Ghostwriters...the furor continues

Like practically everyone else, I was taken aback when Julia Moskin's New York Times article on cookbook ghostwriters came out.  As it happened, I'd just received A Girl and Her Pig a day or two before and was still in an April Bloomfield - worshipping haze.  Learning that the book had been ghostwritten, I have to be honest, took a bit of the shine off it.  It wasn't a surprise--the credit is right there on the cover, "with J.J. Goode"--but now when I looked at the word "with" it started looking a lot more like the word "by". 

Since then, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rachael Ray (both mentioned in the piece) have come out swinging.  Their words are their own, they insist.  Industry professionals have weighed in, saying that it doesn't matter who gets credit or doesn't get credit; the ghostwriters sign the confidentiality agreements willingly, and the product speaks for itself.   Andrew Friedman reminds readers that plenty of chefs do write beautifully--Gabrielle Hamilton for one--so let's not forget to give them props.  

Everybody has a point, and I don't want to weigh in on who's right.  But to me--maybe because my own voice has been hard-won--the authenticity of a writer's voice is an irreplaceable treasure.  It's why I turned down ghostwriting offers at the beginning of my career, when I really could have used the money; I thought I should work first on finding out who I was.  It's why I adore cookbooks whose authorial voices ring clear and true, like Claudia Roden's and Dorie Greenspan's .  (On an unrelated note, it's also why I fell in love with my husband over email before we ever even met.) 

So I'll continue to weigh cookbooks on their merits, whether literary or culinary.  But I think, in the wake of this controversy, there will be a part of me that will be a little wiser, a little more aware, a little more skeptical, and even more attuned to narrative voice than before.

1 Comment

  • Harvestmoon  on  3/29/2012 at 9:09 PM

    Thanks for bringing this very interesting article to my attention! I was just wondering yesterday how on earth someone like Rachel Ray could possibly write so many books! Now I would really love to know what the regional cookbook that was produced in a NYC apartment was!

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