Monday, June 8, 2009

The Unmitigated Arrogance of Some People

I go to the public library so infrequently that I usually have to renew my card every time I'm there. I like having my own books. I figure when I'm old and senile, I'll have forgotten all of them and can re-read them as if they were newly published.

Times being what they are, however, I've been sneaking off to the library more frequently. I’ve bought enough wholly disappointing books (if anybody wants a copy of Billy Wilder’s biography, let me know) that borrowing them first — even if I buy my own copy later — is much more practical.

Because I'm far too organized for my own good, I also keep a list of books I'm interested in. I note them when they're initially published, and then wait about two years to either borrow them from the library, or look for them on the remainder tables. The great thing about middle-age is that two years goes by with the same whizzing sensation as a fast-forward button.

That's how I ended up with a library copy of actress Ellen Burstyn’s fascinating 2006 autobiography, Lessons In Becoming Myself. Before her "overnight" success at 38 in The Last Picture Show, she had endured an unbelievable parade of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of parents, boyfriends, and husbands (sometimes her own, sometimes other people's). Her insights into emotional recovery and spirituality resonated with me.

What did not resonate with me — in fact, what drove me absolutely crazy — is that in this particular library book, some self-appointed copy editor had periodically taken pen (not pencil) in hand and made not only grammatical corrections but content suggestions as well. Some of these involved changing "me" to "my," among other stylistic trivialities. Another indelibly suggested that perhaps the actress didn’t mean to refer to Charles Boyer in one instance but rather to Paul Henreid. Both played suave European lovers, so what right does this self-appointed officer of the accuracy police have to suggest Burstyn is wrong?

Even more appalling: this bozo didn’t even catch obvious errors, such as when Burstyn wrote about Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. She noted that he would "later" become governor (a clear confusion of the father and son who bookended Ronald Reagan’s terms as governor of California).

As a professional writer and editor, I kneel at the wisdom of most copy editors. They have been the last bastion of style, accuracy, and consistency at most of the magazines where I've worked. But the editor is the last person to look at the page, and sometimes style must defer to voice, as it should in Burstyn's very personal book.

I took a while to ponder how to deal with this graffiti fascist, and realized that the only way is to take a page from George Orwell (pictured above), who knew a thing or two about fighting such people. In Orwell's book 1984, when the powers that be didn't like something, they erased it and replaced with what they considered the truth. I simply went to Alibris, the Web site for used books, and ordered a replacement copy of Burstyn's book. That's the one I returned to the library, clean and without defacement. The work of that arrogant scribbler? Gone. Thanks, George.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post.!! I too always go to Alibris to get used books.