February 10, 2010

"Books which are... extended versions of articles written for The Atlantic, The Public Interest or what have you are especially likely to be over-long for their topic..."

"...  don’t remember ever reading one of these books and feeling that I got substantial insights which were unavailable in the original article (in some cases it might have been useful to have a better sourced and slightly better fleshed out version of the original piece available somewhere, perhaps half the length again of the original piece, but there doesn’t appear to be a market for that)."

Wow. Does that ever resonate with me! I just paid $25+ for a 300+-page book that was an expansion of an article from The Atlantic. I did that for a Bloggingheads diavlog, and — you'll see when it's up — the author scolded me for skimming. Did that open the door for me to scold her for padding? Readers and writers — we all have our tactics and must guard our own interests. You pad. I skim. Or I take a look in the bookstore and put that thing right back on the pile. Unless I'm scheduled for a diavlog. In which case, I tough it out. Up to a point. Then I just scream. On my blog.

38 comments:

c3 said...

can you say
bloviation

Susan said...

Hmm, I thought this would be trivial to figure out, but none of the usual suspects seem to have a book out recently.

Peter V. Bella said...

It is survival. These columnists believe in the axiom publish or die. The more they write the longer they will live.

ark said...

I once read a paper by someone who gave copies of an article to people and then tested their understanding. What he didn't tell them was that he had written two versions of the article, one twice the length of the other, that were carefully crafted to contain the same information.

He found that there was no significant difference in comprehension between the two versions, suggesting that reading the longer article was a waste of time.

kentuckyliz said...

Makes you wonder if these "journalists" are holding back on some information for their article writing in the salaried job, to save it for the book and their own personal profit in book royalties.

Doesn't speak well of "journalistic ethics"

Peter V. Bella said...

These books are written by journalists for journalists. They are really not meant for mass consumption. The journalists and columnists just like to have collections of each other's works.

rhhardin said...

Thickets with no promise of game.

John Lynch said...

For topical books, I only buy the Kindle version. If there isn't one, too bad. They're just conversation pieces, anyway.

Refusing to buy expensive thin hardbacks saves me a lot of money and space. I don't even own a Kindle.

lucid said...

@Ann.

One of the things I enjoy about reading you is that you don't suffer attacks, rudeness, insults gladly, nor do you turn the other cheek. Keep kicking ass.

former law student said...

What about John McPhee? Were his books mere extended versions of his articles, or were his books serialized essentially complete in the New Yorker? Or were his articles just the starting point for fully fleshed out books?

Lem said...

Palin get hers down to handwritten notes..

Genius.

BTW - I've discovered the google tool bar has a spell check. I think I'll put it to use ;)

Freeman Hunt said...

Maybe newspaper articles are too long.

Earth Girl said...

I have found this true of most non-fiction books. Where are the editors? Why do they have to write 300 pages when 90 pages would suffice?

HKatz said...

A lot of non-fiction books, especially those authored by people who usually write for magazines and newspapers, would often improve if they were a collection of essays or articles. It could be essays on the same theme or topic, but I think they'd do better with that form. Each essay would be written more tightly, concisely.

Though admittedly, depending on how it's written, a chaptered non-fic book may have a similar feel to it, with each chapter devoted to a different facet of the topic at hand.

EDH said...

It seems to me that new technology could offer a solution, for nonfiction at least.

An electric book that could expand or collapse based on how much detail the reader wanted at the time is possible. Akin to electric footnotes that could pop-up if more detail is desired on a particular paragraph or sub-chapter.

Of course, that would change what it meant to have "read the book," but that has been a flexible term all along.

Lem said...

Why do they have to write 300 pages when 90 pages would suffice?

Maybe we are reaching a tipping point.

(Tipping Point was 300 pages)

Henry said...

Even the best of the pop non-fiction authors write to a formula. By best, I mean those that know how to pick an interesting topic, are good stylists, and have a point of view, even one of gullible overreach (Malcolm Gladwell, I'm talking about you). Gladwell, Jon Krakauer, Dava Sobel -- these bunch are beach reads at best. They deserve to be skimmed, even as they skim over the deeper details of their topic.

Henry said...

@FLS -- Obviously there are exceptions. Rick Atkinson's classic The Long Gray Line was born of interviews with Vietnam War Veterans for, I believe, the Washington Post.

Now he is one of our great military historians.

peter hoh said...

Turning magazine articles into books seems driven by the cultural assumption that books carry more weight.

