Having drunk the copy Kool-Aid

Rubber-gloved hand, four Kool-Aid packets, and some cups

I love this article by Lori Fradkin, “What It’s Really Like to Be a Copy Editor” (TheAwl.com, July 21, 2010), though I take issue with her opening example:

The word is douche bag. Douche space bag. People will insist that it’s one closed-up word—douchebag—but they are wrong. When you cite the dictionary as proof of the division, they will tell you that the entry refers to a product women use to clean themselves and not the guy who thinks it’s impressive to drop $300 on a bottle of vodka. You will calmly point out that, actually, the definition in Merriam-Webster is “an unattractive or offensive person” and not a reference to Summer’s Eve. They will then choose to ignore you and write it as one word anyway.

I know this because, during my three-plus years as a copy editor, I had this argument many, many times.

Me, I would have let “douchebag” stand—though I might have queried it, just as a formality. When Kristin Hersh tweeted re her forthcoming memoir, Rat Girl,

the poor copy editor at Penguin had to tell me that "apeshit" is not one word, but two
@kristinhersh
kristin hersh

I couldn’t help but reply as follows:

I say it depends on how it’s being used. RT @kristinhersh the poor copy editor at Penguin had to tell me that “apeshit” is not 1 word, but 2

Per Wordnik, the closed form of “apeshit” is by far the most common. @kristinhersh Show your CE: http://is.gd/bzHMe vs. http://is.gd/bzHOf.

.@kristinhersh Also, “An experienced copyeditor will recognize and not tamper with unusual figures of speech or idiomatic usage”—CMS 15:2.56

So, there.

(via @sarahmaclean)

Photo: Putting Kool-Aid in small containers by Breibeest; some rights reserved.

Three More Days

Thesis Book 2010

This Thursday at 12:40 p.m., I have to publicly present some sort of something about my vague and fugitive master’s thesis. The talk—about ten minutes’ worth—will be streamed online so you, my friends, can all point and laugh, and the video will be archived somewhere (hopefully somewhere dark and offline) after the event.

Oy vey.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what the hell to say and show, and I’ve had to write a short description of my work for a (printed!!) book of my class’s thesis projects—a book that was, of course, laid out by me, who obviously had nothing better to do with my time. The following is the lofty prose I came up with, sometime between birds-tweeting-time and sunrise this morning:
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Are you a bookfuturist?

Old news but good news:

I also want Bookfuturism.com to be a kind of social network for Bookfuturists like me. There are clear markets for writing by techno­logical triumphalists (I call these guys and girls technofuturists) and doomsayers (when it comes to reading, this group can be called book­servatives). It’s easy to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to new technology; it’s a lot harder to try to engage with its strengths and weaknesses, to think of ways it could work better, to situate it in his­tory, to study its effect on a culture.
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What’s been gnawing at me lately

cat chewing on an e-reader

One of the things that I find gets more difficult year after year—and I can’t tell if this is more because I’m getting older, or because I’m letting myself be pelted with information faster and harder than ever before, or because I don’t write as regularly as I used to—is synthesizing ideas. I spend hours each day gathering information, and some days it seems like for every page I read on the Web, I open or bookmark two more to read later. Yet when an occasion arises for me to state what I think about what I’ve read, I most often end up blurting out whatever my gut tells me, rather than what’s the result of deliberate analysis and consideration—because who has time to ruminate? I’ve heard the rumor, of course, that our guts know more than we think they do, but as I haven’t yet had time to read up on the subject, I can’t say to what extent or in what circumstances that’s true. My gut is whispering to me, however, that my gut is often misguided or misinformed.

For at least the last few months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do (a) for my master’s thesis and (b) to pay back my student loans after I finish the damn thing, I’ve been trying to absorb as much information as possible about e-books, e-readers, and the future of the book in general. I’ve read articles, essays, and tweets; listened to podcasts, panels, and lectures; watched videos and (sorry to have to use this word:) webinars; and talked with a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of talking at people, too, pushing and no doubt breaking the limits of courtesy with dozens of unfortunate friends, acquaintances, and strangers as I try to articulate what my gut tells me about all this partially digested input. And I’ve written about a few small things, trying to finely chew at least some corners of the subject.

