Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Digested Peaches Gives Author Heartburn

Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris is digested in the Guardian. The resident 'reads digester', John Crace, apparently finds the book a bit too French. Could that piece have upset Ms Harris?

The Guardian's Digested Read, as I understand it, 'reviews' a book by (mostly) condensing the entire book into a 700-word parody of it using the author's writing style, plot and all.

Nor is Harris the first to complain. There was Jilly Cooper who, Crace said, complained to the Daily Telegraph about his treatment of her book, Wicked.

The Guardian's Digested Read, as I understand it, 'reviews' a book by condensing the whole book into a 700-word parody written in the book's style, which can be quite ...revealing.

"The primary goal is to entertain," Crace said in this look-back at ten years of Digested Reads, "something the book itself has often failed to do – but it's also intended as a (semi-) serious critique, for much of the fun is derived from clunky plot devices that don't work, pretentious stylistic tics, risible dialogue and an absence of big ideas."

Not an easy feat, according to Crace. "I read every word of every book I digest, scribbling notes on the pages as I go along. I can't afford not to because if I get something wrong, I'm stuffed."

Though the Digested Read has its brickbats, the response is largely positive. "I'm continually delighted – and astonished – by the number of writers who are more generous about my work than I am about theirs and get in touch to say how much they enjoy the column," he said. "Especially when it's someone else's books." ...Aha.

I suppose, as a writer, you'd be damn chuffed if a reader cared enough to "read every word", scribble notes, and "digest" your book in a way that really sums it up. If one can afford to be magnanimous, the effort behind a piece of criticism should be appreciated, even if it has an edge - or a hundred.

I can't see myself doing what he does, which is why I only - and will probably do nothing but - 'review' books.

Though Crace feels that "digesting" books for the Guardian may be a satirist's dream job, he acknowledges that for some people, it can be cruel. "Satire often is cruel, especially when it's accurate." Another thing to appreciate in an age of faltering credibility in the media.

No, I don't feel that the "digested" Peaches will affect the reading experience terribly. The archives will only be of interest to the curious who only want to know what a book is about without having to read it. It's a select list - names one thinks are more likely to survive Crace's digestive juices.

If you can't find the URL in the sidebar, go here and lose yourself in the Digested Reads archives for a while ... podcasts? I didn't notice.

You might as well join me. I don't think I'll be writing much for the next few days and I think you won't even bother dropping by until you're done.

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