The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
by Susan Bell
The previous book I reviewed was on the how of editing your own work. This title is more about the why of editing. Both the self-editing book and this one talk about The Great Gatsby as the classic example of a well-edited novel*: a fact that Bell does not fail to mention. Repeatedly. Only on going through the acknowledgments and bibliography did I discover that the author published an essay and taught a course on the subject. This would have been good to know going in, as my only memory of Gatsby is likely the one many share: being forced to read it under great duress in a high school literature class. Bell does pepper the work with some examples of before-and-after, but primarily to marvel at Fitzgerald's ability to tone and refine. Admirable, but not quite as useful to those of us who are painfully aware how far short of Fitzgerald we fall.
I. Gaining Perspective
II. The Big-Picture: Macro-Editing
III. The Details: Micro-Editing
IV. Master Class
V. Servants, Dictators, Allies: A Brief History of Editors
Plus copyediting symbols, bibliography, acknowledgments, and credits. There are some practical points, though the advice is not unique to this book. What I found most interesting were interviews that Bell conducted with authors, or editors (not all copy editors), many of whom offered insights into their methods. As a whole, though, the book is more a philosophical treatise on the "art of editing" than a guideline to "the practice of editing yourself." (Oh, judging-a book-by-its-cover, how you have failed me yet again...)
I didn't dislike the book (honest, Monda!) but I'm already convinced of the need to edit and the value of re-reading and revising with an editor's eye instead of an author's. If you need to psyche yourself up to making an editing pass at your own work, this would be a worthwhile read. But if you're in the editing trenches, trying to triage your sentences, you won't find any bandages here.
* I suspect that one reason Gatsby is held up to such praise is that early revisions of manuscripts and correspondence have been preserved, and that like me, many people have been exposed to it as a Classic at some point in their lives. There may be other works that have the same documentation available, but Gatsby is slim and approachable.