Book Reviews – a word

Book Reviews

Can we talk?

I’ve been sitting on this story for a bit, but an interesting conversation on Twitter has made me think – ‘It’s time to tell it.’

So, let’s talk book reviews. There are lots of points within this topic and they all deserve attention, to some degree or another. Obviously, I can’t address them all in one post. So this post is going to focus on an experience I had that has influenced my process for reviewing books.

Here’s the story.

Once upon a time, before COVID, I was asked to review a book. This was one of my first book reviews since, well, pre-1980. I was excited. Added to that I was determined to do a ‘good job’.

You see the mistake already, right?

I failed to take into account that my definition of ‘a good job’ and the author’s definition of ‘a good job’ might not be the same. The consequences of that oversight will be made clear. But before I go running into the swamp, allow me to tell you what I did before things went all pear-shaped.

As I said, I wanted to do a ‘good job’. So, being a nerd, I researched what the publishing industry considers to be the features found in a good book review.

I even made a list so I could be thorough.

I assembled my materials. A notepad to take down impressions as I went. Made sure my pen had ink, pencils sharpened. A nice cuppa and two cats.

Then, book in hand I sat down and started to read.

I didn’t make it through the first page before I reached for my pen and paper. And, not in a good way. Oi.

But, you know. Typo. They happen. Even to the best. I was prepared to let it go. I was not going to be my father who read the NYT with an editor’s blue pencil. What he did to the local paper was just cruel… anyway moving on.

So, back to the book in hand. Long story short, it was an ugly formatting mess. Even now I can see the first paragraph of a chapter that was all in HEADING FONT. There was a wonderful assortment of errors, from simple typos, (many many simple typos), to instances of – wait a minute – weren’t we just in his head, and now we are in hers – to lacking paragraph breaks, to, too, two… oi.

Well, I ploughed my way through the formatting, cause ‘hey, maybe I just got given some pre-formatted version. I’m sure the author wouldn’t let it go out like this.’

But, then I found myself ploughing my way through the story. I was really disappointed. I had heard so many great things about this book – albeit from the author – that I was really planning to like it. No, I was planning to love it.

Before I even started to write anything review-ish I had a brief conversation with the author. I let them know of the technical errors I had run-across (waded-through[?]) And I was met with the assertion that I was wrong.

<blink>Excuse me?

Yes, I was wrong because the author assured me the person who had done the novel’s formatting had done ‘a terriffic job’. It didn’t matter that the version I had was indeed the one that was available to other reviewers.

The embarrassing part – I actually tried to make myself believe it. For a couple of minutes. I mean what if there was some really elevated literary purpose that I just didn’t recognize?

What if I was too dense to realize that intentionally reorganizing the pages was a literary device?

Yeah, that’s about the point I realized just how far I was going to rearrange my world view on the author’s behalf. But, still, technical difficulties aside, there was a story to look at, and to think about, and to write a good solid review about.

I grabbed my list of things to include and I sat down to write my review. I ignored all the technical problems. I didn’t mention them, I figured the author was just unaware and that they would fix the copy. That was not my problem.

My problem was I just didn’t connect with the characters. While the lead male had potential, I found the lead female, shrill, self-contradictory without any idea of her own motivations. Then the story was overblown and at points just nonsensical. On top of that there (their, they’re) were the speedbumps. Periodically, the flow of mythology was interrupted with modern scientific precepts, with no explanation for why. The discontinuity would jolt me out of the story Every Time.

And, still – I was trying to like this book. I was bending over backward to be ‘nice’ to the author. They were adamant that this novel was ‘gold’ because it had been edited three times.

Well, it was certainly ‘gold plate’ over something.

So, I wrote my review. And, because there was a rating system, I gave it four-stars. I was REALLY trying to be nice and give the story the benefit of the doubt.

The result – the author was livid and accused me of attempting to sabotage the sale of their work by giving it less than five stars.

Because – five stars was required. That’s what drove sales. That’s what made people want to put down their (they’re, there) money for the product.

They demanded I give the book 5 stars.

So here’s the crux of this post. For me doing a ‘good job’ was writing a truthful review of my impressions of the strong points and the weak points of said novel.

For them – me doing a ‘good job’ was giving them 5 stars. Boosting sales. Driving traffic.

You see the disconnect, right?

For me, the question out of all of this was – “What type of reviewer do I want to be? Popular, honest, an author’s friend?”

I firmly believe it is not impossible to be all three. But, there are times when you have to prioritize, what is most important in your review?

For me, the answer is ‘to be balanced’. To mention the highs and the lows. To give praise where it is deserved and to point out places that need to be refined or strengthened. And, I try to do that with a bit of humor and some literary merit of my own along the way.

Oh… And I never, ever, ever give out stars.

You want to know what I think about a book… you gotta read the review, because I am not going to contribute to any algorithm that can be played. Because, while a book can be edited three times, and while it can have scores of 5-star entries, that doesn’t mean that the characters are engaging, or that the story is worth the time.

Seriously, do yourself a favor. Go, read the reviews. Particularly the reviews from established or well-respected reviewers.

5 stars – sounds impressive, but remember you can ‘gold plate’ almost anything.


Exploring Complex PTSD and Psychosis

Scientific research on cptsd

Interesting stuff coming out of the UK about Complex PTSD.

The North West United Kingdom mental health services conducted a unique study looking into the relationship of trauma, particularly complex trauma, with psychosis.

In short, they had 144 people who suffer from psychosis answer questions. The questions were designed to help assess the trauma the person suffered, the prevalence of PTSD and Complex-PTSD symptoms, as well as their symptoms of psychosis.

