PG did a strange thing a couple of days ago.
He purchased a hardcover book.
From a major New York publisher.
And he’s happy he did.
The author is Benjamin Dreyer, the “Copy Chief” of Random House. It turns out that he’s an engaging writer with less-than-draconian opinions about how best to express oneself in the language of Milton and Shakespeare.
A couple of excerpts:
Proofreading requires a good deal of attention and concentration, but it’s all very binary, very yes/no: Something is right or something is wrong, and if it’s wrong, you’re expected to notice it and, by way of yet more scrawling [on the manuscript], repair it. It’s like endlessly working through one of those spot-the-difference picture puzzles in an especially satanic issue of Highlights for Children.
Here’s your first challenge:
Go a week without writing
- really quite
- in fact
And you can toss in–or, that is, toss out–“just” (not in the sense of “righteous” but in the sense of “merely”) and “so” (in the “extremely” sense, though as conjunctions go it’s pretty disposable too).
Oh yes: “pretty.” As in “pretty tedious.” Or “pretty pedantic.” Go ahead and kill that particular darling.
And “of course.” That’s right out. And “surely.” And “that said.”
And “actually”? Feel free to go the rest of your life without another “actually.”
If you can last a week without writing any of what I’ve come to think of as the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers–I wouldn’t ask you to go a week without saying them: that would render most people, especially British people, mute–you will at the end of that week be a considerably better writer than you were at the beginning.
In addition to being, at least for PG, entertaining, the book is an illustration of the typesetter’s art when dealing with lots of non-standard sentence and paragraph structures.
Perhaps it’s because PG is returning to some of the earliest ebooks he formatted for Mrs. PG to update the “Other Books by Mrs. PG” sections and (courtesy of Jutoh) discovering some non-observance of formatting best practices (No fixed line spacing!), and correcting those to improve their electronic appearance, he finds the punctuation, spacing, etc., of Dreyer’s English informative.
As you observe in the excerpts above, Dreyer is anything but a subject-verb-object writer and PG finds himself paying attention to how what some of PG’s elementary school teachers would have marked as run-on sentences are handled. For instance, no space between the last/first character in a word and the beginning or end of an em dash.
“you can toss in–or, that is” instead of “you can toss in — or, that is”
And, speaking of em dashes, even using them instead of colons or parentheses is a good reminder for PG.
Most readers of TPV will undoubtedly be familiar with how to create an em dash in MS Word, but for those sprouts and shavers who are just showing up, you type two hyphens and a space and, as someone in Seattle decreed a long time ago, Word will convert the two hyphens into an em dash and deport the space to another dimension.
WordPress appears to do the same thing, at least for PG, without the need for a space following the two hyphens.
So (coming full-circle) for PG, reading a printed book feels a little like driving a 1957 Chevrolet–an entertaining change and a trip down memory lane–but an ebook and a Toyota are a better way to go.