Dearest Samantha, I Love You: Stories Of Hope And Encouragement For Hurting Women, by Heather L. Smith
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As someone who reads vastly more than my share of books written by women, about women, and for women for the purposes of mutual encouragement , this book is useful to read from the perspective of a writer but also someone who wishes to point out the line between books that are published and books that are self-published. To be sure, I have read less polished books in this particular genre of books by women, but this is a book that sets itself up for failure, and which attempts to disguise its true intentions and purposes through the use of a form that is simply not very congenial to the reader, and by not having enough content to make it the sort of book that publishers would want to take on, which would have required it being about three times longer. As it is, this book is somewhere in the longish essay side rather than being the sort of 200 to 250 page book that is published almost literally a dime a dozen by mainstream Christian publishers. It is the nonfiction equivalent of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, a short work that is only included among the adult works of that wonderful author out of kindness, because it was clearly not up to the size and level of polish of her other works. And this book has the same sort of feel, a work that needs more content and a narrative flow.
It is to that form and structure and content that we must now turn. This book is written as a series of imaginary letters between the author and Samantha, an infant granddaughter who will not be able to fully understand the contents of this book for some time, and who by that time may not enjoy being called a “dear beloved” and being told “I love you!” at the end of every letter. The author herself states that Samantha is merely a literary conceit designed to stand in for all women, which makes the author’s gushing manner of greeting and closing the letters all the more awkward. The contents of the letters, moreover, are often not very encouraging, not departing at all from the standard fare of a woman complaining and ranting about various areas of life and pointing to a somewhat naïve view of divine providence and sappy emotionalism. Somewhere in the course of these letters there is enough material for an interesting book as the letters provoke questions like: Why did the author take so long to go to graduate school? Why does the author assume her work will only be of interest to other women, or that only women need encouragement? Why does the author talk about the complaining and whining moments of her life, and not the sort of ordinary details of a busy but productive life that would provide help to others? How does an author with so much life to talk about have so little to say?
It should be noted that this is not a bad book by any means. The author can write well, and can maintain consistency in her form and structure, and certainly has some good stories to tell in these very short letters. Certainly the result is less embarrassing than would be, for example, a collection of my own epistolary efforts. Even so, it is obvious that there simply are not enough letters, or enough content, for this book to be of interest to a publisher. Moreover, there are a few layers of dishonesty about the work–the author appears not only to be writing this book to an everywoman audience instead of to a particular Samantha, but she is really more venting and complaining about her life and at least some of her struggles rather than seeking to provide encouragement. There is nothing wrong about writing for therapeutic purposes, it is something I do quite frequently and that I read exceedingly often among the books that come my way, but one should be honest about it. This book needs both more content and more context, so that it would be the sort of book that others would be able to appreciate, and so it would be of service to anyone’s well-being but that of the author herself.
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