Monday, March 30, 2009

Long Live Chuckles

Having finished The Subversive Copy Editor, I can highly recommend it. Carol Fisher Saller packs a lot of great information in relatively few pages. Though it's mostly geared toward book editors, her advice on copyediting in general is solid and worth following. I only wish I had read this book more than a decade ago, when I was working on my first large freelance copyediting project and which I seriously flubbed up. Had I read it, I would have known that communication is key on any project. Keep the channels of communication open with everyone on the project, and you will likely do a good job, or at least not royally screw it up.

What I enjoyed most about the book is Saller's droll humor. Each chapter begins with a question submitted to the Chicago Manual of Style online Q&A forum, which Saller edits. Her pithy answers that come at the end of the chapter were too good to wait for, and I always skipped ahead to read them. She also sprinkles her wit throughout her writing, and I often found myself chuckling out loud at her observations.

That's what got me thinking about Chuckles the Clown from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Remember the episode when Chuckles, dressed as Peter Peanut, was crushed to death by a rogue elephant in a parade? Everyone thought that was hysterically funny, except Mary, who thought it inappropriate to laugh at his misfortune. That is, until the funeral, when Mary lost it and laughed hysterically herself, until she feels humiliated and breaks down sobbing.

In this case, I kept chuckling as I read the book, but by the end I was sobered by the sheer tediousness of my profession. (One entire chapter is devoted to the joys of word processors.) I didn't exactly lose it, but it made me wonder: Is that all there is? Is the sum of my work just a punch line everyone laughs at while I toil away, awash in tedium and monotony? Sobering indeed.

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