word craft


Achieving the Pinnacle

True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleA recent online review of one my books ref­er­enced The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, as “the Pin­na­cle” of my writ­ing career. 

That book was pub­lished in 1990 and was my twen­ty-sec­ond book. 

Since that time—thirty years ago—I have pub­lished six­ty-one more books. 

Accept­ing the premise of the “pin­na­cle” as metaphor, does that mean I have been going down­hill these past thir­ty years? And, since the review­er was so cer­tain of Charlotte’s place among my books, is it fair to ask, were all my oth­er books read before mak­ing that judgement?

In truth I know of no one who has read all my books, and that includes my wife. I like to joke that not even I have read them all. 

It’s true there are many times I’ve been asked, “what’s my best book?” The sim­ple answer is: I don’t know. My way of eval­u­at­ing my own work is, “Did I achieve what I set out to do?” 

But there are many oth­er ways to eval­u­ate a writ­ers’ work: Copies sold? Copies read? Win­ner of most awards? Most adult-judged awards? Most children’s choice awards? Most ref­er­enced? Most crit­i­cal notice? Most used in schools? The book that gar­nish­es the most fan let­ters? The book my own kids think is best? Mind, you are wel­come to arrange these cat­e­gories in what­ev­er way you want (or add anoth­er), accord­ing to what you think is most important.

It’s safe to say that not one of my books meets all these criteria. 

I once asked a very famous writer why she didn’t write books any­more. She said: “Peo­ple tell me I’ve writ­ten the best book ever. Why should I both­er to write anoth­er? They won’t like it.” 

I have always thought that one of the sad­dest com­ments by a writer I’ve ever heard. 

Many a time online I’ve read side-by-side reviews of my books, one which says, “This is the best.” Anoth­er says, “This is the worst.” These are not objec­tive cri­tiques.

One of the great plea­sures of read­ing, I think, is that each of us makes a sub­jec­tive eval­u­a­tion of each book we read. It is a pow­er­ful per­son­al form of art. More­over, our response to a book may dif­fer accord­ing to the cir­cum­stance in which we read it. The book I read on a long flight may elic­it a dif­fer­ent reac­tion if read in the com­fort of my read­ing chair. The book I loved when I was twelve is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the book I loved when fifty. But the love at each time is real. 

How do we know if a par­tic­u­lar book is a good one? (Not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best.) If a lot of peo­ple like it for a lot of years.

Anoth­er ques­tion I’m often asked is, “What’s your own favorite book?” That answer I’m hap­py to give because it’s always true: “My favorite book is the one I’m work­ing on.” That’s because I’m try­ing to make it the best ever. 

Until I start a new one. 

My great hope is that my last book—whatever, when­ev­er that is—will be my best. 

You can decide. 

6 thoughts on “Achieving the Pinnacle”

    • So true! As Avi states, it is a per­son­al art, per­son­al expe­ri­ence, a per­son­al jour­ney. Each book is unique just as each reader/writer is unique. That’s the beau­ty of the writ­ten word- means some­thing dif­fer­ent for every­one who expe­ri­ences it from the author craft­ing it to the read­er who becomes absorbed in the text.

  1. I love read­ing what­ev­er you write here and in your books. I can nev­er answer what my favorite book is in a gen­er­al way because I love and adore so many. I enjoy your blog so much and thank you again for your thought­ful, detailed and inter­est­ing posts here. PS I loved Char­lotte Doyle so I can see why the review­er loved it, but I agree about defin­ing or find­ing a pin­na­cle among such trea­sure. Keep writ­ing because you make a dif­fer­ence and you love it. And we are lucky.

  2. Avi,
    It’s such a shame that Char­lotte isn’t rec­og­nized as a “strong female pro­tag­o­nist”. No, not real­ly. She’s strong in the most impor­tant way: moral conviction.

    Anoth­er way of judg­ing a book’s mer­it is by the qual­i­ty of its ideas. In that cat­e­go­ry, your work shines.


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