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Click to return to ARJ Page, Bobby Matherne's imagined view of M. Brooke Goffstein suggested by her book, a circle filled with plaid. Click to Read next Review

A READER'S JOURNAL

My Editor
by
M. B. Goffstein

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux/NY
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2007

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As a publisher, writer, and editor all rolled into one, I still could not survive without my intrepid copy-editor Del, and it was her contribution to my writing that I thought most of as I read this short 26-page book that Brooke Goffstein wrote about her editor. For example, several years ago, I had just finished writing a review which comprised a long, detailed study of a book. I ended with a quote from the author and considered the matter finally closed after a hard week of work on the difficult material. My copy-editor read my 19-page review, making notes of typos, deleted words, difficult to understand passages, the usual stuff, but in the blank area below the text on the last page of my review, she scribbled, "You need to write a brilliant paragraph here." I went ballistic! I spewed out, "That's easy for you to say. Sure! Write a brilliant paragraph here!" among other less flattering comments. I knew there must be a message for me because I was resisting so strongly. Her advice must be important to me. So, after I cooled down from the heat of writing the review and the extra heat of my objecting so much to her suggestion, I decided to take a look at the end of the review once more. I re-read the last few pages of the review after glancing over the first section and wrote my summary of what the author was saying in his book. I appended the paragraph and re-submitted the review to my copy-editor and she scribbled BRILLIANT PARAGRAPH! at the bottom. This was a watershed moment in my review writing experience. From that time on, I work assiduously on creating the best closing paragraph I can in hopes of getting another BP! scribbled at the bottom by my copy-editor. I have since that time only closed one review with a quotation from the book, and my copy-editor agreed with me that was a brilliant paragraph move on my part.

Why am I writing about my editor instead of this book? What can you say about a 26-page book which averages 21 words a page? The blurb on the back of the hardcover book is almost as long as the book itself:

[Rear Book Cover] My Editor will fascinate anyone who has ever wondered what really goes on between a writer and an editor. It re-creates the sometimes frustrating, sometimes rewarding dialogue that develops during the crucial stages of a book's evolution. And with unfailing humor, it offers the suggestion that behind every great writer there is a pretty good editor.

Goffstein writes and illustrates children's books, and this book is written like a children's book, but about an adult subject. Using single geometric figures, a circle for herself, a triangle for her editor and a rectangle for the editor's desk, she illustrates this page:

[page 2] As he reads
      my new book
      in his cubicle,
      I sit across
      from his desk,
      torn with love
      I can't express,

This has some poetic structure and cubicle on this page rhymes with cuticle on the previous and equally short page. On the next page, she shows the following figures: two circles and the same triangle, only this time the triangle is bisected vertically.

[page 3] because I'm not
      the same person
      who wrote
      what he reads
      with such great
      yet divided attention.

Since I have watched patiently as my copy-editor reads my hot from the printer reviews many times, I know the feeling. Del reads my review for her enjoyment and edification, but always with an eye to what's missing, what's wrong, and what's not making sense.

The problem comes when Goffstein’s editor notes some missing stones in the structure she has built. Then comes the tearing-down and starting over part with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Goffstein illustrates that process with a set of children's blocks stacked to represent a building. The writer asks herself wistfully at one of her intermediate steps, "Why not have left it wobbly?" The whole structure must be rebuilt again and again, until everything fits better than the original. Then comes the punch-line when the editor asks, "Why did it take you so long?"

The person sitting in front of the editor is not the writer, but someone who represents the writer. Someone all dressed up, prim, proper, and alert — not the writer who while working is usually disheveled in comfortable clothes wearing slippers, with the phone off the hook, deep in thought. Goffstein illustrates this dichotomy on the last two pages. First the triangle atop the penultimate page representing the editor:

[page 25] Publication's
      not the miracle,
      but the friendship
      of this man
      for the me
      I hardly know
      but represent:

And on the last page, we see a circle, her circle, filled with plaid markings:

[page 26] freshly showered,
      in a plaid shirt,
      trying to act
      intelligent.

There will be no brilliant paragraph to end this review today, folks. Mighty Casey has struck out!


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Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne

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