I have been reading a memoir reviewed in what I thought were trustworthy columns as “mesmerizing,” “enthralling,” “incisive,” “illuminating,” and “revelatory.” Meanwhile I have been raving to my poor husband “this book needs an editor!” I have come to expect that many self-published books could have used a good editor, but this was put out by a mainstream publishing house. The author even thanks two editors. I think they were overpaid.
I am not naming the book in question, but rather using it as an example of the importance of knowledgeable editors seriously helping authors shape and refine their work. The book’s concept did in fact promise to deliver the adjectives reviewers used to describe it. Sadly, the actual execution left much to be desired. Perhaps the reviewers read only the book jacket.
James Dickey, the late American poet, said that he “worked on poems to take the worked-on quality out of them.” The finished piece might look effortless, but much revision had taken place to achieve that effect. A good editor can wrestle a meandering book into a coherent whole. When a book has been well edited, the reader no longer has to labor to follow the narrative, but can use her mind to ponder the issues presented.
I used to tell my students that if they had to work too hard to follow an author’s work, the blame might lay with the author. My students always assumed they were deficient in some way. The next time any of you throw down a book in disgust, consider that it might have needed an editor. And that editor shouldn’t have to be the reader!