Sunday, November 06, 2016


I've only recently come up with a good answer to the question, "What do you do?" That answer is, "I help people say what they mean." That's a big net that includes editing, writing, public relations and more — but it starts with listening, reading, and paying attention.

The "paying attention" is often the hardest part. As we gasp to the end of campaign season, I'm so distracted I feel hunted. Thank God I have stacks of books to retreat to. I'd have been very happy as a medieval monk, spending a month illuminating a single page.

It's November 6, and I've read four books of my 30-book challenge. The fourth book counts as both a reread and a book for work, which I'll explain below.

Book: TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis (1968) 
Format: Trade paperback
Owned Since: October 2016

How had I not read this book before? It was on the "supplemental reading" bookshelf of my fifth-grade classroom at Baylake Pines Elementary, I'm sure, along with Julie of the Wolves and Across Five Aprils and Where the Lilies Bloom and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Why didn't I read it? Did I assume that because it was a Western, it wasn't a book for girls? I am disappointed and indignant with my 10-year-old self, and can only imagine how different my life might have been if I'd read this book at a time when Mattie Ross could have been my role model. The 14-year-old narrator of this book pays attention to everything, has an opinion about most of it, and tells it all with every confidence in the reader's interest. Hell, it's not too late for her to be my role model now. Many thanks to Tommy Pluck for sending me this book.

Book: I WISH I HAD A RED DRESS by Pearl Cleage (2001)
Format: Trade paperback
Owned Since: October 2016

Last month I was part of a Facebook round-robin book giveaway that caused some anxiety and consternation among friends who groused about it being yet another stupid pyramid scheme. Well, yes, it was. But I got more than two dozen books out of it, and have since sent a couple of boxes of books off to friends who weren't as lucky, and have already read two books I would not otherwise have picked up. This was one of those books. Pearl Cleage is a playwright whose first novel, WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY, was an Oprah Book Club pick. I haven't read it, but this novel, her second, is set in the same world. It too is told in the first person, by Joyce, who runs a community center for at-risk teenaged girls and mothers in Idlewild, Michigan, which was a premier resort for the African-American community in the era of Jim Crow. Joyce is a widow striving to live a free life; I WISH I HAD A RED DRESS is a lovely book about how she manages to find new love and help her girls become independent women. I do wish I'd read the first book first, but it wasn't essential for this story.

Book: A TIME OF TORMENT by John Connolly (2016)
Format: PDF
Owned Since: October 2016 as is

It has been my privilege to work with John Connolly for several years now, offering general assistance and obnoxious advice on his extraordinary range of projects. A TIME OF TORMENT is the 14th novel to feature his tormented detective, Charlie Parker (or 15th, if you count the novella "The Reflecting Eye"). This read was both a re-read and for work, as I proofread the galleys for the UK paperback edition, to be published in February 2017. This is a series that continues to evolve in marvelous ways, and as familiar as I was with the story, it still gave me chills. (And a running joke about bathroom keys actually gets funnier every time I read it.)

Proofreading is not like other kinds of reading. It's more like sifting rice through a sieve, looking for stones. In fact, if you let yourself be drawn into a story while you're proofreading, you miss things. If you're paying attention to the story, your brain skims over mistakes and sees what you expect to see. Proofreading requires tricks, especially when it's a text you've seen several times, as this one was for me. I went through it forward, then I went through it backward. I moved from chapter heading to chapter heading to make sure the numbers were sequential and none were skipped. I searched for one particular character name that I knew had been misspelled in the galleys of the hardcover (where we did catch it).

It is almost impossible to publish a 125,000-word novel that is entirely free of errors. Some readers get indignant about this, and I share that indignation in the rare cases where it's obvious no one edited the book at all (a Southern literary novel I read last year, for example, where the main character mysteriously became ten whole years younger between one chapter and another). The goal is perfection, of course; but two or three typos in a 125,000-word book is an error rate most airline pilots would be okay with.

1 comment:

S Haines said...

As I've said before, I know I can't match you but I am inspired. So as you post your 4th, I'm half way behind, just finishing Jo Baker's Longbourn and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Pretty good for me... :)