The lost art of editing
It is not uncommon, if you are of a certain cast of mind, to fling a book across the room and wonder if there is anyone still alive who cares about hanging participles, or the difference between that and which, or the fact that “whose” is a relative pronoun. Neither is it unusual to find a slender volume that seems short-changed by its brevity or an enormous one stuffed with extraneous material. And the associated experiences of being what the industry calls a “heavy reader” have also changed. To buy a book, whether in a physical or virtual bookshop, is to navigate an obstacle course of special offers and money-off deals that are designed to make you buy more, not better; in the case of ebooks, the retailers’ first aim is to sell you a device, with hugely discounted books as the bait. Finding out what book you want has also changed; although there is still plenty of high-quality literary criticism available, there is no doubt that there has been a shift away from the painstaking analysis of words and sentences and towards straightforward plot recital and a speedy thumbs up or down. If these peripheral factors are not directly linked to standards of editing, they are surely indicators of the extent to which books have been commodified. The word may still be the thing; but it isn’t the only thing.