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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

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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).

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. 

I love you, Alice B. Toklas. And god knows, it ain't for your looks.


Paisan said...

My comment has to do with library pilferage, surely a capital crime in many parts of the world inured to the seductiveness of fascist Dada. It happens to be the second time in less than a month I have been exposed in print to this brutal and ludicrous crime. After watching the opening scene in Full Metal Jacket for the thousandth time or so ("Private Pyle, now lean over and choke yourself. NOT WITH YOUR HAND, NUMBNUTS -- WITH MINE!"), I became interested in the author of the source novel The Short-Timers -- Gustav Hasford (the full text of the novel is at his website, which he doesn't routinely maintain, being deceased.) There is a whole section of the website dealing with his .. uh ... affinity for "overdue" library books. Turns out he did semi-hard time for being caught with 10,000 library books he had stolen from all over the country. It got me thinking: what is number of stolen library books that constitutes the Line of Demarcation between paying a small fine and picking up the garbage, and doing real time in the clink? What is the over/under? (Extra credit for supporting your number with appropriate mathematical theorems and/or song lyrics.)


czar said...

Paisan: I am truly honored by a visit from such a giant . . . and a genius.

Admitting to theft of library and bookstore property in such a forum gave me pause. But I figure between the statute of limitations and the admission itself, someone, somewhere will forgive me, or at least realize that I had motives beyond depriving future generations of access to such works, no matter how bogus those motives might have been.

Consider that my university, in the bowels of its outdated Humanities building, had half a dozen practice rooms for the music majors insane enough to have thrown their lot in with this institution in these particularly lean and non-arts-encouraging years. (The theatre department for my entire four years there was in a trailer.) Each room contained a piano. Being what I am, I frequented these rooms to hone my improvisational technique. I rarely saw anyone else in these rooms -- even, and perhaps particularly, real musicians. The floor was desolate.

So imagine my disdain when I arrived one day to find all rooms locked, with signs posted to the effect of, "Practice rooms are for music majors ONLY." Obviously, someone had taken grave offense to my music-type sounds.

So, perhaps my book liberation -- in this case, anyway -- was a swat at such institutional nonsense.

How many books does it take to distinguish petit theft from grand larceny? I'll leave the theorems to you, and maybe the lyrics as well. For what it's worth, I think the number of books I've ever removed from a library without adhering to proper circulatory procedures totals under a dozen.

On the other hand, when we moved from Florida to Virginia, we found that we were still in possession of Yo, Hungry Wolf, a child's volume checked out and not returned to the Fernandina Beach Public Library. I think we still have it. With the changeover in the 21st century to electronic methods of inventory, I think the FBPL has lost any institutional memory of this book. My son wants to return it some day . . . like forty years down the line.

Paisan said...

My pleasure, Czar.

I have always thought you could measure a man by the quality of his personal library, obtained by whatever means necessary. I have a few volumes in mine that are inscribed by the authors (Hampton Sides, Taylor Branch, to name two.) And many, many more inscribed "Propety of ----". I like to think I bought all of them in library/school system clearance sales ... but I know better.

Maybe half the books I buy from AbeBooks, my favorite online used book retailer, are library clearance rejects. I try to take those little Dewey Decimal sticky tags off the bottom of the spines, but the damn librarians CEMENT those suckers on. I'm sure many of the flotsam that have drifted through the halls of the Palace over the recent years have seen a half-torn library tag on some old Civil War tome in my stacks and have gotten the wrong idea. Or not.

czar said...

@Paisan: Unfortunately, by your metrics I'd be found most wanting. My personal library, aside from a few boxes of Beat literature and most of the works of Philip Wylie that I've been hauling around since college, is rendered in 12 years of invoices.

I am happy to hear, though, that a wanderer through the Palace would be able to distinguish booklike forms from the rest of the artifacts.

moi said...

Your youthful petty thievery pales in comparison to the crime that is this woman's "writing." In fact, this is the one and only book I have deliberately done physical damage to. Because it is not literature. It is not even writing. It is to words what Jackson Pollock is to paint and by that I mean: garbage.

There. I said it. And I'm not taking it back.

czar said...

Moi: I may or may not agree with you, but I hope your act of violence was at least consummated in a public forum, perhaps with a lot of ranting and maybe a spiked haircut.

moi said...

I threw it against my bedroom wall, then tore out the pages and tossed them in the trash. I do believe I was wearing a Sex Pistol's tee at the time.

czar said...

That's our Moi. The proper wardrobe for every occasion.

Fleurdeleo said...

1. Highly entertaining! Paisan, Csar and Moi! What a group!
2. Csar, I love that you got a tear in your eye and the sentimental attachment you have for the book and respect you have for the author(s). I daresay your free time would be better spent honing your Haiku Monday entries.
3. There was a man here in NY who was stealing library books and reselling them to used bookstores. Not too long ago, the owner at St. Mark's books was alerted when the thief came into the store and he (a former high school wrestler) "tussled" with him and sat on him till the police arrived.
4. I threw Nicholas Spark's The Notebook against a hotel room wall in Denver.

czar said...

Fleur: I'm beginning to think that I should be throwing my Haiku Monday entries against the wall. The result might be far more rewarding.

I need to take some writing lessons, as the point of this post was the proofreading quote. Maybe I should try that whole inverted-pyramid thing.

Moi, Paisan, a few snifters of tequila for each, and the discussions that would ensue. That's worthy of pay-per-view, don't you think?

moi said...

@ Fleur: YES! That book sucks majorly, but for entirely different reasons. Sparks should never be allowed near a keyboard again. Also, that idiot who wrote Bridges of Madison County, although the movie was awesome.

@Czar: Life is nothing but a series of opportunities to put together an outfit. Also, I still contend that you ARE a writer. Although maybe you ain't no dancer.

czar said...

I most assuredly ain't no dancer. I've said it before: next to me, Al Gore looks like Tom Jones.

Aunty Belle said...

Late to the party but it's been fun.

I did unnerstan' that the tears were fer the proofreading comments in the Forward.

Haiku judgements is spotty--the eye of the beholder applies.

@ paisan
my books too--half of mah new acquisitions is from ABE. Wif' library markings, inscriptions from giver to receiver, margin notes, etc. Makes the book alive to me. Try THAT on a Kindle.

I'se liberated certain books too--an' dragged around a hug box of books fer 12 years after collich. Most are now on mah shelves. They may not be the best of their field but they were part of mah formation, an' fer that I need 'em, so I can see whar' I'se come from/ to.

Fun post.

I admit