Sometimes hard news must be shared. I relate the sad story of my recent library acquisitions, of which half-dozen fully four were unreadable junk, with one being passable and the last a fine specimen of nonfiction literature.
Rather than grind on the merits of the failed books individually, I will say that they had in common two of the more common failings of such in our day.
First, bad writing. Much of what I see these days looks like a compendium of clippings rather than a coherent book, worthy of that name. We are accustomed to bad fiction--and of the tendency to excuse various flaws as being merely aspects of style, but in nonfiction the badly written book stands out like a dead carp in the public fountain.
A book is a tool with a mission. The role of fiction is merely to tell a story and to entertain thereby. This provides for a wide latitude of methods and outcomes. The job of nonfiction is to inform--not without difficulty in the reading but without pain arising from the faulty use of the tools of grammar and usage, not to mention arrangement.
Many serious nonfiction books suffer from poor structure, from individual sentences right up to the weakness of chapters to cohere, either internally or in relation to one another. This signifies poor effort by the writer or the lack of mastery of the art--the trade, more accurately, of writing.
Second we have the failure of editing. An editor cannot write the book for the author and can hardly rescue a poor book from its fate, but there is no excuse for the sort of mess that comes away from even reputable publishing houses--and university presses--these days. We are not talking about the occasional error here but in what appears to be the lack of definite care in the analysis of a submitted work, combined with the failure to correct, excise and omit where needed.
I take it that some of these presses are unwilling to reject bad work and also lack the sort of editing help that could spare the reader a migraine.
What galls me is that the jacket blurbs for some of the very worst books provide frothy ecstasies of praise--one wonders if they were even read by the writers of these prevarications.
But all is not hard cheese hereabouts. I have begun two batches of cider and will report results later.