Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wabi Sabi

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.)


Andrea Cremer said...

Great post - I do feel terrible for Jim Joyce.

Blythe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blythe said...

wabi sabi

Imperfection is the vehicle of beauty. The thumbprint of the potter causes the glaze to break--and the result heightens awareness of the surface.

The perfect pitcher isn't less perfect now; the catastrophic call just revealed how good he is. The imperfect umpire came a little nearer to perfect when he responded as he did.

Wabi Sabi. It's a good call.

Anonymous said...

Being from the Detroit area, this probably hurts a little more; our city could sure use something positive to celebrate. I was watching the game and the disbelief on the pitcher’s face broke my heart.
But, I have to compliment both the pitcher and the umpire for the way they've responded. My understanding is that the umpire met with the pitcher, and with tears in his eyes, gave a personal, heartfelt, apology; the player graciously accepted and has not publically complained.
I agree that instant replay should be used in baseball and I’m interested in how you feel about Bud Selig’s decision not to overturn the call. If you were the umpire (editor) in this case, and someone could correct your error, would you want them to do so?