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A failure in editing
on April 21, 2013
Pippa Middleton took a lot of flack for her book, but as an editor myself, I believe that the flaw is on the editorial side. The basic set-up of the book (by seasons and traditional British events) is useful. I enjoyed the Burns Night section, plus other tidbits like how to make a "Christmas cracker."
Unfortunately, the book is bloated, with equal weight given to the mundane and the interesting. I understand that Pippa wanted to publish an accessible book, but it's almost never a good idea to talk down to the reader. Martha Stewart gets away with it because she's Martha Stewart; i.e., she has good reason to assume her readers can't live up to her example. In Pippa's case, I don't get it. Bobbing for apples, capture the flag, turkey for Christmas?
If I were editing the book, I'd suggest the following organization within sections:
* First, a simple list of the traditional British ways of doing things, without the play by play of every familiar game, decoration, or menu item. We can cut out paper hearts for Valentines and apply glitter without instructions, thanks.
* Full instructions for original/unusual ideas only. These are good as is but get lost among pages of "tie balloons to chairs and hang streamers."
* A feature on events that Pippa actually made special. In her Guardian article, she mentioned throwing a white-clothing-only party, a Scandinavian-themed party, and others. Why aren't those in the book? We want to read about how she *actually* parties, not how she wants the little people, I mean readers, to party.
* A smattering of only the most special and personal recipes. This is the Internet age after all. Does Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten already supply a recipe for it? Free? Online? Then we don't need to read yours unless it's something amazing.
* Finally, suggestions for how to develop new traditions. For people who aren't interested in a Burns Night, why not suggest choosing a beloved writer from your own culture and planning some complementary dishes to serve alongside a fireside reading? What else can go in a Christmas cracker? What other traditional dances should we try to revive?
Overall, I enjoyed parts of this book, but I finished feeling a bit duped. Maybe Pippa truly spends her life as a character in a 19th century novel, complete with reel dancing, lawn games, and bicycling to picnic locales, never a cell phone or computer in sight. I'm suspicious there's a lot more yachting, skiing, Prada shopping, and hobnobbing, though. Too bad. The truth would have made for a better book.