One year of Stronger than Death: Learning and Humility
Celebrating the one-year birthday of Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.
Typing notes from interviews in Italy at a park outside the once-fortress of Caterina Sforza, now turned into a prison.
So many note cards! I need to see my work and touch it and move it around, not just on a computer. This filled our living room and I refused to use fans because the cards would fly around. Imagine! I also refused to let anyone else from the family enter the room for weeks on end.
Did you listen to The Caliphate podcast by Rukmini Callimachi? I did and I loved it. Now, a lot of her reporting (for that podcast and other pieces) is being called into question. This is so disappointing, frustrating, infuriating, confusing. And she, like many others, is doubling down rather than admitting she might have made some mistakes, might have been misled, might not be immune to human fallibility. By doubling down, she seems to be making things worse. Can we not just admit that every single one of us will make mistakes? If we can’t admit our own, how will we respond to others’ mistakes? We need grace, we need so much grace, and I want to be always practicing grace on me and grace on you. I tend toward cynicism and critical spirited, so this is a check on myself.
Let’s start with the parts that make me nervous.
Why on earth would a writer spill the beans on things that aren’t quite right in her work? Partly because of my pride. I want you to know that I know they are there. But that’s weird because it means pointing out things you might not have noticed otherwise. So at the same time, it takes me down a notch – revealing the imperfections. So why do it?
Because I find it fascinating. That is literally how much of a word nerd and book lover I am. I love this stuff – understanding why and how mistakes get made and overlooked, digging into the writing process, mental games, and even the publishing aspect of it all. I nitpick because it is interesting to me. I expose the nits I find because it is interesting and because I wish other authors did this more.
And let’s be clear, I am not blaming anyone for these things except myself.
Oh the folly of trying to do anything with perfection.
I cannot tell you how many times I read this book. I even read it out loud to myself. I read it so many times I could complete sentences in my mind or tell you which draft page they were on. But that’s a problem because it means the mind skips over things, or reads words and spellings that aren’t actually there.
There are some typos. And y’all know how I feel about typos. But, I keep finding them in other books (and I’m not even an editor, how must actual editors feel when reading these things?!), which helps, no one gets this right all the time. Not even National Book Award winners. What the what?! Its true. Finding them in my own work helps me have more grace on others. Take the plank out of your own eye first, right?
There is a factual error which partly comes down to being a sentence I had in my mind one way but the way it came out onto the page was different. The Somali President I mention who is assassinated wasn’t the first Somali President. He was the first Somali President to be assassinated. Grrr. I hate that I missed that. Most of you probably didn’t even notice.
(Oh and guess what – if you buy enough books and we do another edition, I get to fix these things! So go buy it, give it to people, use it as a giveaway, go nuts!)
Maybe we shouldn’t admit to mistakes like this in public, as authors. I don’t know. What’s the proper protocol here? Humility and transparency seem best but I could just be hopelessly naïve.
All of us make mistakes. It is OKAY. Let’s do our best. Let’s accept that everyone is doing their best.
Grace. Gentleness. Humility. Kindness. Oh how badly we need these traits in 2020.
Now you can leave comments telling me what an idiot I am, both for telling you these things and for making the mistakes in the process. I won’t read them. Or maybe I will. Or maybe not…
Buy the book!
Plough: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
Indiebound: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
Barnes and Noble: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
Amazon: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
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