What the researchers found was –
10% of the study participants suffered from PTSD, but 40% of the sample suffered from cPTSD.

That in itself is a remarkable finding, but wait, there’s more.

The following sentence from the summary carries more meaning than you might initialy attatch to it.

PTSD and DSOs mediated the relationship between trauma and positive symptoms, controlling for dataset membership.

Let’s start with the definition of ‘positive symptoms’ –
In psychology ‘positive symptoms’ are defined as : highly exaggerated ideas, perceptions, or actions that show the person can’t tell what’s real from what isn’t. Here the word “positive” means the presence of symptoms. Which, in itself is not a positive thing. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the word play.)

The second term to parse out is DSOs. This is short hand for ‘disturbances in self-organization’ (DSOs) – which is a recognized attribute of Complex-PTSD in the International Classification of Diseases-11th Edition. Thank you Europe. You are so far ahead of the DSM.

Putting those terms together the sentence is telling us that PTSD and DSOs (aka cPTSD) were present in people who had suffered trauma and were now suffering psychosis. In addition there was also a relationship to exist between cPTSD and affective disorders (illnesses that affect the way a person thinks and feels).  

However, the relationship did not carry over to explain significant differences in the presence of negative sypmtoms. Remember, a ‘negative symptom’ doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem. In psychology, a negative symptom denotes a loss of something. Negative symptoms include the inability to show emotions, apathy, difficulties talking, and withdrawing from social situations and relationships.

The summary of the article includes two important sentences:
1. Traumatic experiences and post-traumatic stress are highly prevalent in people with psychosis, increasing symptom burden, decreasing quality of life and moderating treatment response.
2. The prevalence and impact of cPTSD and DSOs in psychosis remains to be explored.

So, what I’m reading here is that trauma that results in cPTSD does have some linkage to some symptoms of psychosis. BUT, we don’t know what that particular mechanism is yet.

They end the study summary with this line: “These findings indicate the possible value of adjunct therapies to manage cPTSD symptoms in people with psychosis, pending replication in larger epidemiological samples and longitudinal studies.”

In other words – people who suffer from psychosis might also benefit from therapies for cPTSD — as long as a future study doesn’t toss all this in the proverbial bin.

The Role and Clinical Correlates of Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in People With Psychosis [https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.791996/full]

Easy Ultimate Editing Checklist – phase 1

Ultimate Editing Checklist

Ok. I’ve been scouring the internet for the ultimate editing checklist for editing my novel. That has proven to be harder than I thought. I wanted real concrete specifics, and I kept finding lists of generalities, which while useful were ultimately disappointing.

Even the longest, most complete checklist devoted most of the content to story arc, themes, point of view, scenes and chapters. It’s all good stuff, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

I wanted a list, a big literal list of mistakes I should make sure I didn’t have in my manuscript. Particularly around my bane in the English language – the comma.

And I wasn’t finding it. So, I did what any hyper-driven, hyper-independent person would do – I made my own.
Is this the final version of all my efforts? Not likely. I’ll keep tweaking this as I find more things to make sure I weed out of my manuscript.

But, even without the final, final, final stamp of DONE I’m going to share it. Because it is a useful tool. It’ll improve and grow no doubt.

Will this list solve all your writing woes? Probably not but it can provide a place to start. If you have a suggestion for another item, or group of items go ahead and drop it in the comments.

Until then, happy editing.

Download The Easy Ultimate Editing Checklist

Conformity

curled, twisted
broke and bent
pulled and pushed
torn and rent
pieces dropped
limbs lopped
all to shape
a perfect figment
of feminine
accomplishment

Curl

Poetry - Curl

A curl moves
in and out.
Both yea and nay
are captured
within curls.

Research: Brain Activity Patterns After Trauma

Scientific research on cptsd

From October 2021 – The U.S. National Institutes of Health reported on a study that might demonstrate a link between post-trauma brain activity and symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.

The study doesn’t directly address the long term factors that contribute to Complex PTSD. Instead the study focuses on short-term instances of trauma, single event situations. Still, the information might allow researchers to being to detect the mental activity patterns that are prevalent in Complex PTSD. That could lead to a discernable physical marker for diagnosis?

Brain activity patterns after trauma may predict long-term mental health

Good News on Psilocybin for Major Depression

Scientific research on cptsd

Not that anyone following me on Twitter will be surprised to hear this – but – in case you haven’t, there is research coming out of Johns Hopkins Medicine that is good news for sufferers of major depression.

From the article –

The findings of a small study of adults with major depression, published Nov. 4, 2020, in JAMA Psychiatry, suggest that psilocybin may prove effective in a larger population of patients with intractable depression than previously appreciated.

This is great news. Do remember that it is only a very small study. Only 24 participants. But, the findings mean that there could be more trials and greater acceptance (and knowledge) of using psilocybin to treat major depression.

Griffiths and his colleagues reported that two doses of psilocybin during medically supervised treatment — supplemented by supportive psychotherapy — produced rapid and large reductions in depressive symptoms.

Milestone Study Shows Psychedelic Treatment with Psilocybin Relieves Major Depression

Tragedy

My Brother

My brother
A name
I simply moved
From
One column
To another.

The North Bird

Northern Lights

Upon a hidden sea
Dreams fabled Halcyon
Lulled by gentle waves
Her nest fringed ’round in ice
She sings for Mid-Winter
Her frosted melody
Soothes the winter wind
Calling the sea to soft repose.

Another Day

The fight to live

Another day
Another ten rounds
Even when you can’t
You don’t want
To fight.

Any more.

No mas. No mas.

Those are the days
To fight the hardest.

We fight to live.