In my travels around the world… of reading, I have encountered the world of short, testimonial anthologies.
Most of you are familiar at least with the premise of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books: people submit their personal stories and writers help them put it into certain form and they are published along with others of like topic.
The best of these is the “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul”, with stories from the lives of famous writers. (The story by Garry Marshall alone made me buy a copy for myself because it personally resonated with me.) Not only is this edition of interest to me because of the writers and their lives, but it an ‘easier read’ than the other Chicken Soup books. It didn’t take me long to figure out why; they let the writers’ stories stand as they were.
Early on I realized that, with as inspirational as the stories contained within the Chicken Soup books may be, they become tedious. Why? Because, as I mentioned, they have their writers ‘help’ with the contributor’s stories, but in doing so, they make them all have the same formula, the same ‘tenor’.
There are also the ‘play them where they lay’ books, compilations of peoples’ experiences, unvarnished and un-rewritten. Some of these are outstanding and are served well by their editors’ work. Others simply let their contributors put their feelings down, but as heartfelt as they may be, there is a reason why some people are paid well to write; it isn’t as easy as it seems. Some of the stories are almost embarrassing to read, not for the feelings or intimacy, but for the poor way in which they are written.
I applaud the editors and compilers of these stories, (some have been guests; a recent guest does an outstanding job with hers), but I have to wonder about the others.
Have you encountered this type of book? I am truly of two minds, or maybe three, about them. Too much rewriting and editing takes the heart out of the reader, (if not the story), but those with bad grammar, repetitiveness and poor communication skills takes the heart from me, too.
I often used to listen to The Library of Congress’ “Story Corps” which collects people’s stories. This was meant to record and preserve stories by older folks because family stories are no longer being passed down. However that, and “The Moth”, (both on NPR), have changed their focus to basically one particular portion of society, and it is a real shame. The stories told in persons’ own words and with their personal feeling were very touching and meaningful.
We can all be enriched by other peoples’ experiences.
But to edit lightly without changing the relator’s feelings or personality seems reasonable to me, rather than to let them overplay or underplay a good message.
What are your feelings about these, or about the Chicken Soup books?