Just in the last week, thanks to the Digital Book World conference and Apple’s iPad announcement, I’ve skimmed, read, watched, heard, or bookmarked thousands of chunks of content—most of them tweets, since I wasn’t present at either event but followed along through hashtags and Twitter lists—having to do with books in the digital era.

And what do I think about all of it?

I don’t know.
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“books do certain things well and digital technologies do other things well”

There’s a fab article hidden behind the Chronicle of Higher Education paywall:

Some years ago, Terry Belanger found a striking way to reveal the reverence that many citizens of the digital age continue to feel for old books. It is a sentiment he finds fascinating but only rarely appropriate or useful. Belanger, who retired in September as director of an educational institute called Rare Book School but who continues to teach there, brings an old volume to class, speaks about its binding and typography, and then, still discussing the book, rips it in half and tears it into pieces. As his horrified students watch in disbelief, Belanger tosses the shards into a nearby trash can and murmurs, “Bibliography isn’t for sissies.”

The Book Mechanic: A modern sensibility binds Terry Belanger to old, rare volumes, by Andrew Witmer (Chronicle Review 41, December 6, 2009).

(Via Guy, who got it from @roncharles)
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That part of the future which is here today

page heart

As you may have gathered, if you’ve been following along, the reason I no longer post much around here is that I’m in grad school, in a program that doesn’t have anything to do with books. Not usually, anyway. It’s a two-year master’s deal, and I have to come up with a thesis sometime in the next couple of months, so I’m hoping to find some way to work books back into it. In the meantime, however, most of the connection between school and books is in the readings I do for my classes.

A few of these readings are in the form of actual bound books, most of which I’ve bought because I don’t have time to wait for them to be available at the library. Many more of the texts I have to read are stapled photocopies, just as Gutenberg printed them when I was in college six hundred years ago. But the majority of my readings this semester are online, either on good, old-fashioned Web pages or in dedicated e-book sites such as Safari or Books24x7, to which my university subscribes.

So, uh, I know it’s old news, but reading books onscreen sucks.
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How to pick better fonts

golden section tattoo

How do you pick your fonts? It’s easy! Just look at type samples and find one that catches your eye. Throw that one out.

All this month, Tom Christensen of the always interesting Right Reading has been guest-blogging over at ForeWord magazine. For his final post, he offers “a simplified speed course in making books that readers will want to pick up”: “Book Design Primer.”

It’s very basic, as advertised, but he mentions a way of using the golden section that I’d never considered, so you, too, may learn something.

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The many delights of publishing

headband

Bridget points out Rachel Toor’s “A Publishing Primer” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Excerpts:

French flaps: Extensions of the cover of a paperback that fold elegantly back inside the book and hold extra copy, in imitation of the flaps of the jacket of a hardcover book. Très chic.

. . .

Headbands: Adorable, colorful ribbons at the top and bottom of hardcover books. They are there to delight you.

. . .

Monograph: A scholarly tome on a single subject or limited aspect of a subject. Monographs were once bought primarily by libraries that used to have “standing orders” for all books on certain topics from specific presses. Those days are gone. Those days have been gone for a long time. Remember that when you are revising your dissertation.

. . .

Orphan: This refers to the first line of a paragraph left sitting by itself at the bottom of a page. “Widows” are the final line of a paragraph left alone at the top of a page. It’s the publisher who creates that kind of loneliness; it’s the publisher who should take care of it.

Some of it is specific to academic publishing, and much of it is, sadly, pretty straightforward, but you may find it of use when trying to explain certain phenomena to the uninitiated.

Photo: 2008-01-25 3 Headband by Du-Sa-Ni-Ma; some rights reserved.