You Need an Editor!

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I imagine that we've all read books and found ourselves wishing that we had editorial power over the text, from copy-editing (my pet peeve!) to wanting to chop out whole sections of books, or to rearrange the order of sections or to have more character/situational development (or less, as the case may be). Jumping to my mind is Chabon's Summerland which I loved, but which I felt could ahve been half-as-long and much stronger - it was like he had too many good ideas and details and didn't know when to stop adding them. (Actually, I think that Chabon IS his character Grady, from Wonder Boys who didn't know when to stop - oddly enough, that's how I felt about Wonder Boys, too.) And for the children's author Cornelia Funk (Inkheart, The Thief Lord). I also find myself getting frustrated when the author makes an assumption that the audience needs everything spelled-out for them - really, we can infer motive.

So what books would you like to re-edit (or just plain edit, for that matter)?

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Friday, 30 January 2004 06:14 (sixteen years ago) link

There was a section of Middlesex that I thought should have been cut. Can't remember what offhand. . . getting old suxor.

quincie, Friday, 30 January 2004 13:45 (sixteen years ago) link

White Teeth. I almost took my pen to it as I was reading it. That book infuriated me because it could have been so good if only Zadie had kept her shit together.

Also, Jonathan Franzen, who is always going on too long.

Jessa (Jessa), Friday, 30 January 2004 14:00 (sixteen years ago) link

haha - i actually did score out a few sentences in Eggers' "...Velocity"!

jed_ (jed), Friday, 30 January 2004 14:22 (sixteen years ago) link

Eggers not only needed an editor, he needed a proofreader. The typos in the hardback version were embarrassing.

Jessa (Jessa), Friday, 30 January 2004 14:34 (sixteen years ago) link

i think they must have sorted them out for the UK hardback version, i didnt notice many.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 30 January 2004 15:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Christopher Hitchens to thread.

Chuck Tatum (Chuck Tatum), Friday, 30 January 2004 15:49 (sixteen years ago) link

In the paperback version of "Velocity", the section where Hand takes over the narrative is so bad that I stopped reading the book, and haven't picked it up since. Passable idea for a novel, completely undercut by a section which calls into doubt everything that came before it, and is terribly written, to boot. Eggers's editor should have known better than to let him take another crack at it.

tl (tom), Friday, 30 January 2004 17:36 (sixteen years ago) link

After Thomas Harris made such a big deal about Hannibal going to straight to press w/out an editor, you can't imagine my delight in picking out typos/mistakes throughout the book.

Jordan (Jordan), Friday, 30 January 2004 17:56 (sixteen years ago) link

i can't really remember that section tl - do you mean he rewrote some sections for the paperback version?

jed_ (jed), Friday, 30 January 2004 18:05 (sixteen years ago) link

Actually, there are three separate versions of You Shall Know Our Velocity, and, amazingly enough, none of them are any good.

Jessa (Jessa), Friday, 30 January 2004 18:08 (sixteen years ago) link

hehe - i dare say!

jed_ (jed), Friday, 30 January 2004 18:32 (sixteen years ago) link

See, that just makes the point- three versions? For chrissake- make up your mind, and publish one story. The version I got had a new section tossed into the middle, written in first person by the Hand character, a few years after the other events in the book. I didn't know about a third version.

tl (tom), Friday, 30 January 2004 22:47 (sixteen years ago) link

uh - you read all three? i mean, wow

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 31 January 2004 02:13 (sixteen years ago) link

(i read the UK hardback, liked it, read the hand-takes-over-the-narrative bit online, thought it was quite immeasurably bad: stop hanging around with nick hornby, dave)

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 31 January 2004 02:14 (sixteen years ago) link

We still have some choice typos from Velocity tacked to the proofers' message board, I think, and I had to read that shitpile over a year ago...

Ann Sterzinger (Ann Sterzinger), Saturday, 31 January 2004 03:40 (sixteen years ago) link

I really looked forward to reading "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman, but I gradually came to the conclusion that it was a short-story idea stretched to novel length, albeit short-children's-novel length. I kept thinking, please let me get hold of this and cut it to about twenty-five pages, Neil. Because it was a beautiful idea and had some chilling touches. The book has been praised for its spare language, but it's not so much the language as the events that need trimming. (IMO).

I felt the same about "Pobby and Dingan" by Ben Rice.

R the bunged up with jollop of V (Jake Proudlock), Saturday, 31 January 2004 12:21 (sixteen years ago) link

Jordan: I agree with that thing about 'Hannibal' was a fun book, but when you're being all clever and historical and talking Latin and stuff, I dunno, it probably helps to be a bit more diligent with your spellchecking.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Monday, 2 February 2004 00:27 (sixteen years ago) link

A lot of European books apparently don't have editors in the North American sense... Like, Saramago's books, for example. They get accepted for publication, a quick copy edit, and out they go.

