Consumer king Clark Howard has followed up his New York Times bestseller “Living Large in Lean Times” with another one that’s sure to be a hit. I know this because I’ve read it: Clark has donated two copies for review and/or giveaway.
Review first, giveaway after.
The format of “Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul” is quite smart: Interview 50 U.S. residents who were body-slammed by the recession and find out how they coped.
This is both shrewd and reader-friendly. Too often personal finance books and articles use people as bad examples: “John Smith had 24 credit cards. For years he was up to his hairline in consumer debt, and ultimately declared bankruptcy. Now his credit score is in the crapper, he can’t get a decent auto loan rate and landlords don’t want to rent to him. John is an idiot. Don’t be like John.”
It’s not that object lessons are bad. It’s that sometimes they’re a little too close to the reader’s own behavior. The temptation is to shut down, i.e., to be unable to learn anything from the example, or to pretend you’re nothing like John (“Yeah, I have a dozen cards but at least I don’t have two dozen – and I’m making the minimum payments on time so everything’s cool.”)
Clark’s premise is swell and once again he’s packed the pages with sometimes obscure and always ingenious tips. It’s a terrific resource, and one that I plan to keep on my own bookshelf along with his previous book.
That said, there’s something else to say: Clark, if you’re reading this, get yourself an editor, son. Please.
We all need editors. One would assume that Avery (a division of Penguin) has editors. But they were either too in awe of Clark’s credentials to challenge him or they were absent the day he turned in his manuscript.
The pages are sprinkled with small but annoying errors, such as “it’s” instead of “its,” or the description of a town as “rustic” when it’s actually in a densely populated and heavily retailed area of New Jersey.
But you should still read it
Too often the book reads like a rough draft, with awkward phrasing such as, “Like Kate and Brian, Americans have historically moved from where they were raised for opportunity” and “Steven moved to Omaha, Nebraska, as a child, and ended up in Atlanta by kindergarten.”
Clark describes a stray cat that “literally came flying into her apartment.” Not unless it had wings, it didn’t. (This message brought to you by the Coalition To Make Most People Stop Using The Word “Literally” Because They’re Doing It Wrong.)
Non sequiturs abound, too, as in this example from the chapter on student loans:
“Kate is originally from upstate New York and Brian is from the Canton, Ohio, area. She credits both of their parents for making them into people who can raise a family on teaching salaries.”
And someone needs to tell the author that just because you have a detail or a quote doesn’t mean you have to use it. The entire first page of the chapter on health savings accounts is devoted to camellias. Clark runs a lot of long, windy quotes that should have been paraphrased down by two-thirds.
Such problems slow down the progress toward the point. Writers need to make it easier, not harder, to get from chapter to chapter.
While I hate the sins against prose, I do love the sinner. Clark has probably forgotten more about saving money and getting a fair shake than most of us will ever know. As I mentioned earlier, the book is a keeper. It just needs revision.
Want a shot at winning the other copy? Here’s how to enter:
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The deadline is 7 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Aug. 6. If I don’t hear back from the winners by 7 p.m. PDT Wednesday, Aug. 7, I’ll pull another name.
Note: While I generally refer to authors by their surnames on second reference. Clark Howard will always be “Clark” to me because of his habit of referring to “Clark Smart” ways of doing things.