Book Review: Only as Good as Your Word

I was honored that Susan Shapiro self-identified as a loyal blog reader and sent me a copy of her new book Only as Good as Your Word, a delightful memoir about her writing career and the mentors who helped her create it. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the career trajectory of an ambitious, brash writer  / journalist trying to make it in New York City.

Shapiro introduces us to several of her mentors and provides highly entertaining color on what the relationships were like: how she sought them out, how she cultivated the interactions to become meaningful, and most interestingly, how over time her former mentor would ask her for favors and advice, a role reversal that I suppose is inevitable in the waning years of anyone’s career.

She is remarkably honest about everything. This makes the book both entertaining and surprisingly useful for the aspiring writer, since practical lessons shine through when there isn’t any bullshit or political correctness. She nicely recaps her advice at the end of the book, with headlines like “Act Entitled, Get Deleted,” or “Don’t Trash Yourself” (I’ve never understood why people self-bash in the attempt to self-deprecate). Finding mentors, being a mentor, being mentored — these are all hard, essential skills. Shapiro comments on them in the context of real life stories, almost always a more effective vehicle than straight, stripped down how-to.

Oh, did I mention she doesn’t self-censor? Here’s Shapiro on being approached by a young writer looking for help:

I prayed she wasn’t going to ask me to read and edit her experimental poetry opus, eight-hundred-page great American autobiographical novel, or memoir about her fucked-up family.

There are more such gems.

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