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February 4, 2008

CAAF: Their struggle punctuated by cries

Buried in this Financial Times profile of critic James Wood is some interesting backstage stuff about the New Yorker's editing process:

At The New Yorker, whose sacerdotal approach to editing and mania for accuracy were derided in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe for leaving readers lost in "whichy thickets", Wood has now found himself at the fastidious end of the publishing scale, which on the whole is a good thing. As with The New Republic, the editing process is one where he is constantly being asked to go deeper. "I find it isn't the editors who put that qualification in," he says, "it's the fact-checkers. They have to be resisted, because they want to water down unprovable assertions. So you say: 'There is great disagreement about Cormac McCarthy's status' - this was a piece I wrote a couple of years ago when No Country For Old Men came out - and they'll say to you: 'Well, I've been on the internet and I haven't found much disagreement actually.' So you say: 'Well, for instance, Ian McEwan thinks he's complete shit.' 'Yeah, but we'll have to say then there's been "some" disagreement.' And already it's getting wimpish."
His only other peeve is the way the magazine treats the semi-colon. "The New Yorker will try as often as possible to change it into a colon," he says - ascribing it to an attempt to mimic English properness. "I love semi-colons," he says with all the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old talking about chocolate.

Otherwise the profile reveals little you didn't already know or suspect, forcing one to conclude that the lives of amiable, bookish men devoted to their families and the life of the mind don't make for the most colorful copy. I was thinking it was a shame the reporter couldn't borrow biographical details from actor James Woods's life to punch things up -- The critic was dismayed when he arrived at the Guardian one morning to find a disfigured doll had been left on his desk. -- but the colon/semi-colon skirmishes will have to do. (Via.)

Posted February 4, 2008 1:28 PM

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