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We can turn it off

Carol Fisher Saller has a typically pointed and elegant post at The Subversive Copy Editor about reading the work of friends. We can, she says, turn off the copy-editing function at will:

And what a luxury, to sail past inconsistent spellings, iffy punctuation, and inattention to Chicago style. Unlike many copyeditors, I can take off that hat and it pretty much stays off. (You won’t hear me brag that I can’t read past a typo. I’m more likely to be flummoxed when a friend writes me to correct her previous e-mail, not having noticed the typo in the first place.)

Indeed. I remember reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code; one merely goes very fast, for plot alone. You can get it all down, like that stuff they make you swallow the day before the colonoscopy.*

I can also—even though the adepts at Myers-Briggs would say, “He’s such a J”—suspend the critical function when reading correspondence from friends. I don’t edit conversations or correct pronunciations, though I may sometimes take off my glasses.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a professional editor. I edit for money, unless I am persuaded to edit pro bono. So don’t be shy. You can comment here without fearing that you ought to kowtow as you approach the Seat of Judgment. And while people can—and do—say any manner of rude things about me, I take a dim view of attacks on other readers of the blog. (Indoor voices, remember?)

There are, after all, different levels of reading. I enjoy murder mysteries. After a long day of working with professional journalists, who wouldn’t like to read about disagreeable people meeting violent death? And I think that everyone should cultivate some such low taste, so as not to become unduly refined.

But a copy editor reading something more ambitious and accomplished can appreciate at a level that many civilian readers do not. Civilians can tell that they are enjoying a text, but we can see why we are enjoying it: the apt selection of words, the cadence of sentences, the overall structure and the intricacy of organization within that structure. Editing is a craft, and one craftsman recognizes another.

 

*I confess, though, that Angels and Demons was so vile that I ground to a halt and abandoned it after a couple of chapters—if that much.

 

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