Tag Archives: reading

Reading for pleasure – can editors and proofreaders still do that?

When you come into this profession you may well think to yourselves: is this the end of my nights curled up in front of the fire with a good thriller? Am I going to be able to read my psychology newsletter with the same interest? In this blog post, Alex Mackenzie quizzes editors and proofreaders to find out if they’re still able to read for pleasure.

My preoccupation with this question led me to quiz CIEP members about their reading and whether the job has changed their habits or enjoyment in any way.

Everyone who contributed to this blog post said they have changed their reading habits since starting in the profession, and in these ways:

  • what I read
  • when I read
  • where I read
  • how much I read.

How my reading habits have changed

People who used to read a lot of fiction (up to a hundred books a year) now read less – or have even dropped it entirely – and may compensate with film. People who don’t work with fiction don’t necessarily feel an effect on their reading for pleasure, but possibly have noticed a slower speed when reading non-fiction. Others now select their reading to complement or distract from the job.

‘I wasn’t exactly keen to sit down with a novel after I’d turned my computer off for the day.’

‘I spend all day reading academic writing that’s usually not written too well, so by the time I’m done with the day’s work, I’m exhausted and my brain can’t take in another fact.’

‘When I worked in an office, I commuted across London for an hour each way so I used that time to read, but when I changed career and became a proofreader, working from home, I found that reading on the stairs between the kitchen and my spare-bedroom office wasn’t terribly practical. I’ve always read in bed before I go to sleep, but only for 10 or 15 minutes each night, so I found I wasn’t making much of a dent in my to-be-read pile.’

‘I’ve been struggling to focus on reading for pleasure for quite a number of years (too much work/stress).’

‘I’ve been an editor for 28 years. Historically, I have never been a fussy reader – as long as a book had a well-structured, compelling and plausible story, I was always able to ignore most other issues if not being paid to correct them (!), whereas at one time I prided myself on having finished every book I had ever started.’

‘As my workload has intensified and become more fiction-orientated, I have discovered that I don’t want to read anything too taxing when not working.’

‘My editing work is focused on business and marketing topics, which has allowed me to maintain my strong fiction-reading habit. What has suffered over the years is my professional reading. I used to read so many more books on language, editing and business. These days, I just don’t have the time.’

‘I have a pile of fantastic profession-related books waiting for me to find the energy to read them.’

‘My reading as a result of the job relates more to my translation work than to my proofreading and editing. Last year I was being mentored as an emerging literary translator of Welsh to English and, as I have no training in translation, I read a lot of books translated into English from various languages as a kind of CPD.’

How I feel about this

  • I’ve lost some of the pleasure.
  • I notice mistakes more.
  • I tune into the author’s style straight away.
  • I appreciate good writing.

The people who responded find themselves to be fussy fiction readers. Low-quality writing, an author’s idiosyncrasies and editorial oversights such as sloppy punctuation in dialogue are unwelcome distractions. With cheap ebooks available for 99p, fiction is accessible but often poor, so people now give up on a novel where they never would have done before.

‘My editing brain now hijacks the suspension of disbelief, which means that much of the pleasure I previously derived from fiction has vanished.’

‘I notice mistakes all the time. They just sort of jump off the page or screen. But when I’m reading something that was most likely edited, it’s more difficult. I know that everybody has really tight deadlines and horrendous workloads, so it’s not that the mistakes upset me, but reading something that’s full of errors makes me really, really tired because by the time I get to the end, I’ve mentally corrected each mistake I noticed.’

‘The thing that editing has ruined changed in my reading is that I notice an author’s style really quickly. From favoured sentence structures to being overly attached to commas, it takes me just a few pages to notice it.’

‘I used to read fiction – Arthur C Clarke, Dick Francis, C S Forester – but apart from the latter (whose prose I enjoy for its own sake) I’ve more or less stopped reading fiction, mainly because learning to edit fiction has reduced my suspension of disbelief to near-zero.’

‘My shelves are now littered with books I couldn’t be bothered to finish as they were so poorly constructed/written – including some by well-known and successful authors.’

‘So for me to like [it], there must be some phenomenal writing going on.’

What am I doing about it?

