Tag Archives: Book Reviews

What on Earth Are We Doing Here?

As many of you already know, this is my final free book review. It is also the only non-fiction title I have reviewed. My personal bias factors heavily in the following assessment. Keep that in mind.

what on earth are we doing here elaine pihaWhat on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering. Elaine A. Piha. 2011. Balboa Press.

As the title suggests, What on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering is a book that explores age-old questions about human purpose and the role of suffering in our lives. Written by a certified life coach and holistic healing counselor, it started off on very shaky ground before I even turned to page one. Terms like “life coach” and “holistic healing counselor” make me roll my eyes, truth be told.

In the first chapter Piha writes, “The moment you realize that no one is going to rescue  you is the moment you become empowered to rescue yourself.” Trite as it may be, I do agree with this sentiment. However, that’s about all I agree with in the book’s 100 pages.

Right away, the author speaks of near-death experiences and past life regressions as if they are concepts that need no substantiation. She evokes the names of Sylvia Browne, Edgar Cayce and Dr. Raymond Moody as if they are universally accepted as honest-to-god experts. (I assure you that is not the case.)

As a work of non-fiction that purports to have the actual answers to questions like, Why do we suffer? and What is our purpose? I can’t help but be slightly irritated by the lack of reference to authoritative works and substantive information.

For example, the author claims, “Interestingly, there were references to reincarnation in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible but they were taken out for heresy, despite being accepted by early church leaders.” It might be true; I’m not an expert. But if you’re going to write shit like that, you need to back it up. Give me your source. Let me investigate.

Readers can’t investigate what the author represents as fact at all with What on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering, because the author doesn’t use footnotes—she doesn’t even give a respectable bibliography. The closest she comes is a section titled “Just a Few of the Books that Have Illuminated My Path” which lists such works as Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra and The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. Frankly, those names just elicit more eye rolling.

I could easily spend the next several days harping on all that I disagree with in Piha’s book, but I don’t really think that’s necessary. I do respect her position that individuals should explore these questions on their own. It’s good to read, think, and question. And despite my misgivings about What on Earth Are We Doing Here, I do know that there are people out there that will find this book a source of comfort and inspiration.

To each his own, I guess.

Apparently You Can’t Even Give iUniverse Books Away

…Of course, my evidence is only anecdotal.

Kevin’s back. This time with a response to My Thoughts on iUniverse and a very generous offer. I am glad he stuck around to continue the conversation with me, but I am somewhat disheartened that he didn’t also address this comment left by a very unhappy iUniverse customer in the same thread. Ah well, time is limited for everyone. We’ll take what we can get, won’t we?

Kevin’s response:


I haven’t read the iUniverse title in question, so I can’t judge the quality of this book; but I find it troubling that you would judge a publisher’s entire library based on one or even a small selection of titles. Using this logic would mean that Simon & Schuster puts out books of questionable quality because one of its imprints, Gallery, published Snooki Polizzi’s book.

Your remark: “Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap,” is also puzzling to me. Are all iUniverse titles “utter crap” because they don’t receive the blessings of a gatekeeper?

If so, by this logic, all blogs would be “utter crap,” and WordPress would be polluting the Internet because unlike content produced by news organizations, blogs aren’t scrutinized by a gatekeeper. Readers judge if a blog is worth reading, and that determines its level of success.

I would be happy to send a sample of quality iUniverse titles for you to read. Please let me know your preferred genre and how I can get them to you. Thanks for providing this forum for dialog.

Kevin A. Gray
kevin.gray @iuniverse.com

Oh, Kevin, I dare you to read Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit. Triple dog dare you.  But that’s kind of beside the point. Let’s get to the heart of your comment, shall we?

At no time have I ever judged iUniverse’s entire library. I was clear about my inability to do such a thing because I haven’t read all of your titles. See the original quote:

Now, I’m not saying everything that comes from iUniverse is crap, because I haven’t read everything from iUniverse. But I know for a fact that some of what comes from iUniverse is crap, because I’ve had the misfortune of reading it.

Likewise, I never labeled “all iUniverse titles ‘utter crap.’” You seem to have jumped to that conclusion all by yourself (and then subsequently gone off on some wild, fallacy-ridden tangent about WordPress and news organizations to boot).

