Two POP clients earn media coverage!

Congratulations to Thomas Caulfield, author of Ephphatha: Growing Up Profoundly Deaf but Not Dumb in the Hearing World, a basketball memoir that is about much more than basketball.

Ephphatha cover

This is a beautiful story about a father and his son who overcame many obstacles to find success both on the basketball court and in the classroom. I’m proud to have served as the developmental editor on this project. Read about it here:

14 Best New Basketball Player Books to Read in 2019 (The Book Authority)

 

and here:

Interesting Reads: Ephphatha by Dr. Thomas Caulfield (Living with Hearing Loss)

Also in the news was Building a Business with a Beat, a business self-help book written by the inimitable founder of Jazzercise, Judi Missett.

Judi Missett cover

I copyedited this book for McGraw-Hill at the start of the year and enjoyed it immensely. Read about it in The Atlantic:

The Fitness Craze that Changed the Way Women Exercise

It takes a great many people to publish each and every book. Seeing those books get the attention they deserve is a reward for all who participate in the publishing journey.

Kudos, Tom and Judi!

 

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

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Madame Bovary Is a Cautionary Tale

The first line on the back cover of this iconic novel by Gustave Flaubert reads, “The 1857 publication of Madame Bovary, with its vivid depictions of sex and adultery, incited a backlash of immorality charges.” Always interested in banned books, I immediately knew I had to read it.

When I found a copy of Madame Bovary in a used-book store in Madison (they do exist!), I’d remembered hearing it was the scandalous tale of a cheating wife. For 1857 that seemed pretty progressive to me. And with the backlash of immorality charges, I assumed it was a glorification of adultery and immoral behavior.

Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, Emma Bovary is an entirely unlikable woman whose lying, cheating, and greed send her life spiraling into the ground. Quite simply, she marries a man she thinks is going to be a great doctor, an up-and-comer with aspirations and drive, and when it turns out Charles is an average doctor with few aspirations and limited drive — in a word, a bore — Emma decides to find excitement elsewhere. When one affair ends, she picks up another, seeming to think it is her right of birth to live as she wishes without a care for others. And all the while she is driving up her husband’s debt by spending huge sums on hotel rooms, clothes, and gifts for her lovers.

It matters not that Charles’s only real devotion is to Emma’s happiness. She uses his simplicity against him whenever possible, tricking him into assigning her power of attorney so she can continue to fund her extravagant lifestyle, further bankrupting him. The daughter she has with Charles also registers only as an inconvenience. When Emma and one lover conspire to run away together, it is as an afterthought that she plans to leave the daughter behind. The ultimate tragedy that befalls Emma is well earned, and I say good riddance.

It took me nine months to read this 320-page book (in between the other nine or ten books I read in that time), and the first 70 pages or so are what you would expect from a novel written in the 1850s: a bit slow in setting the scene and developing the characters. But the story line is captivating. As despicable as Emma is, I wanted to know what she would do next — and how she was going to pay for it.

Flaubert’s writing style is highly textured, with rich details of the affairs and questionable financial dealings that Emma takes part in. He also captures the thoughts and emotions of each character, deftly exposing differences in both personality and priority, employing a third-person omniscient narrative that is rare today. My favorite example of this comes shortly after Charles’s father has died, as Charles, his mother, and his wife sit together on a bench in the garden:

Charles was thinking of his father, and was surprised to feel so much affection for this man, whom till then he had thought he cared little about. Madame Bovary senior was thinking of her husband. The worst days of the past seemed enviable to her. . . . Emma was thinking that it was scarcely forty-eight hours since they [she and her lover] had been together, far from the world, all in a frenzy of joy, and not having eyes enough to gaze upon each other. She tried to recall the slightest details of that past day. But the presence of her husband and mother-in-law worried her. (p. 234)

Emma’s self-absorption and callous attitude shine through in this scene. When she should be grieving, she thinks only of her lover. Her husband and mother-in-law are nothing but a nuisance. Later, even as her charade begins to crumble around her, she will not give it up, desperately searching for the solution to her dire money problems. In the end the book fulfills the definition of a tragedy: the main character is brought to ruin through her own  moral weakness.

So yes, this book is full of scandal and immorality and salacious detail. But it does not glorify it. Madame Bovary is instead a cautionary tale of what evil befalls a person who throws off the confines of society and human decency and lives only for herself.

Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and holy smokes, is that a good book! It has been a number of years since I read something so revolutionary in both writing style and content.

This book was my selection for book group a couple of months ago, but due to a crazy work schedule, I was only able to get about two-thirds of the way through it before the meeting. I often don’t finish books that I couldn’t complete before the discussion, since the ending is revealed and I tend to lose interest, but I knew this one I would finish. I was already falling in love with it by that point, and the comments from the rest of the group piqued my interest even more. Now that I have made it to the end, I want to meet again to dissect all of the connections from the end of the book to the beginning. There’s so much to talk about.

One of the endorsements on the back cover says “this is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” That’s quite a statement and I wondered how the book could live up to such praise. Now I know. It’s not simply a story about five generations of a family living in a small village in Latin America; it is the story of the rise and fall of civilization.

The writing style is also biblical in its development of myth and symbolism. So you can get a feel for the kind of writing Garcia Marquez employs in this book, here is one of my favorite passages:

Colonel Aureliano Buendia organized thirty-two armed uprisings and lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad. He lived through a dose of strychnine in his coffee that was enough to kill a horse. . . . Although he always fought at the head of his men, the only wound he received was the one he gave himself after signing the Treaty of Neerlandia, which put an end to twenty years of civil war. He shot himself in the chest with a pistol and the bullet came out through his back without damaging any vital organ. The only thing left of all that was a street that bore his name in Macondo. (p. 103)

The genre is magical realism, and you can see why. The exaggeration is ridiculous on first reading, but the ideas aren’t so far from reality. This man accomplished unheard-of feats of survival, was integral to the start and end of a civil war, yet in the end, the only evidence of his existence was a street someone named after him.

Seemingly crazy or impossible or illogical things happen throughout the book, but the reader accepts them, and after some evaluation, the occurrences don’t seem that far-fetched after all. In fact, you can probably think of some events in your life or in history that happened just like that. (To put this into a pop culture context, think of Wes Anderson’s movies, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson uses this technique of exaggeration and unreality to great effect.) The story questions linear time, truth vs. lies, reality vs. unreality vs. matters of perception. It forces you to put aside preconceived notions (Western notions, at least) of what is and what should be so that what you distill from it is a new understanding of human nature.

That sounds pretty highfalutin, and you can definitely enjoy the book without getting into all that theory nonsense. My thought is, if you just read it for the story, this other stuff will come out and you’ll be as surprised and astounded as I was at the result.

This book is not for everyone. It takes a little work on the part of the reader to follow the story, keep all the characters straight, and appreciate all of the underlying messages. I’m sure I’d have to read it a few more times to get it all. (In fact, someone in book group had just read it for the third time and said he felt he’d gotten something new out of it every time.) But the imagery and the texture of the writing were enough to sustain me. It was well worth the effort.

Is this too much of a rave review? Maybe. There are flaws in it, for sure, where the story gets long or too involved and where the reader might get frustrated trying to keep all the characters straight. For a minute, somewhere in the last third of the book, I thought I was going to be let down by the ending. But then, no, it was a beautiful ending, genius, solving the mystery you didn’t even know was the key to the story!

Certainly I’m not the first person to discover the wonders of this book. (It was published in 1967, after all.) But it has jumped into my top ten books and now I want to share it with everyone. So go check it out of your library and read it. Then tell me what you thought. But be ready to buy a copy too. This is one you’ll want for your shelf at home.