August (August), Monday, 2 February 2004 01:54 (sixteen years ago) link

If you're looking for something by Eggers that's even more impossibly awful than his second novel (and his 1st, I'll posit, had its charms, and would be well-received as an occasionally touching curiosity were it not so hyped/so titled), why don't you take a look at Salon these days for an unfunny, unreadable political parody? I can't make it through more than two paragraphs of any of them, on (inexplicable) multiple tries.


Matthew K (mtk), Monday, 2 February 2004 18:10 (sixteen years ago) link

Oddly, I was looking over some notes I made about some of the books that I read last year - and the notes were pretty much limited to plots and characterizations - and I found that for Hijuelos' The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love I'd written "worst copy-editing ever!" which is undoubtedly an exaggeration, but I do now remember being annoyed and distracted from the text by the editing problems.

Does a book being lousily edited (especially in the copy-editing) detract from the strength of the story that is being told? Do you find yourself holding it against the author or the publishing house?

(Last year I copy-edited a novel for a friend of mine - it was about to be published by a vanity house and my friend said that they didn't do much in the way of copy-editing. Even with [what I thought was] attention to detail, there were problems with the final print [even after working with the proofs and all] - I have a lot more respect for copy-editors these days.)

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Monday, 2 February 2004 22:06 (sixteen years ago) link

I got extremely frustrated with a Heinlein book for its shoddy copyediting. Within a three page span, they managed to spell "tattoo" three different ways. There were periods in the middle of words. Commas at the ends of sentences. Quotation marks where they shouldn't be and not where they should. If I hadn't been forced to read the book, I definitely would have given up on it for that. (Probably should have anyway; what a waste of time that book was.)

Jessa (Jessa), Tuesday, 3 February 2004 16:48 (sixteen years ago) link

Which Heinlein was it, Jessa? (I quite like some of his works and detest others.)

Actually, this entire thread has had me thinking about one of Sedaris' stories, about when he and his siblings were young and they found a dirty paperback - Sedaris recreated some of the more interesting passages, including discussions about female "nopples" - delightful.

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Wednesday, 4 February 2004 06:53 (sixteen years ago) link

The worst copy-edited book i have ever read was Paul Morley's "Words and Music".

jed_ (jed), Wednesday, 4 February 2004 17:12 (sixteen years ago) link

Degas Must Have Loved a Dancer by Krista Madsen. Beautiful idea, weak execution. And the whole idea of using 2 instead of two/to/to-/too was incredibly lame. What, do you think you're Prince? Jesus.

Catty (Catty), Monday, 9 February 2004 12:30 (sixteen years ago) link

(The Heinlein book was "Stranger in a Strange Land," which I thought started out strong, but fell apart by the end.)

Jessa (Jessa), Monday, 9 February 2004 19:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Houellebecq's Platform (the h/c version) had the most typos of any book I can recall. I don't have it to hand to see if it was the same translator of Atomised, but I don't recall that book having as many.

David Joyner (David Joyner), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 22:23 (sixteen years ago) link

Jessa - I'm inclined to agree with you on Heinlein's Stranger, but I can see why it was so shocking when it was released. I like a lot of his working with different social constructs for relationships stuff, though it seems that he frequently got so caught-up in the ideas of the social constructs that he forgot about plot, character development, and so forth. But my favorites of his have to be those "young adult" classics, like Red Plantet and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel - they were my introduction to SciFi.

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Thursday, 19 February 2004 07:02 (sixteen years ago) link

'Hannibal' is the worst book I've ever had to read, more boring than a long flight in fact, but Harris's description of the Palazzo Vecchio as 'intensely medieval in appearance' is worthy of Garth Marenghi.

Snotty Moore, Wednesday, 25 February 2004 03:42 (sixteen years ago) link

Worst copy-edited book I've come across yet is Lowry's _Under the Volcano_, though I've got several that run a close second to it. I've put the editing details here ... it's just a sad thing to do to such a well-written story.

Pat Sheehan (Pat Sheehan), Thursday, 26 February 2004 21:31 (sixteen years ago) link

sixteen years pass...

I just came across this online:

In the fall of 1815, the Fifth Principal Meridian’s baseline was established by the late Joseph C. Brown.

pplains, Wednesday, 11 March 2020 18:16 (six months ago) link

Because, damn, I was wondering how Joe Brown was doing these days.

pplains, Wednesday, 11 March 2020 18:17 (six months ago) link

Breaking: The Roman Empire was established under the late Augustus Caesar.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 11 March 2020 18:19 (six months ago) link

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