Dispatches | October 24, 2006
I Spy Two False Messiahs
Lately I’ve been proofing the pages of our forthcoming (fall) issue. This not-so- welcome job falls to me because I know when there are supposed to be three dots in a series of ellipses and when there are supposed to be four.
And because, having edited much of the issue, I know the material best and will notice if a sentence is missing.
And, most vitally, because the dictionary is in my office.
Would Richard have to proofread if I stuck the dictionary in his office? This is a question I ask myself often, about 150 pages into reading stuff that I’ve read a million times: Opening quote mark capital M Maybe she should have put a condom in her shoe period close quote. (That’s a real quote from a real story in the next issue. You’ll just have to read it and see. The sentence, and the story, are by a young writer named Jamie Allen.)
The thing is, proofreading can reveal surprises. Surprises are good. They make drudgery endurable. Dare I say that proofreading is drudgery? Well, it’s the truth. But we do it so the issue will look good, and so we won’t hear complaints from authors who want to know why we didn’t catch the sentence that said, “Maybe she should have put a condor in her shoe,” rather than “Maybe she should have put a condom in her shoe.” (It could make a significant interpretive difference.)
If we proofread well, we avoid the complaints. And there are the aforementioned surprises.
With the fall issue, for example, I noticed while proofreading that we are publishing two pieces about people who think they’re messiahs. One is fiction, one nonfiction. Why hadn’t we seen that before? False-messiah literature is not our stock in trade. In fact, if we’ve ever published a false-messiah piece before, I couldn’t name it.
We also have an unusually high percentage of literature in the forthcoming issue that’s about the Jewish faith or Jewish culture. Jews. Messiahs. Was it a plan? Not ours, anyway.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. Proofreading makes you temporarily stupid and small-minded. You look and look and look for the wrong number of dots. One, two, three, four. One, two, three. You rejoice over finding dropped italics. It’s like those kids’ I Spy books, where you pore over the picture to find the four hidden red ducks and the six green beads. And like I Spy, it forces you to wear glasses, focus on very small things and get excited when you spy two false messiahs.
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