1.07.2011

Review: What I Learned Under The Sun: My Unbelievable True Life, by Kyle L. Coon

I almost don't know where to begin. This was a tough read for me. Usually when I get an advance reader copy, the book has at least been edited to the point that the plot makes sense, the grammar makes sense, and there are maybe one or two spelling errors. But this was something else. This book (already published, by the way, not a regular unproofed copy) doesn't look like an editor has even glanced at it and, if they have, they should be fired from whatever position they hold.

I don't want to come across as a snob - it's obvious (from Mr. Coon's retaliatory comments towards his wife about his being able to "spel") that the author's priority is not the spelling or the grammar, or even the preservation of tense from clause to clause. His goal in writing this was not to put out a superb piece of literature, but to share his story in the best way he knew how, with as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

But when you remove the constructs that support language, you also remove support for the story - just like when I've looked for an apartment in the past - I only responded to ads and emails where they bothered to put some grammatical effort in - these things lend credit to the writer. Sentences like "One VP they had, I was forced to take to a meeting with me because she had a title of VP and smarter than me!" (pg 104) do not lend credit. And so I am of the opinion that Mr. Coon's work could greatly benefit from an editor who would not only take grammar and the tense in-hand, but who would also make note of extraneous commentary (probably half of the book could have been glossed over in a page or two, and would have made the rest of the book worthwhile rather than monotonous), inconsistencies (i.e. on page 33 he says he and his wife got married on September 5, 1993 but at the end he makes this big deal about numbers as signs and says that they were married on September 9, 1993) and repetition (i.e. pages 84 and 91 have 2 paragraphs on each page that are essentially the same exact information).

The other thing that made this a difficult read was that the author doesn't really make room for alternate viewpoints - in fiction we would call him an unreliable narrator, but since it is his book and he is claiming it to be a true account of his life story, I don't necessarily see him so much as unreliable as passionate. A lot of the accounts read like diary entries - flipping back and forth in time, going off on tangents that aren't always related to the subject at hand, and very very emotional. But in that emotion, he blinds the reader to any other perspective but his own, and I have to wonder if, in his emotive passion, he has blinded himself as well.

Mr. Coon is very enamored of his Bible, and he staunchly believes himself to be "of the light," you might say, and those who turn against him are sinners - guilty of lust, pride, bribery, greed and malice. Towards the end of the book he says that you are either one or the other - of the light, or of the dark. Perhaps in that strict dichotomy he has erased the middle ground where the changes of heart (in his bosses, in his wife, etc.) occurred.

The book is not without its moving moments: when, for example, he describes his children visiting at Christmas, I even teared up a little. But without the necessary viewpoints of the people around him, it makes his arguments feel cheap. If the events contained in this story are all true, then I feel truly bad for him and I wish him the best of luck - but it's important to note that there is always more than one side to every story, and Coon's lack of consistency as well as his insistence that those who oppose him are, necessarily, sinners...that makes me want to hear the other side as well.

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