I hate it when this happens: I recently sent off the O-Lord-I-hope-it’s-finished manuscript of my book on reading to Cynthia Read, my editor at Oxford UP, and just today, in reading this excellent article by Patrick Kingsley, I found several links to books and articles that I did not know about but wish I had. My book has a whole section about the value of reading more slowly, which I’m sure could have been better if I had known about this book (note the sample chapter available on the site). I will probably have a chance to incorporate a reference to Miedema’s book, but not much more.

This kind of thing happens all the time, of course; most writers have nightmares about books coming out just before their own volumes do that ruin everything. Nobody wants to review your new book on X because everyone just reviewed that other new book on X. Or your new book on X looks shabbily outdated because that other author discovered something or claims to have discovered something that you didn’t know about — or worse, that you knew about but had scholarly or ethical scruples that kept you from exploiting that knowledge. Maybe that other book on X makes yours seem like a frivolous popularization, or, conversely, like the work of a lifeless pedant. And many of these nightmares come true!
Can’t be helped. If you are deeply interested in something, it’s likely that someone else in the world will be also. You just have to hope that your book doesn’t get lost in the shuffle — a particular danger if you’re writing on a trendy topic, and my own topic, reading, is getting a great deal of attention these days. I have this sneaking suspicion that by the time my book comes out, sometime in 2011, several other books on the subject will have hit the shelves. Will reviewers say, “Ho-hum, yet another book on reading”? Or might they say — oh please let it be so — “Finally, among all these mediocre books on reading, one that we can whole-heartedly recommend”?


  1. I sent my manuscript for a book on reading a month and a half ago. Its scope is exhaustive, its style learned yet rollicking, and its release date six weeks before yours.

    Sorry, man, you lose this one.

  2. After five years of secret development, I shot my first "for publication" sex film in 2001, and as I struggled to get the world to notice, lived in fear that someone with more resources and more talent would see what I had done, build on it, and run the table. 10 years and six films later, my fears have (much to my disappointment) yet to be realized.

    I may be going out on a limb in saying this, but in the case of your upcoming book the who is doing the writing is at least as important as the subject being covered. By publication date their may be dozens of books about reading; but there will only be one Book About Reading written by Alan Jacobs!

    Meantime, try this trick a friend taught me: for every minute you spend worrying about who it will all go wrong, spend another minute using your intellect and imagination to conjure up wild success scenarios. 1:1 is the only acceptable ratio, and it works. Trust me!

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