Monday, January 14, 2013

Where was the editor?

Perhaps it's my background as a newspaper copy editor, but I tend to stop, reread and then reread again whenever I come across a piece of writing that doesn't make sense to me or that simply seems like poor writing. I try not to just assume the writer is wrong. As often as not, I am simply reading it wrong, and reading it again will make things clear to me.

While reading Michael Korda's Ike: An American Hero at breakfast this morning I read this sentence: "The only thing that could go wrong -- the only thing over which the supreme commander had no control -- was the weather." OK, that makes perfect sense. Yet at the bottom of the same page, Korda writes, "Only two things could stop the invasion." The second thing he mentions is the weather. The first is the possibility that the German might discover where and when the landings would take place. And Gen. Eisenhower would have had some control over protecting the Allies' D-Day plans. So perhaps technically the two statements are not in opposition. Still they seem wrong, especially when placed so close together. Although I am still less than 50 pages into Korda's book, I must say that I am otherwise very impressed with it. I think he is a terrific writer.

Then last night I found this sentence in Liza Picard's Victorian London: "They could be vast  -- a dream for a maker of 'antiques' nowadays." Now what does that mean? She is writing about the large wardrobes popular in Victorian England, but why would they be "a dream for a maker of 'antiques' nowadays"? Why the quotation marks around antiques? Is she suggesting something about phony antiques that are manufactured and made to look much older than they really are? I don't think so because later in her discussion she sometimes puts quotation marks around antiques and sometimes not. She even later refers to "newly made antique urns and pillars and busts" -- no quotation marks. She seems, rather, to just be writing about Victorian furniture and furnishings that may be antiques now, but certainly weren't at the time they were made.

Unlike Michael Korda, Liza Picard does not impress me as a particularly good writer, although she has several books to her credit. In the middle of her discussion of Victorian furniture, I found this definition of feather beds: "what we would call mattresses: what you lie on." If she could take the trouble to explain what mattresses are, something that should be obvious to most readers, I wish she would explain what she means by "a maker of 'antiques' nowadays."

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