BOOK REVIEW:

Print on demand and other self-publishing websites have made it easier than ever to get your life's work in the hands of readers. Sites like Lulu, Xlibris and iUniverse customize the printing process to help writers reach the audience they're specifically looking to reach.

Some authors want to print only one copy of their masterpiece, to place on their shelf at home, or a few to hand out to family members and friends. Others use print-on-demand sites to publish copies of their book to send out to bookstores or larger publishing houses. Whatever the ultimate goal, self-publishing is being used more and more by first-time writers who want their work to be seen. That isn't always a good thing, though.

“Hard Times in the Country: Ramblings of a Hayseed,” by Glendale resident Timothy L. Wahl, is one such book. Self-published through iUniverse.com, the autobiography details Wahl's days growing up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. At times, the book exhibits wonderful examples of drama, conflict, nostalgia, suspense and hilarious country anecdotes. The only thing missing: an editor.

It's clear from reading the book that Wahl had a very interesting childhood, and that millions of people across the country could probably relate to much of what he went through in his younger days. The problem is that it's unfocused, unedited and at times downright boring. There are spelling, grammar and punctuation errors on almost every page, simple mistakes that can take the reader out of a story when repeated too frequently.

The book also lacks any real narrative structure, making it difficult to follow along. Wahl titles each of the 28 chapters, and even further breaks those chapters up, using random paragraph headers, but these titles are little more than suggestions. Wahl often begins a story in one place and ends it by going off on a tangent in a completely different tense, time or location.

The book seems to have been pieced together from hundreds of little bits of stories that Wahl remembered over the course of his writing. The lack of structure in time or narrative makes it sometimes difficult to understand whether Wahl is discussing a specific incident that happened or a common occurrence in his life. It's impossible to connect how certain events are related to one another, or even when exactly they happened at all.

He also references many characters without introducing them until several chapters later, or retells the same anecdote twice. It seems like the purpose of this memoir was to relate every moment that he can remember from his childhood and include everyone and everything involved, and that's fine if that was his goal, but it could still be presented in a way that's more compelling for the reader.

There are some very intense moments, like his admission of a suicide attempt and subsequent time in a mental institution. That could have been the subject of an entire book. Wahl devotes less than a chapter to the event, and doesn't even mention it until 240 pages into the book. At random places throughout the earlier chapters, he vaguely references an event that changes everything, but never explains how it really affected the rest of his life.

I wanted this book to be good, and I think it still can be, but it desperately needs a good editor. “Hard Times in the Country: Ramblings of a Hayseed” is just that, ramblings. Wahl doesn't succeed in making his childhood seem any more interesting than anyone else's.


?BRIAN MCGACKIN attends USC's graduate creative writing program, focusing on poetry and literary critical analysis.

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