Friday, May 28, 2010

Cheers and Jeers: Unexpected Book Reviews

One of the requirements I added into my book contract was a free book for farmers who shared their farm's story. After I wrote profiles, I checked with the farmers who were free to correct errors and help me get their farm right. What a time-consuming process, but it was worth it to have profiles reflect the farms. When the Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook was available last month, I mailed free copies to farmers.

One response to my book was a beautiful card from Carol and Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon. The Boutards sell their produce at the Hillsdale farmers' market.

The handwritten card really moved me. Here is a little of what Carol wrote:

"Thank you, thank you for sending us a copy of your magnificent book. We are honored to be included in such fine company of growers. I loved reading other farmers' stories--all different, but sharing the optimism and vitality that seems to be the usual for the lucky few of us who get to grow food for a living."

Every word of this card said she "got" what I set out to do. I was totally delighted and hadn't anticipated that farmers would also enjoy reading about each other. Carol's card put me on top of the world--for a few hours.

The same day I was stressed about a well-known cookbook author not being able to donate a book for my very cool cookbook basket donation to Food Lust--the annual dinner and auction event to support Cascade Harvest Coalition. A friend suggested a few FaceBook "friends", so I logged on and asked these "friends" if they had any signed cookbooks around Seattle that I could purchase for my basket donation. Time was tight; I needed to get the basket in, so I stopped at University Bookstore where they had a number of signed cookbooks to choose from. I got a great signed book for my basket.

(I digress but here, but note this hint to authors: sign copies of books and keep track of the bookstores they are in because you never know when someone may need a signed book.) So I found a lovely book to purchase and add to my basket.

Later, I checked FaceBook one of my "friends" replied that she didn't have any signed books, but she added a curious comment at the end of her reply that went something like this:

"FYI farmer Susan Snow was not happy to be included in your book and is offended that you didn't consult with her."

I stared at the sentence for awhile dumbfounded, then typed: "Who is Susan Snow? And what makes her think she's in my book? Maybe she's has her books confused."

Turns out Susan Snow is the wife of a farmer whose farm is mentioned because of what they grow and mostly in recipe headers, such as I buy (BLANK's product) at this market. Nothing more than that. Susan Snow had not read my book but had heard that she was mentioned in the book and called this writer to tell her how offended she was that I hadn't consulted her for my essay about their farm. The writer told me Susan was very panicked about this essay.

"Susan takes her business very seriously," the writer wrote. Really? Who doesn't take their business seriously? I don't mean to be flip but what happened to fact-checking before the panic? I apologized for any offense, but I couldn't help feeling irritated about how childish it seemed, so I said nothing more.

What should my response be? Should I offer to send her a book and if Susan Snow finds her name anywhere I'll take her to lunch?

All this makes me wonder why we as adults are really not any different than children on the playground participating in the "he said gossip" game. By the time the story gets back to the author the entire book can be a changed animal.

I was suddenly glad I hadn't written a memoir. Big or small, count your blessings in life.

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