesting to me is I was delighted to continue listening to this sub par book, regardless of its flaws, due to a brilliant voice-over artist, Catherine Harvey. I’m not only a sucker for an exquisite English accent; this woman had an irresistible lilt to her voice! She read with an immense smile. Now there is a detail that made a huge, positive difference! With a smile behind it, you liked it and wanted more.
Looking around my office, essential, dubious and expendable considerations are heaped into unrecognizable oblivion. Reiteration screams out by category: books, artwork, paperwork and memorabilia. I’m one to criticize bad editing? Am I so intolerant of it in my reading because I live with it blatantly in my life?
In many ways, I edit well. Take photography, for example. I couldn’t find any badly edited shots with which to highlight this blog post; instead I had to go for ones with detail. I’ve successfully edited many character traits, removing those that didn’t serve and replacing them with those that honor a higher good; I’ve come a long way toward being an improved person, with obviously more to do. In my poetry, I attentively ponder every word choice, placement and line break. I even wrote a poem last summer that I like, called the Power of Editing (click here to read it).
Last weekend, I had an important insight about perseverance (see here) and all week I have been trying to apply that to the mess in my office. Ironically, my procrastination vehicle (this badly edited audio book) provided me with what I think might be the rest of my answer to truly making progress on this in good faith.
It’s kind of like Michelangelo removing all the marble that didn’t belong until only the exquisite statue was left. Yes, he must have persevered to accomplish his gorgeous results. But why do it if he wasn’t whistling as he did? Just like it was the smile in that beguiling voice that made me want to continue to the end, I realized joy must be coupled with the work of editing and perfecting detail, or it just won’t happen.
We think we are losing something when we edit, attached to that block of marble or the sluicing water image. But we are gaining something that is so much more by removing it. Something that works is squandered in excess, not free to soar.
The details will make or break a book or anything else. When the details are right we exalt, when they are not, we feel trapped, unsatisfied or frustrated. I got imprisoned in this office mess one itsy bitsy piece at a time, over a long period, and now I must emancipate myself by editing bit by excruciating bit, deleting one superfluous phrase or marble chip at a time.
I can buck up, though, because the general plot is fine, the marble block, sound. It looks like sweeping changes are needed, but simply editing out surplus material is required, to let the bare, beautiful details shine unencumbered. Perseverance and dedication may be laudable and key, but they are enormously benefited by an adroit, pleased, sustained smile, to get you through.
Yes, the smile. It is essential.