Monday, October 6, 2008

If Only I Could

I've always been an avid reader. Childhood memories include sitting at the breakfast table while scrutinizing cereal boxes, hitching a ride to the grocery store with my mother so I could have a quiet place to sit and read in the car, and hour upon hour spent with my nose in a book. Someone bought me a sweatshirt once with a crazy, old lady silk-screened on the front, declaring she was the Queen of Books. That was me at ten.

I suppose, deep down, I've always been an editor too, though I'm still new to this Garden. "Can I write on this?" is a phrase that frequently draws a sigh and an eye roll from my co-workers as I reach for my friendly blue pen. My twelve-year-old prefers to take her homework to her father, who spell checks and gives a cursory glance, rather than Mom, who rattles off rules and requires three re-writes. I can't help it. It's what I do.

I haven't read "for fun" lately. I've been so busy with work and kids and life, that I just haven't made the time to sit down with a book. Also, I'll admit that I'm one to pick up a book and not stop until I'm finished, two in the morning or not. (And honestly, I might as well go ahead and read until three, because if I don't, I'll lay awake all night, wondering what happens, anyway.) Ages ago, a friend of mine suggested a book that she, her sister, and their mother had all enjoyed. I looked it up at my local library and became patron number two-hundred-and-ninety-seven to request it. Of course, months have come and gone, and I'd forgotten all about it. I was surprised to receive a call from the library this weekend, informing me the book I had requested was now available. What book? I sent my husband to pick it up, and laughed when he returned with the book that two-hundred-and-ninety-six people had read before me.

Climbing into bed last night, I picked it up.

I leaned close to my computer...

I cringed. It's written in first person? Might take some getting used to. First person is hard because it limits the writer--and the reader--to one point of view, giving absolutely no insight to any other characters.

That dialogue is all wrong. Who's saying what?

I tried. My fingers itched for my pen. I am not editing this book. I am reading it. Read it.

But they were everywhere. Misplaced punctuation. Misdirected quotes. "Head hopping"--in a story told in the first person! Then/than mistakes. Their/there/they're issues. Inconsistencies abounded. They agreed to meet at Restaurant A, but discussed what a great first date place Restaurant B was. An "I'm sorry I didn't do this" speech, when it was clearly done on the previous page. A "When December came, it was as cold as I had ever seen it when December came," sentence.

I gasped. I bit my lip. I rolled my eyes. I mumbled, "Someone should have caught that," under my breath a hundred times.

And I loved the story. I loved it. It's fantastic and wonderfully written, but...

I wish I could turn that part of my brain off and lose myself in the story, like I used to be able to do. If there was a switch, I would turn it off for the chance to enjoy a book without groaning at punctuation. But there's no switch. No magic word. No blindfold for my brain.

So I'll keep reading. And keep editing. And pray that no one will ever say of a book I edited that it's wonderfully written, BUT...
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3 comments:

Treethyme said...

We need more editors like you. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than glaring errors such as the ones you mentioned.

One New York Times bestseller (romance) I read over the summer called the hero the wrong name for two whole pages in the middle of the book.

In a recent Nora Roberts book, Juneau, Alaska was spelled Juno.

In another romance, the heroine wore islet underwear, not eyelet.

Timber instead of timbre is another one that drives me nuts.

As a reader, I never noticed headhopping. Since I started writing, I see it everywhere.

This is not to say I don't make mistakes: I'm blind to my own skipped words, in particular.

We all hope there will be editors with sharper eyes than our own, but apparently -- unlike you -- there are plenty who can flick that switch even when they are reading for work!

Susan said...

Great post, Michelle! Being an editor does tend to bleed over into reading-for-pleasure time, doesn't it? I'm much pickier about what I'll read these days--but that makes the times I find a well-written, engrossing novel all that more precious.

PaigeTurner said...

I think we're born writers, and it only gets "worse"!!!! I can't turn it off either...much to my husband's and daughter's chagrin. I could relate to your homework anecdote...sounds like my house!

My "favorite" typo ever was in a wedding program. The program listed the order of the service, which concluded with the bride and groom completing "THE EXCHANGE OF VOWELS." I burst out laughing in the middle of a quiet church, totally embarassing my husband.