Sunday, March 25, 2012

On the Ghost Writing Controversy

Considering all the backpedaling going on lately with indignant authors refuting a NYT article describing what it's like to be a ghost writer, I thought I owed it to the purported author of one of the volumes in question to at least look at it. So I placed a hold on Gwyneth Paltrow's homage to her her father Bruce, My Father's Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness.

Overall, I have to say that this book is attractively produced. The paper is treated with clay, which produces a shiny finish that complements photographs of the artfully presented dishes. There are serviceable collections of soups and stocks, salads and dressings, burgers, sandwiches, pasta and desserts. Of particular interest (read: filed away to make later) are the butternut squash soup, duck burger with plum sauce catsup and tuna melt with Gruyere.

Since I don't personally know Ms. Paltrow, it's impossible for me to say how authentically hers the voice in the book is. I will mention, however, that she singles Julia Turshen out for recognition more than once and in fact the two appear together in a photograph. It seems to me that this lends credence to Turshen's allegations and takes it away from Paltrow. I don't think she helps her case much by belaboring the point.

In many ways, Paltrow's book is similar to the one I'm currently editing (although Sharmagne's book has enough of a slant that the reader can easily see that it is something unique). I have to wonder whether this book would have been published had the author been someone else, or had a lot of money not been thrown at its production. I get that Paltrow enjoyed cooking with her father and for her children, but what authority does she have? What credibility? In her articulated defense, Paltrow laments "we're talking about my professional life here." Well, no. Not really. You see, dear. you are an actress. Acting is your profession. Cooking is something you do for fun, which you state outright in the book.

Perhaps it all comes down to a matter of definition, or a lack of specificity in outlining the roles of author and editor. Every author can benefit from a skilled editor – even Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe relied rather heavily on Maxwell Perkins to polish their prose.

Note: I am not weighing in here on Rachael Ray and her alleged farming out of the writing portion of her books. The last RR tome I looked at was the Get Real Meals thing, in which she railed against low-carb diets. I have to wonder what exactly she would feed a diabetic boy.

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