My intent is not to proofread my way through this book, dear readers, nor to catch all those things that Stein and Toklas missed. My intent is to pay homage to an incredible effort on a writer's part. I now have the added motivation of giving thanks that someone out there— even a dead one — has enlivened an aspect of my life that has remained unchanged for almost forty years.
Friday, January 13, 2012
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, and My Favorite Proofreading Quote
Nope. I never saw the movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. This story concerns your humble correspondent and a particular book, beginning back in the days before book reading made the shift in my life from entertainment to commerce.
As an undergraduate, or maybe just after, I liberated a hardback copy of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans from my college library. I don’t think the library or anyone there misses it.
[Blogger confession: I will admit to liberating more than a few books from this library, a couple of small volumes from an Ivy League library in middle New York state almost 36 years ago, and an unknown number of paperbacks and blank cassette tapes from Staten Island Mall back in 1974. That’s about as far as my teenage waywardness went.]
I cannot remember when or why or what I read about The Making of Americans that made me seek it out. The possibility exists that I found it while wandering around the stacks avoiding work . . . something that I am doing even as I type.
This posting isn’t about the book so much, except to say that I’m going to try to commit myself to read it. All 925 oversized pages of it. Here’s an entirely random excerpt from page 7:
Henry Dehning was a grown man and for his day a rich one when his father died away and left them. Truly he had made everything for himself very different; but it is not as a young man making himself rich that we are now to feel him, he is for us an old grown man telling it all over to his children.
And from page 907:
Very many who were being living are not being living have come to be a dead one. Not every one has come to be one being an old one. Not every one has come to be one being almost an old one. Not every one has come to be a dead one. Some have come to be an old one and have come to be a dead one. Some have come to be almost an old one and have come to be a dead one. Some have not come to be a dead one, they are being living. Some have come to be a dead one.
Some are not believing that any other one can really be only doing the thing that the other one is doing. Some are not believing that some one can be coming to be doing every other thing than anything some other one would naturally be doing then. Some then come to be old ones. Some then come to be almost old ones. Any one then comes to be one who is going to be almost any old one. Any one is one not being a dead one. Any one is one coming to be an old one. Any one is one being a dead one. Any one is one being such a one. Any one is one coming to be almost an old one.
Much of the last few hundred pages reads like the second excerpt, and I could pluck out examples far denser than this. Whether it’s good or readable is almost beside the point. Consider the stamina and thought and attention to detail, however bizarre, that went into composing this piece. I’m thinking that if someone can write it, I can read it. If I received this from a publisher I would have to read it.
I was trying to figure how long I would give myself on the LandonDemand schedule to read this if it came in over the transom: I settled on five days. Then again, if it was done as in the old days — where this text would have been read against a typewritten copy of the original — I might have gone crazy. Cold read, yes. Against a typewritten copy, and one perhaps marked up at that? Gertrude, pass the hash pipe.
Anyway, for Christmas, our younger son wanted books. That’s all he said. So he received a wide range, mostly classics in one genre or another. I also found online — and while it’s his, I’m going to borrow it for a few years (like my college library, he won’t miss it) — a newer paperback edition of The Making of Americans. The hardback, I fear, is buried in the permafrost of the dungeon, and I hope it turns up whenever spring cleaning hits. Yes, Aunty, the dungeon is as it was last year.
This edition includes a wide mixture of reviews, none exactly positive. My favorite reads, “The first stunningly original disaster of modernism.” I live in a NASCAR town; I guess I’m just looking for a reliable wreck.
But the edition I purchased also includes a foreword and an introduction that give the book some context. I’m much more familiar with this type of academic discourse than I am with early-twentieth-century modernist American literature. I’ve read the foreword, which is mostly about the linguistics of the work, and read only the beginning and end of the introduction, because I don’t want to know too much about the book before endeavoring to tackle it. The end of the introduction is really what this posting is all about.
For all my stating that I never read new books for pleasure — and I don’t — why in the world would I want to read what has been referred to as “one of the great unread novels of all time”?
I give you the end of the introduction, which brought a tear to my eye.
The present text is a facsimile reprint of the original edition. Aside from the addition of a table of contents—combining the chapter titles of the 1925 edition with, in brackets, the 1934 abridged version’s headings for sections originally left untitled—the text is identical with the one that Stein and Toklas proofread during the summer of 1925; hence it is literally authoritative. Typographical errors that escaped their attention—and in a text of this complexity there were bound to be a good many—have not been corrected. (A typical typo is “stregnth,” which has been corrected in the quotation from page 165 cited on page xxiii of the introduction.) In addition, there are a number of passages that appear in the manuscript and typescript but not in the printed version. A fully corrected and edited text would be immensely desirable but is not feasible at present. . . . In the meantime, one must proofread while one reads, taking comfort in an observation Stein attributed to Alice Toklas in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: “I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day and you cannot tell what a book is until you type it or proof-read it. It then does something to you that only reading it can never do” (emphasis added).
I love you, Alice B. Toklas. And god knows, it ain't for your looks.