A subtitle should serve to give you additional information about a book. A peek into the content. An indication of what you can expect.
Unfortunately, in this case the subtitle proved to be very misleading. I recently lost a very dear friend of mine and was given the book “Piece from Broken Pieces – how to get through what you’re going through” by Iyanla Vanzant. So naturally, I thought it was a book about how to move through grief (in whatever form it takes for you personally) to the other side. Ways to help you deal with the odd and unusual rollercoaster of emotions that you experience as you try to navigate your way through an experience that is deeply personal and at the same time Universal.
I sat down this weekend to read through it and soon realized it was not a self-help book but a memoir of the author’s life. I kept reading, hoping that her healing process would be some sort of inspiration to me. What I found instead was an ocean of excuses for her behaviour and repeated relapses into self-destructive patterns.
Her daughter died and she retreated to her bed for months. She neglected her obligations and soon found herself in financial ruin. Her reaction to her situation was mind-boggling. “This is not my fault!” I beg to differ. Now don’t misunderstand, I know what it is to have the wind knocked out of you, leaving you wondering if you will ever recover. I know what it is to have the wolves at the door and not know how you will appease them. But what has to happen before we take ownership of our actions and our part in the situation? No one is a passive participant in their lives, for even inaction is an action on your part and I hate to break it to ya, but you are responsible for the choices you make or fail to make.
Upon finishing the book, I felt angry and deceived. “How to get though what you’re going through”? I call BS on that one. What I learned was what NOT to do when the shit hits the fan. Curling up in a ball and weeping, fasting and praying, telling yourself that all you have to do is have faith and everything will be alright. Those are passive actions. Yes, definitely pray, light a candle, meditate, ask for guidance, seek help, release your grief, work with crystals, call your Pastor, go to a drumming circle, do some yoga, head out to the middle of nowhere to do some primal scream therapy, take up pottery, write down your feelings. But at some point you have to take it upon yourself to use the tools that are presented to you and open not only your eyes but your heart to the path that you are meant to be on. Avoidance and blame solves nothing. In fact, it can make your situation so much worse than if you just put on your big girl panties, rolled up your sleeves, and took an honest look at your life and what you could do to change it.
So I decided to look at how I was feeling and change my perspective. Where is the lesson? What can I take from this experience? I reflected on events in my own life and how I dealt with them at the time, as opposed to how I would deal with them now. I looked at how far I have come, even in the last year. I found joy in the fact that I do not see myself as a victim but as someone who lives with the outlook that everything happens for a reason and comes with a lesson. Am I perfect? Far from it. I am a work in progress but the key is that I am working on what needs to be worked on. No excuses.
Speaking strictly as a writer, if you are going to put a subtitle on your book – ensure that it is accurate! Don’t lead the reader down a dead-end road or set expectations that you can’t possibly fulfill. Even if the book is wonderful, the reader will still feel disappointment. You’ll still sell your memoir because a lot of people will be interested in your story. But those who sought out your book because they thought it was about how to cook fish and instead found it filled with stories of your fishing expeditions and laments about all the fish that got away, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of disappointed (and hungry) readers.