Two Things I Learned From My Last Post

You may have noticed that near the middle of next week, a post appeared on this blog called “Judging a Book by its Jacket Cover” which took aim at the jacket photos of two authors, Jesse Ball and Peter Hessler.  Just as quickly, the post disappeared.   Written while in a rotten mood and posted immediately without time for contemplation or revision, it was, to put it nicely, not the best thing I’ve ever written.  Here are two things I learned from it:

1.  My grammar sucks.

Kathy, from Kathy Loves to Read, pointed out to me in a message that my title “Judging a Book By It’s Jacket Cover” was like ‘having a bit of spinach’ in my teeth.  The improper use of the contraction it’s rather than the possessive its is a middle school mistake, one that I berate my ESL learners about regularly.  It is embarrassing that it slipped through, and in the title no less.

And, more importantly…

2.  The post was a little mean.

A day or so after putting the post up, I received the following comment:

I would disagree that an author photo is a “planned image designed to convey a particular message.” In this case, the publisher commissioned a picture, so my photographer friend Mark Leong came over and we took a few shots on the street behind my apartment in Beijing. It probably took five minutes, a relatively easy way for Mark to make a little money, although I think he took no pleasure in the assignment. Like many shy people, I do not enjoy being photographed and my discomfort usually shows. I know a lot of writers who fall into this category. So if we absolutely must find a message in this image, I would describe it as, “I’m not thrilled that I’m doing this, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not very important. I assume that most people will not make sweeping generalizations based on my appearance, and hopefully they will understand that a writer should be judged for his writing, not his face.” I think it’s fine to make jokes about a picture, but the tone here seems a little presumptuous and mean-spirited.
“River Town” is a nonfiction book. I’m not sure what you mean by “realistically dubious” and “misleading,” but it sounds as if you are accusing me of some kind of dishonesty. It’s a serious charge and should not be made without evidence or reason.

Peter Hessler

Mr. Hessler is absolutely right.  In retrospect, the post came across as a bit “mean-spirited” and “presumptuous.”  While I was trying to make a serious point while being kinda funny, my intentions did not translate that well.  My point, that author photos can affect the reader’s experience is a valid one.  However, my execution of said point, while being at times amusing, sacrificed well reasoned arguments for quick laughs when it could have had both.

Also, my glib comments about his book, River Town, were very poorly chosen.  While I have personal issues with his book, I did not mean to impugn the author’s integrity.  In the future, there will be a more detailed look at River Town where I can examine it, and my personal feelings and prejudices, a bit more thoroughly and fairly.

I don’t make a mea culpa lightly but a blogger has a responsibility to support his/her argument when attacking an author or book.  While my choice of words about the author photos might be justifiable (if not altogether kind), accusing a book of being “misleading” is much more serious and needs reasonable justification  – which I did not give.

The purpose of this blog has always been the serious discussion of books and reading.  The last post missed its mark in this regard and, thus, has no place here.  So, my apologies to Peter Hessler and, to a lesser extent, Jesse Ball for my comments.



  1. I personally think that anyone who has followed you or even read a few of your posts, would dispute any mean spirited intention on your part. Having read & commented on the post in question, the only thing you could be charged with on that score is no more than what most people do daily, and that is make some comment based purely on a seen image & whether that is perceived as humorous is down to the individual. As to the second charge, do not know enough to comment, so will wait to read your re-examination.

    1. I think my comments about the author photos were probably justified. But, in rereading the post, I saw that it just didn’t come out quite as I had wanted. My main error, however, was my glib comments about Hessler’s book which were unfair in the context in which I set them. I could empathize with the author – I would feel slighted by those comments were they directed at me. Charges like that do need to be justified. So, live and learn, eh.

  2. It’s a pity you took a post down, Pete. One that was quite entertaining and not particularly offensive. But it’s your blog so if you weren’t happy with it, then of course you shouldn’t leave it.

    1. I suppose that’s what it boiled down to. I just didn’t really like the post all that much. Parts of it were quite humorous and, had I spent a bit more time collecting and organizing my thoughts, it could have been much better. Anyway, that’s that. I’m glad you found parts of it amusing, though! Thanks for coming by!

  3. I have written a post, or two, in an emotional frame of mind…without taking the time to think it over, pushed “publish” and come to regret it later myself. I like this ‘apology’, whole heartedly felt from my end of the screen.

    Thanks for leaving thoughts on Stephen King over on my blog; I responded to your comment, and I hope to further the discussion when I review The Dome in a day or two. It’s good to have your opinion as you clearly have read more of his work than I have.

    1. Thanks for coming by! It’s good policy, I think, to write, wait, then post. I’m sure it happens to everyone at some time or another.
      I’ve enjoyed your thoughts on Under the Dome and am glad that you liked it!

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