Like most readers, if I'm not madly in love with a book but want to find out what happens, I might skim just to get at the plot, or at least skip certain sections that aren't interesting. On the other hand, if a book is really well written, I savor every single word. Then, there are the books I edit, which I have read far more carefully. By definition, if I've edited a book, I've read it at least twice, and often three times. I make several passes through a manuscript, sometimes looking for different things and sometimes just for a trees versus forest perspective. As you can well imagine, I prefer to edit books that I would actually have wanted to read in the first place! And here are three such books—I edited all with glee!
First is a cookbook, another in the mighty Michael Ruhlman oeuvre, How to Sauté. If the title and cover seem a bit familiar, it's because it's the third in a series of short technique books, and you probably recall reading about them here (first was How to Roast, then How to Braise). Like the others, this book describes the technique in great detail, expanding the idea of sautéing to include pan-frying as well, and discussing everything you need to know: The Cooking Vessel, The Fat, The Salt, The Heat, and so on. Then comes the fun part: a couple dozen recipes, such as the iconic Veal Scaloppine, Sautéed Spinach with Garlic, and Flatiron Steak, all accompanied by luscious photos. I've already been lucky enough to be cooking from the manuscript all these months, but now you can get the book and join in!
The next two are not cookbooks! I mostly tell you about the cookbooks I do, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally do other cool stuff, too.
To wit (to Whit?), I had the great pleasure of editing Love & Friendship, which is filmmaker Whit Stillman's parody adaptation of Jane Austen's little-known novel Lady Susan. Stillman's subtitle is "In Which Jane Austen's Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated," and the novel is written in the persona of the nephew of the very charming but also very conniving Lady Susan. It is really hilarious, especially if you like the kind of sarcastic Oscar Wilde–style one-liners that take you a minute to get. It's also been made into a film starring Kate Beckinsale. Here's a clip from an interview Stillman did with Slate:
Tell us a little about the way the film and the novel relate to each other.
Sometimes it’s good to blow through all your deadlines. I was supposed to write the book before I did the movie, but before you make a movie there are a million things you have to do. So I didn’t really start the book until we started picture editing, in post-production… There’s not much you can do [at that point]. So I started to work on the book and tried to trick Little, Brown to get more time—using all kinds of ruses. It’s due on a Monday—can I have until Friday? And Friday isn’t really until 11:59… Can I turn it in Sunday night? Christmas was coming up, and I said, “I’ve had so much luck turning in finished work on Christmas day—it’s such an odd thing…” Then it was, “You know—New Years… New Year’s Day…”
So, that pretty much explains why this manuscript came to me screaming RUSH RUSH RUSH! Luckily it was such a delight to work on that it doesn't matter that I didn't sleep for a couple of weeks. Really. And I'm very eager to see the movie.
Finally, I edited a book that had some of my editor pals calling me VERY BRAVE. It's Perfect English Grammar, a grammar handbook written by linguist/lexicographer Grant Barrett. (You may know him from the public radio show "A Way with Words.") I loved editing this book! Not all editors are grammar nuts—in fact, I frequently see questions in our top-secret Facebook group that say things like, "I know X is wrong and I know how to fix it, but I don't know how to explain it to the author! Can someone please tell me the grammar terms I should be using?" Me, I'm the one who knows the grammar terms. Many years ago when I worked in-house doing college textbooks, I used to beg to do the grammar handbooks. So picky! So precise! So black and white! Anyhow, this book is not meant to be comprehensive; it's more of a guide to getting the important stuff right. I think many people out there will find it very helpful.