I’m in the process of editing my manuscript, OUR DAILY BREAD, which will be published in the fall. Now, I’ve read this manuscript probably thirty times. My Best Beloved, who is also my first reader, has probably read it five times. My agent has read it at least once. My editor has read it a few times. All these people have caught errors, bless ’em. So, you’d think we would have caught sentences like these: “I’m you don’t mind Ivy helping me” or “It seemed there was there no end to the surprising things Dorothy might find herself saying.” But no.
I’m one of those dreadful people who delight in keeping a (red) pencil at hand when reading other people’s books. I correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax. I have a nearly neurotic loathing of extra connecting verbs and ‘that,’ as in this student’s example: She had hoped
that she and Joe would have travel led together, but it was now clear that he needed more time to recover.
I read a book by a famous writer not long ago and scratched out twelve ‘thats’ on one page.
And yet, I do not have a proofreader’s genetic predisposition to spotting errors, not really. Not like Anne Fadiman, the splendid writer and daughter of legendary editor Clifton Fadiman. In her terrific book of essays, EX LIBRIS, she admits she comes from a tribe of compulsive proofreaders and describes a family dinner at a fancy restaurant thusly:
As we bent our heads over our menus — all of us, that is, except my father, who can’t see — I realized that our identically rapt expressions had nothing to do with deciding what we wanted to eat.
“They’ve transposed the e and the i in Madeira sauce,” commented my brother.
“They’ve made Bel Paese into one word,” I said, “and it’s lowercase.”
“At least they spell better than the place where we had dinner last Tuesday,” said my mother. “They serve P-E-A-K-I-N-G duck.”
Now, I can’t help but think she could have done without the ‘that’ in the first sentence, but who am I to argue with a Fadiman? The point is, should Ms. Fadiman ever read one of my books, she will doubtless find at least several misspellings, typos, grammatical and punctuational catastrophes. I have learned to accept this, and even be grateful to people who point them out to me. I suspect there may well be such errors on this very page. Feel free to let me know.
I like to think my mind runs faster than my eye, magically cleaning up my mistakes before I notice them, but it’s more likely I’ve simply read the same damn sentences over so many times I don’t really see them anymore.
Perhaps such errors are like the golf clubs My Best Beloved plopped down by the mudroom door several years ago and promised to move…soon. Of course, they’re still there. I have concluded he didn’t lie when he said he’d move them, it’s just that he doesn’t see them anymore. They’ve become part of the background, a gray lumpy blur his eye doesn’t register anymore. Heck, I don’t even notice them any more.
In this case perhaps familiarity breeds, not contempt, but disregard… which is surely the reason why the first sentence in my novel, I’ve only just noticed, reads thus:
Near the top of North Mountain a tumbledown shed leaned against an old, lightning-struck oak at the edge of an raggedy field.
Clearly, I’ve much work to do.