When I was a kid, I frequently was advised to “not look a gift horse in the mouth.” I knew it meant I should be grateful for gifts and not look for reasons to complain. The idiom was so old it had lost connection with its origins, however. But it stemmed from looking at a horse’s teeth to see if it was worth acquiring. If it was a gift, one shouldn’t be so rude as to check its teeth.
I occasionally receive advanced reader’s copies of books. In the case illustrated above, I was able to review Anne Tyler’s latest novel before its release today. This review did not challenge me, since I appreciated this addition to her long list of novels about the overlooked people in Baltimore. I was able to write truthfully praising the book.
My difficulty comes with gifts of books to review that I don’t want to praise. Years ago, a book went through editors before being published by a commercial firm. In those days, “vanity presses” existed for writers to self publish by paying for the service. Today the line between commercially produced books and self-published books is less clear. Self-publishing, no longer called “vanity,” has allowed many writers to get their work into print. Many, skillfully edited, are equal to commercially produced books. However, some writers bypass the editing step. The result reminds me of the value of editors!
I am choosing to follow the other advice I was given as a kid , “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” when I read self-published books. But I continue to offer, free of charge, my editing advice to any of my followers who would benefit from it. I am delighted that one blogging friend is taking me up on the offer. Let me know if any of you would like to pick my editing brain too. I can’t promise perfect help, but I can share what I know after a long professional life teaching English.