In reality, we'd be better off if most non-fiction books were turned into well-edited magazine articles.

Then there are the books that are little more than extended versions of radio shows or blog posts.

I suppose one can't fault a writer -- or radio host -- for trying to make a buck. I just don't feel the need to help out.

As for speculating about the writer Althouse spars with on the next bloggingheads, I'm hoping it's Caitlin Flanagan, but I don't think she has a recent book.

Ann Althouse said...

Remember: It's Valentine's Day Week.

DSDan said...

I rarely read persuasive books, for precisely your reasons--it's uncommon to encounter one that couldn't be rewritten as a decently sized article.
Narrative books, on the other hand, like Rick Atkinson's from a previous comment, benefit from the extended book format.

Meade said...

"Thickets with no promise of game."

Warm.

The entire 300 pages can be boiled down to an eleven word aphorism about birds, hands, and bushes.

How do I know that?

I skimmed.

Peter V. Bella said...

Remember: It's Valentine's Day Week.

Aw, gee. You take all the fun out of everything. Why couldn't you wait til like Saturday night to remind us. Now we have no excuse for the fun of running around at the very last minute looking for a gift. No last minute Chia Pets, or cheap candy.

Shessh!

edutcher said...

While any subject can be worth an article or a full book, the idea of "expanding" an article, particularly a single article, sounds like somebody trying to make some money and skip a little work at the same time.

Taking a series of articles, or interviews printed as articles, with an integrated theme, and coalescing them into a book with extra research, like the
Atkinson books, seems a different animal.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

Remember: It's Valentine's Day Week.

I have. I just have to be able to get past all of the ^%$#&#%$&^%$ snow to get The Blonde something.

Since she did in her foot, logistics are a little complicated.

Ralph L said...

The entire 300 pages can be boiled down to an eleven word aphorism about birds, hands, and bushes.
Oh dear, it's not an Eve Ensler VaJJ book, I hope?

Meade said...

@Ralph L: As far as I know, talking vaginas are never discussed. Feminism, however, and whatever that means, is.

wv: tamaters : popular stand-by-your-man vegetables widely grown in many backyard home gardens.

Palladian said...

Skimming stocks during the first minutes of simmering is essential. If you don't skim the scum that rises to the surface then you end up with murky stock when what you want is a beautifully clear stock that possesses richness and concisely conveys the essence of the ingredients.

Chip Ahoy said...

Extra words are boring. At over 8¢ a page, and the pages don't even pop up, where's the genius in that? But if there were less words, the compressed book would be even more expensive per page. If the book is on a liberal subject I can guarantee reviews on Amazon rave no matter how uninteresting or padded. I do believe some readers enjoy the same thing described over and over from different angles.

ribock said...

It's been going on for a long time:

Another damned thick book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?

* Attributed to Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, 1781

Ralph L said...

Hey Palladian, where are the warm woolen mittens?

Do you skim your scum more than once a day?

I usually waited til I removed the bird--I'll have to remember to do so earlier.

miller said...

I will point out that books are marketed by page count and size. A thin book on the shelf won't get as much attention as a thicker book. So it's not the content that matters. It's the physical space.

traditionalguy said...

These so called books, actually pamphlets, do at least leave half the page on either margin blank to write your own notes on. The dummies doing these jobs start by padding them with social hour comments agreeing to their reader's strange half true reality and then say something usually very boring to add to it. Fantasy is SO BORING.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The entire 300 pages can be boiled down to an eleven word aphorism about birds, hands, and bushes.


She won't let your hand in bush? Flip her the bird!

Freeman Hunt said...

Agree with skimming chicken stock. Not only will not skimming leave it murky, but I think it imparts a slightly dirty flavor to it.

Freeman Hunt said...

I assume this is the Ensler book. I couldn't even get through this short article about it, despite being somewhat interested in the subject of girls losing their ways amid cultural expectations, interested enough to have written a prize-winning original oratory on it in high school.

Too much female as victim. Too much value placed on irrationality and wild emotion. She misses the point, I think. Such things are already encouraged.

Freeman Hunt said...

Hey, that article originally appeared in The Women's Media Center which I criticized during the Super Bowl.

The Oprah-fication of feminism: no, thanks.

Paddy O. said...

Succinctness is next to godliness.

Or maybe it is godliness.

Jesus summed up the whole law and the prophets (a gazillion pages) in a couple of quick aphorisms.

I, on the other hand, often give repeated evidence on this very blog that I am am apparently no where even in the vicinity of godliness.