THE BLOG

What Bonang Matheba's 'Excruciating' Book Tells Us About The Decline In Basic Standards Of Writing

Translating the way one speaks into writing is disastrous in the absence of storytelling and basic writing skills.

17/08/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 17/08/2017 06:34 SAST
Bonang Matheba/ Instagram

Exclusive Books did the inevitable by pulling Bonang Matheba's "From A to B" from the shelves.

In an interview with Radio 702, Exclusive Books CEO Benjamin Trisk told Bongani Bingwa that the book was filled with "typos of all kinds" and felt Bonang's followers deserved some respect. Trisk said it would have been unethical for him to ignore the cries of the public, so Exclusive Books decided to offer a full refund.

But the book's controversy soon entered the realm of race and gender politics. Her fans were eager to disregard language rules and professionalism on the part of the publisher because Matheba is a black woman. This raises an important question: Should there be lower standards for black women in publishing?

Successful black women have written books before. Redi Tlhabi, who is also a media personality, wrote a highly acclaimed memoir entitled "Endings and Beginnings". Her publisher applied all the proper rules to produce an award winner. No standards were lowered on the basis of her race or gender.

Bonang Matheba's ghost writer opted for a conversational tone -– a device that can work if done well. But this is a skill. Translating the way one speaks into writing is disastrous in the absence of storytelling and basic writing skills. If you doubt that, try recording yourself as you speak, typing it out word for word and publishing the result. You and your readers are likely to regret it.

"From A to B" required an appropriate structure and the application of elementary rules of English usage. The content is not well organised. Many sentences are incomplete, suggesting that the writer was in a hurry. Tenses are all over the place. Fact-checking does not appear to have been a concern. Besides getting Bonang's birth date wrong, Vusi Mahlasela is misspelt ["Mahlesela"] and Bongani Khoza has been rechristened "Bonagani".

The book is an excruciating read because of the egregious overuse of "stuff" and "things".

Here's a typical passage: "My mother manages to save even when it seems there's so little, to begin with, that there is nothing to save." The word padding and lack of punctuation in this sentence makes it confusing. Few of us speak "perfect" English, but writing and publishing a book demands at least the basics.

"From A to B" reads as if it's a first draft that drones on and on, destroying both flow and pace. Wordiness is a problem, as in, "She emphasised the importance of having as many options as possible for my siblings and me, and she saved, saved and saved." At times repetition creates ambiguity. Whenever she mentions YFM in her book, "the epicentre of youth culture in the country" follows. It makes it seem as though that is YFM's motto.

Unless it's used as a poetic device, repetition tires a reader, and wordiness exhausts their patience. A sentence in chapter four was duplicated in its entirety and published in chapter five. It would have been bad enough had the sentence been intelligible. Instead, we have this mess: "I started missing lectures, missing and failing tests and practicals, because Live was so all consuming."

Finally, the book is an excruciating read because of the egregious overuse of "stuff" and "things".

If it takes two to tango, it takes three for a publisher to produce a decent book: a writer, an editor and a proofreader. On that basis, Bonang's book could easily have been titled "3 minus 2".