Fall books are trickling in from the printer, so the small of ink, paper, and glue are think around the office (not really, but don’t spoil my image). If you work on books, the arrival of long wished-for final copies is not exactly unalloyed joy. Finished books mean the permanent record is set, with no more tinkering or last looks. And mistakes, tiny and not so tiny, are almost inevitable. The vast majority of the time, readers will never notice them. But we do, and for this reason I very rarely reread a finished copy. In fact, when I had to reread The Absolute Value of –1 for our BEA event, I read an ARC instead of the final copy I had in my office. The final copy was still too fresh to be read without anxiety. (Plus I already knew there had been one error unrelated to the text in the final book’s printing, so my nerves were really frazzled.)
What made me think about this was waking up to the news of an umpire’s blown call ruining a perfect game in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs.
I hope a few people sympathize with Jim Joyce, the ump who missed the call at first base in Detroit last night. I know I do (and not just because his namesake is a great author of un-umpire-able books). This is the nightmare scenario for an editor. Not catching an author’s error is one thing, but introducing error into the text is another vastly more horrible thing. Like umpiring, editing should be something invisible to readers.
Editors and umpires are in a weird position. We are, ostensibly, the guardians of a book’s or a game’s perfection, but we also know better than anyone who enjoys a book or a game that such perfection is unattainable and that the very attempt brings the risk of exposure. But we try all the same.
So here’s hoping for no blown calls this fall. (And, for the moment, I think I’m for instant replay in baseball.)