Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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I had no idea about this memoir by Michael Gates Gill, Brendan Gill’s son and a celebrator of Starbucks, but I’m very keen to read it. Looks like it’s Gotham Books, September. I must get hold of one! I like how the subtitle can be read as a subtle nod to one of the best books I read last year.

And on Mediabistro, Neal Ungerleider posts an appreciation of a post by Sewell Chan on the City Room blog, all about Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould. My hat’s off (and I just inherited two large hatboxes full of hats) to both Joes. Read Chan’s tribute. Gould, too, had had a life of privilege, mostly. I respectfully disagree with Ungerleider and with Stephen Holden that Joe Gould’s Secret, the movie, is second-rate. One can’t have expectations like that for adaptations; it’s a beautiful movie, a West Village poem, unto itself.


Gill’s book looks quite interesting. Second the emotion on the Botsford book (as an ed., I loved his “Editing Rules of Thumb”).

I love those Rules of Thumb, too, and have the book here in my office to copy them into a post whenever I get a chance. Or maybe they’re online somewhere. A quick scan yields this nice tribute in the LRB by Thomas Jones, which includes this passage:
The late Gardner Botsford was for almost four decades – from 1942 till 1982, with a couple of years off fighting the Nazis – an editor at the New Yorker. Among the many good things in his elegant and enjoyable memoir, A Life of Privilege, Mostly (Granta, £12.99), are ‘a few observations on how fiction should be handled’ by Wolcott Gibbs, who, before he became the New Yorker’s theatre critic, ‘had been (I was told) the best editor the magazine had ever seen’. ‘Writers always use too damn many adverbs,’ the first of Gibbs’s observations begins. ‘On one page recently, I found five modifying the verb “said” – “he said morosely … violently … eloquently” and so on. Editorial theory should probably be that a writer who can’t make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work.’ Some of the others are terser: ‘On the whole, we are hostile to puns’; ‘Try to reserve the author’s style, if he is an author and has a style.’

Botsford later adds a few ‘conclusions about editing’ of his own:

Rule of thumb no. 2: The less competent the writer, the louder his protests over the editing. The best editing, he feels, is no editing. He does not stop to reflect that such a programme would be welcomed by the editor, too, allowing him to lead a richer, fuller life and see more of his children … Good writers lean on editors; they would not think of publishing something that no editor had read. Bad writers talk about the inviolable rhythm of their prose.

Hard for an editor to read that without smiling. Writers who think it only goes to show what a bunch of interfering megalomaniac know-nothings editors are may be appeased by rule of thumb no. 6: ‘Good editing can turn a gumbo of a piece into a tolerable example of good reporting … Good writing exists beyond the ministrations of any editor … A good editor is a mechanic, or craftsman, while a good writer is an artist.’ And Botsford isn’t slow to praise writers he admires: A.J. Liebling, ‘both a wonderful reporter and a stylish writer’, ‘resisted all rules of thumb’.
Oh, here’s another discussion of the Rules of Thumb. But so far, no complete set. I’ll type them in, or scan them—I should check Google Books!—myself. Or, hey, here they seem to be! But what’s this “adapted from”?

Well, that was me changing a few pronouns, I guess out of habit. (Where I work, a “he” or a “she” has to have a specific person attached.)

I’ve got five of the Botsfordian rules tacked up in my office. I read the bio some time ago—did I miss the sixth rule?

EG, you run one of my favorite sites. Thank you.

B. Fisher (unclewilly)

Thank you for reading it. That’s a huge, huge compliment.

I’ve been editing things in various forms for a little over ten years. I had never run into Botsford’s rules before. Thanks Emily and Bill for bringing me to them.

It is very true that Rule 2 elicits a smile.

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