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Between the covers: reading in 2010

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By Bob Hicks

Just a year ago, in this post about his reading adventures in 2009, Mr. Scatter confessed that he is a lousy keeper of lists, and therefore couldn’t report with any certainty on what he’d read in the previous twelve months. Some books, he was sure, had simply slipped in and out of his mind without leaving much of an impression. Others might have left a deep impression, but by the end of the year he couldn’t recall whether they’d made that impression in the previous calendar year or in, say, 1994.

If this seems odd, bear in mind that most of Mr. Scatter’s reading tends to be not from publishers’ current lists but from that great deep river of bookmaking that extends back through the centuries, constantly refreshing itself when anyone dips in. Books are like that. At some point they’re new, but after a certain point the good ones are simply current — or in the current. If someone reads, for instance, The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini for the first time in the year 2011, the experience throws that person into parallel universes: It is both 450 years old and current events. With that sort of time-traveling, no wonder Mr. Scatter gets a little scattered.

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Don’t call us, Ishmael. We’ll call you.

By Bob Hicks

In his time Mr. Scatter has done a lot of editing, sometimes with the lightest of fingers and sometimes with a bloodied ax.

He has ruthlessly rewritten. Many years ago he was put in charge of “fixing” a writer so bad that he recomposed, and even re-reported, every inch of every story she turned in, begging all the while with his own boss that he please god please do the right thing and fire her so she could become an outstanding tax preparer or short-order cook or anything other than a newspaper reporter, which despite her byline and weekly paycheck she decidedly was not.

Mr. Scatter preparing to edit an unruly submission. OK, OK. Actually, it's "Destruction of Leviathan," an 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré. Wikimedia CommonsThen she took a batch of her rewritten stories, entered them into a prestigious professional competition, and strutted off with a passel of awards. That experience has made Mr. Scatter deeply suspicious of awards ever since. It also played a crucial role in the briefness of his own tenure at that particular less-than-august journal of news and opinion, a place that greeted him on his first day of work with a single rule, banning in-house sexual fraternization: Don’t dip your pen in the company ink. That the prize-winning “writer” was regularly inking and dipping with the publication’s owner did not help Mr. Scatter’s position, although it seemed to do wonders for her own.

Continue reading Don’t call us, Ishmael. We’ll call you.