Let me ask you something. Let's say you find yourself editing an anthology. You can't pay contributors much – maybe you can't afford to pay them anything at all – so you have to work with whatever submissions you're lucky enough to get.
After you put the word out and wait as long as you can, you go through what you've been sent. You have two very good essays, one pretty good one, several that are just okay, and one that's incredibly poorly written.
What do you do?
First of all, if you absolutely must
accept the atrocity, you get out your editor's pen and you work until your fingers bleed. You fix spelling and punctuation errors. You beat bad grammar until it whimpers. If the writer says her mother "budges in" when she clearly means "barges," you make the change. You chop up overlong paragraphs. You rewrite to the point that it would be accurate to list you as a coauthor.
And you don't tell the writer in question you're doing any
of this. If she notices after publication that her piece looks a little different from the one she sent in, you neither apologize nor explain. If have to say something, you keep it short. "I'm an editor. I edited. Thank you for your contribution."
I'm speaking from experience. I edited an indie magazine for a few years. I had very little money. I did a lot of the writing myself, and begged contributions from everyone I knew who could put two coherent sentences together. We got some good publicity when a couple of pieces in the online edition went viral, but we still didn't have many contributors and it would have looked pretty weird if I wrote the whole magazine myself. So I found myself having to work with, not to put too fine a point on it, some absolute schlock.
I spent more time editing these pieces than I did writing some of my own. When authors noticed changes and asked what had happened to their writing, I blandly blamed "space limitations."
There are two reasons this kind of work is important. The first one's obvious: You don't want to torture your readers, or you'll lose them.
The second reason it's important to clean up messy writing is because it's your duty as an editor not to allow your contributors to humiliate themselves publicly. That goes double if they're young, and triple if they're writing in a non-native language. (And yes, I worked with all of the above.)
The first essay in My Tiger Mom & Me
is so badly written, there were places where I literally wasn't sure what the writer was trying to say. There were other places where I could figure it out, but it took a minute I shouldn't have had to spend. The first sentence
in the first essay mentions the scent of rice "evading" the air. Yes, the writer must have meant "invaded." So why didn't the editor notice that, and fix it? And fix the numerous other errors this young, native Tamil-speaker made, including mile-long paragraphs and sentences that make no sense?
This essay was flawed enough that the editor would have been well within her rights to reject it. But if she accepted it, she also accepted her duty to make it readable.
That was the first essay in this collection, which brings me to the editor's second mistake. If your book consists of two really good essays and a lot of just passable ones, you don't begin the collection with the worst of the lot.
You begin and end with the best you have to offer. In between, you shuffle stronger and weaker pieces in order to hold the reader's interest, or at least keep her hopes alive.
That's what's known in this business as a "duh."
This collection begins with its weakest piece and works its way up to its best, which is exactly what you're not
supposed to do.
This aspect of the collection flipped me out so much, I could barely concentrate on the content. The fact that most of the writing was mediocre didn't help. The stories were worth hearing, but the telling was distractingly second-rate.
If you're interested in the Tiger Mom phenomenon from the point of view of the cubs, this is the book to get – at least until a good one comes along. The last two essays are very good, especially Ernie Hsiung's "One Missed Call," a wryly humorous piece about the joys of being a gay male tiger cub.
Several of the essays are fine so far as they go, but there are far too many spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors – especially when one's eyeballs are still bleeding from that first uncorrected atrocity. I won't name the author, because it isn't her fault this piece is so publicly bad. Her editor let her down.
Unless your interest in the subject matter is unusually keen, I'd pass on this book.