I simply stated that because iUniverse does print some crap, it should be held accountable for its part in printing said crap. In the case of all given works of crap, the authors are responsible for writing them, for sure. But iUniverse is also culpable, as a result of its business model.

When questions of money vs. quality arise at iUniverse, I get the distinct impression that money always wins. You made that pretty clear to me when you pointed out that authors can push forward despite the professional advice of iUniverse reps.

There’s no need to be ashamed about any of that, I guess. We all understand that making money is what businesses do. But I feel iUniverse needs to do a better job of owning it and accepting that it does indeed contribute to market pollution. Now, having personally read a total of three different iUniverse titles recently and a total of zero good ones,  my personal opinion is that iUniverse probably puts out proportionately more crap than, say, Simon & Schuster (since you mention them).

As a book-loving consumer, I’m already done taking chances on iUniverse. So concerning your offer to send me more titles? Thanks, but no thanks.

Photo credit: ButterflySha

My Thoughts on iUniverse

iuniverse bookOn Saturday I reviewed a book titled Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit, published by iUniverse.

There’s no need to read the original review unless you just want to. I can sum it up for you by saying this: my overall opinion of the work, though completely honest, wasn’t exactly flattering.

A smattering of people commented on the post, but I wouldn’t say it attracted much feedback. That’s generally the case with these types of self-pub reviews, I’ve noticed. However, when commenter Grizzbabe rightly pointed out that the book’s cover couldn’t be any cheesier, I lamented in my reply to her that “you don’t get professional editing services, and you sure as heck don’t get real graphic designers” from a place like iUniverse.

An iUniverse representative was good enough to stop by and leave the following comment in the company’s defense. I wanted to draw some attention to it for two reasons: first, because I think it’s important to hear from other people on the subject of self-publishing, and second, because I just couldn’t let it stand there without providing additional commentary.

Here is Kevin Gray’s comment, unedited:

Actually, Emily professional editing services are available through iUniverse; and we storngly recommend every author utlize the services of a professional editor — either through iUniverse — or from another source. Because iUniverse is an indie publishing company, authors are free to disregard this advice and push forward without an editor.

Authors are also encouraged to take great care in working with iUniverse in designing their covers. Many authors provide their own artwork or commission the services of a professional illustrator — either through iUniverse or again from an external source. Authors have final signoff on the entire book, including the cover, before the book is put into distribution.

The fact is fewer and fewer “non-superstar” authors are receiving advances from publishers, making indie publishing providers like iUniverse more and more popular. Whether an author chooses to publish through iUniverse, or to utilize another publishing option, we encourage all authors to seek out the assistance of professionals to ensure their books are the best they can be.

Kevin A. Gray
kevin.gray @iuniverse.com

First, I don’t dispute that iUniverse sells editing and design services to its customers. But, were Mr. Gray and I to compare notes on what qualifies as a “professional” designer or editor, I fear we might find some real discrepancies. At any rate, I can’t adequately judge the editing capabilities of iUniverse’s editing professionals, because I don’t know which authors chose iUniverse editors and which chose to do their own thing.

Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap. (Now, I’m not saying everything that comes from iUniverse is crap, because I haven’t read everything from iUniverse. But I know for a fact that some of what comes from iUniverse is crap, because I’ve had the misfortune of reading it.)

Actually, did I refer to iUniverse as a publisher earlier? Because I didn’t mean to. iUniverse and companies like it are more like printers than publishers. And, dear authors, if you don’t get that, you need only consider which direction the money is flowing.

Maybe operations like these do have a place in the free market, particularly if Mr. Gray’s argument—that traditional publishers are mostly just signing the superstars these days—holds water. However, people shouldn’t be deluded about what’s really going on here.

Writers, I’d just like to close by saying this: if seeing your novel in print is on your bucket list and traditional publishers have rejected your work, why not pay iUniverse to print it and slap it on Amazon.com? I’m all about people dying fulfilled and junk.

If you’ve used iUniverse or a similar service, please share your experience with me in the comments.

Photo credit: bizior

Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit

The contents of this book review have been removed at the author’s request. (6/20/2012)