Tag Archives: editing

Is anybody still editing Basic Books?

As a Certified Math Blogger I sometimes get new popular math books in the mail.  I just got one from Basic Books, opened to a random page, and found a reference to “Euclidian geometry.”  Yes, I know this is an arguably acceptable alternative spelling.  But it’s “Euclidean” everywhere else in the book.

(The typo is on p.47, if the self-Googlers at Basic should happen to read this.)



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Is anybody still editing the New York Times?

From the John Jeremiah Sullivan piece on massage in the NYTimes magazine:

When you feel like that, you don’t leap to be naked in rooms with an assortment of strangers while they rub their hands all over your bare flesh — there’s probably a fetish group for becoming as physically disgusting as you can and then procuring massages, but that’s not my damage. Also, there’s something about massage in general that makes me more, not less, relaxed.

He means “less, not more.”  If you click through you’ll see it’s been corrected in the online version.  So someone noticed it at some point.  But someone should have noticed it before the piece was posted and printed!

See also my complaint about Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which besides being carelessly edited — when you vomit because a vampire bit you, you are retching, not wretching, dammit! — failed to live up to the promise of its very good first 300 pages.  Executive summary:  it starts out as The Stand and ends up as The Dark Tower, and if you think that is not a downgrade then we shall fight.

Back to Sullivan:

But that’s true for so many of us — we fall into our lines of work like coins dropping into slots, bouncing down off various failures and false-starts.

has a nice cadence but does not actually describe a thing that is like the way a coin drops into a slot.  Before the coin goes in the slot, it doesn’t bounce off anything, and after it’s in the slot, it may bounce down off things inside the mechanism (is that what he meant?) but it does so while travelling down a well-defined rigid channel, exactly the opposite of what Sullivan is going for.


The yellowish gray-green circles under my eyes had a micropebbled texture, and my skin gave off a sebaceousy sheen of coffee-packet coffee.

Most of this is great, especially “micropebbled,” but “sebaceousy” isn’t right — I’m not sure the “add -y to informalize a word,” move, a lexical way to indicate “kind of” or “sort of,” applies to any adjective, and if it does apply to some, I’m sure it doesn’t apply to “sebaceous.”



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Triple negative

J Cronin’s The Passage is surprisingly interesting and I hope to blog about it at greater length some other time.  (Short version:  it is the only thing I’ve ever read that imitates Stephen King and gets right what works about Stephen King, and this is sort of a great achievement.)  Still, though, there’s this:

It wasn’t that he didn’t like her, nor that she had failed to make her interest less than plain.

It took me about thirty seconds to figure out what this actually said, and once I figured it out, I was pretty sure it didn’t say what Cronin wanted it to say.  But how could any editor read this sentence and not flag it?


Raymond Carver’s Gordon Lish problem, and mine

When my parents visited, they dropped off a stack of old New Yorkers, including this year’s fiction issue, which featured “Beginners,” Raymond Carver’s original version of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Carver’s version is moving, but also talky and baggy, possessing none of the rigorous terseness that we talk about when we talk about Raymond Carver. Except that maybe we were actually talking about Gordon Lish, who edited the story down to its bones. Or, more precisely, about the collaboration between the two. The New Yorker offers a remarkable chance to see how this kind of collaboration works: they’ve posted Carver’s original version with Lish’s edits superimposed, “Track Changes”-style:

My friend Mel Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right. The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin. It was Saturday afternoon. Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink. There were Mel Herb and me I and his second wife, Teresa—Terri, we called her—and my wife, Laura. We lived in Albuquerque, then. But but we were all from somewhere else. There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love. Mel Herb thought real love was nothing less than spiritual love. He said When he was young he’d spent five years in a seminary before quitting to go to medical school. He He’d left the Church at the same time, but he said he still looked back on to those years in the seminary as the most important in his life.

That opening paragraph is actually treated pretty mildly; farther into the story, whole pages get the axe. Carver didn’t take Lish’s edits easily — in an exchange of letters published in the same New Yorker issue, he tries to pull back the stories from publication after seeing what Lish did to them. Carver felt Lish had violated his work — and he was right! But the work was better for being violated.

I know how he feels, a little, because I, too, have been edited by Gordon Lish. Sometime in 1995 I wrote a story called “What Can We Expect From the New Currency?” and submitted it to Lish’s magazine, The Quarterly. Lish called me on the phone to tell me he was accepting the story and that he’d send me a version with some edits by mail. When the package from Lish arrived, I discovered that what he was accepting was about a third of my story: most of the opening, broken up by the insertion of some paragraphs rescued from the mostly deleted latter sections.

And you know what? His version wasn’t really my story — but it was a lot better and cleaner than my story. And he didn’t change my title.

What I didn’t know was that The Quarterly was out of money, and would never publish another issue.

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