Monday, February 8, 2010

Judging Books by the Table of Contents

I read a blog post last week that was written by someone I respect, someone very highly regarded in the publishing industry, someone who is in charge of what books get published. I normally enjoy reading this person's articles, because they're very informative. I even follow him on Twitter and am a fan of his on Facebook. One thing he said in this particular post, though, struck a raw nerve.

Regarding how to read a nonfiction book, this writer gave a list of ten tips. Item #1 recommended NOT reading a book all the way through. He basically said not every word is worth reading. I was shocked to see this coming from someone in his position, especially when he went on to advise "reading" the book by skimming through the author's bio, studying the table of contents, and scanning the text (taking note of bold headers and block quotes). In his opinion, following these suggestions would give the reader enough information to review said book.

Now let me ask you, is it possible to form an accurate opinion of a book without reading it in its entirety? If you read the beginning and the end but skip the middle, are you getting the whole message? Can you grasp the complete concept by skimming the table of contents? Would your answers depend on whether the book is fiction or nonfiction?

My simple answer to all of four questions is NO. 

Now, I understand there are some books that don't hold the reader's interest all the way through. I've read plenty of books that tempted me to put them down halfway through and never open them again. But I persevered. Yes, some disappointed, but others picked up the pace and revived my interest. I would not have known the outcomes if I had not continued to read.

The tips offered in that article may help generate a book review, but picking and choosing only certain pieces of a book to represent the whole will not produce a very reliable assessment of the material. It is not alright to judge a book by its cover or by its table of contents.


Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom said...

How interesting to read your review since I read that particular blog post as well. Since I have non-fiction aspirations, I paid close attention to his comments. That tends to be how I read a non-fiction book as well. However, it was rather depressing to read it as a writer. I agreed with many of his points, but I like your analysis as well. I realize that makes me sound like I'm kissing up to someone, but I'm not. I just see both sides of the argument. I think.

Jodi Whisenhunt said...

I appreciate your opinion, Bethany! I too write nonfiction. I am offended by his words as a writer, because to writers, EVERY word is sacred, right? I also have a degree in literary studies, which is reading basically, so to me, every word needs to be read in order to see the whole picture. If it were not so, books would be a lot shorter!

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