i was telling someone the other day that somehow i’m always surprised to find mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, in a book i’ve been working on when i read it a second time. if i could go through a book a third—or even a fourth—time, this would be ideal, but given that it takes already thirty hours (if not longer) to copyedit a three-hundred-page book, this isn’t realistic. it’s especially difficult to spot errors on the first read if the book is enjoyable because i can get caught up in the story. lucky, and unlucky, for me, i am usually assigned good reading.
but when you read something a second time, and those errors seem to spring up as if out of nowhere, you start to 1. hate yourself—
how did i miss that?—
and 2. hate the book—
well, if you had paid any attention to yourself, any attention at all, i wouldn’t have had to find that error in the first place. you stupid, stupid book.
you’re thinking (and my mom actually said, “aw!” at the above as i read this post to her), the book didn’t do anything! it was the—
now you know why i can’t say that word. though i hope to be one myself, i notice the same kinds of errors in my writing, even after i’ve read it ten times. i can be a stupid, stupid book often.
as i was wondering why the hell i didn’t add a period to the end of a punctuation-less sentence—i had clearly fallen asleep for a second—i remembered that i’d brought a specific book to north carolina, my current location, to reread.
in my personal life, i never reread books (with the exceptions of shiloh and the outsiders, both of which i’ve read so many times, the binding has disintegrated). but this book is one i read two years ago, soon after i’d broken up with my ex-boyfriend. like any starry-eyed girl, i saw myself in the main character, who is essentially given two paths: stick with her stable life, the one with the stable intellectual man and comfy flat in england, or choose the less distinguished man, a traveling drunk, a player of both women and snooker, though a professional of only the latter.
while i’ve loved many, many books, this author’s writing is one for which i would do a series of inhumane things to emulate. any writer who uses a word on nearly every page that i either have to look up or work hard to define in context is both my hero and sworn enemy. i’ve been chided by friends when i’ve used a lesser-known, more obscure word in favor of its go-to synonym, even though i do this simply because i like language, and i like playing with it, and one word is always a better choice than another. it just is.
and maybe in some cases the best, and simultaneously easy, way is to pick the dumbass substitute and not its distinguished cousin. because sometimes it’s far better to say fuck and not dress it up. sometimes fuck is what you need and only fuck will get your point across.
so far, the book (the post-birthday world by lionel shriver) is just as well crafted as i remembered, and a few parts, which i’d obviously forgotten, have pulled at the strings again, though i can’t imagine they’re pulling in the same way they did the first time. it’s funny that i am rereading this in the outer banks, a place i haven’t been to since i was nineteen, and which had been, up until that point, where my parents and i went nearly every summer. days that used to be packed with hours of sun-filled beach, aquarium visits, and lots of family togetherness have been replaced with an hour of beach time, freelance work, and general lounging/writing/reading, my dad going off to play tennis or do a jigsaw puzzle with my uncle, and my mom and aunt going to thrift stores.
(the contention of the freelance work, by the way, has not gone unscathed, and seemingly no one can imagine why i’d be doing work on what is supposed to be a vacation. the facts are: i up and quit my job less than a year ago and can’t afford not to work, and i genuinely like working, and when i’m not, i tend to get jittery and crazy, and only more work or a workout will calm me.)
i started thinking—upon my second reading of the sci-fi young adult novel i’m copyediting, revisiting birthday, and failing to re-create the summers of my childhood—just how important it is to reread, or reevaluate or reassess, everything. no one thinks twice about reassessing his or her property value, but, and i’m included in this mix, few people reread relationships of any kind, be they romantic, platonic, business, or familial.
ah, the errors you find on a second read.
it’s always sort of assumed, if you’re in a relationship with someone (any of the four above makes up a relationship), you’re together and that’s it, and it’s only when you have a fight or a falling out that you sit there, a screwed-up pursed-lip look on your face, and wonder where things went wrong. how two people could go from tight-knit to nothing in an hour or a few weeks or years of impassive drifting.
why didn’t i see the signs? is usually the question we pain ourselves with. of course, it’s difficult to step back from a relationship in the middle (or maybe it’s closer to the end than you think) and prod it. the danger is that we will find something wrong.
it’s like when old people don’t want to go to the doctor because they’re afraid the doctor will “find something.” fucking old people! go to the doctor!
rereading the same manuscript in a three-week time period, i’ve spotted errors and inconsistencies. and not only those, i’ve spotted chunks i didn’t appreciate the first go-round, lovely phrases or great dialogue i glazed over. and, as i’m rereading birthday, the visceral reactions are plenty, but i doubt that i two years ago received the same emotions and gained the same lessons i am now. the writing may be the same, but i am not.
sometimes, in life as in books, you can get caught up, so caught up in the story that this whirlwind of emotion and passion takes precedence over the events and details themselves and what they truly are, and what they mean, positive or negative. but as humans, once something sets in our minds, it’s hard to imagine it another way. the job that no longer fulfills us. the marriage that isn’t working. the friendship that had begun to fail from nearly the get-go. it was all so good at first—when did it take a wrong turn?
and then sometimes you realize you’ve managed to grow something beautiful in what started as a pile of shit.
when you’ve had a chance to be away from someone or something, you have time to reflect on him, her, or it. i, for one, can’t reflect if i’m not alone. i liken it to being lost yet continuing to stand in the middle of a crowded intersection, rather than pulling yourself into whatever starbucks is closest and reassessing the situation. once you do, you might reread it as positive. or maybe negative. or maybe you simply conclude that you need to keep an eye on it. that you need not forget to reassess.
the greatest danger is to take anything at face value, and purport that value for years—even with things we can’t change. i’m sure, were someone to find a glaring mistake in the post-birthday world, that the publisher would fix it. largely, though, the work will stay unchanged; it is only the reader, therefore, who changes, and thus, the reader’s assessments, emotions, and conclusions associated with the work. the same principle should be applied to relationships . . . to anything, really. we can never expect a thing to remain constant, especially when we are constantly growing.
to grow together is wonderful, and possible (i hope); but to grow apart is not unlikely. and we can avoid the pitfall of surprise at a failed anything if we continuously look at what’s in front of us for what it truly is at that time, and not at any other.
two years ago i rooted for the snooker player. the womanizer. the bad boy. today, despite knowing the ending, and however foolish it makes me, i find myself still hoping for the same.
*thomas wolfe in you can’t go home again