Wednesday, June 07, 2006


"Your proof arrived last night and I’ve looked it over and think it looks fantastic."
For a writer, that's the crop coming in - the ship reaching port - the flag planted atop the peak.
The book has moved from a collection of pages out of the home printer to a bound group of typeset pages, between covers. Kevin at Press 53 holds it in his hands, and wants to pass it to me, for proofing. Proof-reading. Approval.
I've lived a life around proofs, one of my earliest jobs in the newsroom as a proofreader for OCR copy in that brief interregnum between typewriters and computers. There is a particular skill in proofreading, to scan words without becoming too engaged, able to see the flaws, the misspellings and erratic spacing and missing quotation marks.
Proofs have a life of their own. The writer combs through them, and the editors, flagging errors and omissions. Sometimes those earliest proof copies, poorly covered and poorly bound, escape the process like a domestic crop plant found thriving beyond the tilled field. One of my students bought a spiral-bound galley proof of Fidelities - I was surprised to see that large blue document in place of the eventual trade paperback.
I get to read review copies sometimes. Magazines and newspapers get piles of books to review, often with a final cover bearing the legend "Uncorrected Proof" or with a generic cover but perfect bound - well before they are ready for the retail shelves. I just finished reading such a proof of "Two in a Boat - A Marital Voyage," a bittersweet memoir of a marriage and a sailing trip bound together like two ropes spliced into a single cordage. Here and there, typos appeared, small things to be fixed before the book makes its debut. (Best of luck to Gwyneth!)
As with the book's title, Wake Wake Wake, "proof" is a word with multiple meanings. We seek proof of a geometric problem. Proof tells us if something is worthy, whether a pudding or liquor from a pot still. Coins have proof sets.
The proof will be in the work, whether it arrives to great publicity or none at all. A book will speak to some reader, somewhere, in a voice that the author does not expect. It will be tested and tried, will not be proof against criticism, but will stand on the sole evidence of itself.

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