  • I just ‘shake it off’ and live with it, compartmentalising the day job.
  • I choose more carefully (either for pleasure or for professional development).
  • I joined a local book group.
  • I stop reading if I don’t enjoy it.
  • I appreciate quality writing.

People realise the importance of regular reading; developmental editors especially need to read widely. We can be coin-operated, switching our editing brain on and off, and we make a big effort to specialise in areas that don’t trespass on our reading for pleasure. We may be able to compartmentalise our minds, and shifting physical positions helps too – keeping a foot in academia at the desk, critiquing fiction on the bean bag. And sometimes a complete change of routine forces a book upon us, and we find ourselves whisked away by the magic.

‘For a while, I accepted that this was just how things were.’

‘I’ve consciously decided not to edit fiction because I want to keep enjoying reading fiction in my free time. It’s the thing that keeps me going in tough times, and the last thing I do every day before bed.’

‘Were I to edit fiction, I wouldn’t be able to lose myself as easily in my free reading.’

‘Following a house move, I found a local book group and signed up, thinking it would encourage me to read more and in new areas. It was all fine for the first book (yes, I was cram-reading in the hours before the meeting); then, with exquisite timing, lockdown came along. We continued to meet online but I found reading almost impossible during that first period of confinement (there was so much on Netflix to watch, after all) so I missed a couple of sessions. I picked it up again earlier this year and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read some fabulous books that I wouldn’t have even considered normally, and I’ve made some new friends.’

‘I took this book away with me during the first year of Covid and it completely carried me off into another world. The fact that it was linked with a highly infectious disease probably helped!’

‘In informal, unedited writing, I can just shake it off (after all, I know my writing is also bound to be full of mistakes). To combat this, I’m picky about the stuff I read, from news websites to novels. I choose sources with writing that is generally carefully edited and produced over a longer time, I don’t read any self-published novels, and I tend to favour authors who have been writing for longer. I have stopped reading some authors just because of an annoying tic in their writing. I just choose my authors with care. When a book is written really well, the mistakes fade into the background because my mind is filled with vivid imagery. My tiredness fades away because the book is giving something back. Some books manage this with plot, some are really funny, some have characters who feel truly alive, some are like paintings done with words, some are written with almost painful empathy, and the very best manage to do it all.’

‘I read fiction almost exclusively (non-fiction tends to be limited to a few articles a week), and usually fiction that isn’t too heavy. I also like videogames with good stories, where I can zone out and read a few lines at a time. [Some] are brilliantly written games that have a lot of stories to tell, but you’re only reading a little every few minutes, so it’s not so exhausting.’

‘I churn through vast quantities of best-selling crime fiction and thrillers, and various other types of commercial fiction, which, apart from allowing me to switch off, also keeps me abreast of the latest trends and conventions in the various genres. And of course, finding out whether I guessed correctly how they’re going to end or whodunnit is always entertaining – I’m rarely wrong, which is, I suppose, an occupational hazard, but doesn’t usually detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.’

‘I save more demanding works of literary or ‘must-read’ fiction for quieter periods of work or for holidays, when I can give them the attention they deserve.’

‘I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, as well as 19th- and early 20th-century literature or stories that take place during those times. I like to be taken out of my everyday life. Sometimes I like a slow, reflective pace (especially in the winter) and other times, I like a fast, adventurous pace.’

‘If the story is good enough I won’t think.’

Reading choices mentioned:

‘Anything about how things around us, and about us, work.’

‘[certain authors] for when I want to shudder/marvel at the universality and resilience of the human condition, [others] for when I want to marvel at a writer’s ability to unfurl, with tenderness, the gender roles and hypocrisies of people in a seemingly moral society. And love that makes you weep.’

Videogames: ‘Sunless Sea’ and ‘Sunless Skies’

Authors: Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Jane Austen, Rutger Bregman, the Brontës, Bill Bryson, David Eagleman, Giulia Enders, C S Forester, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Hearne, N Mahfouz, Naomi Novik, Maggie O’Farrell, Herman Pontzer, Catherine Poulain, (as translated by Adriana Hunter), Kate Quinn, John Scalzi, Ali Smith, John Steinbeck, Ian Tregillis, Anthony Trollope, Ali Turnbull’s blog.

Wrapping up

The bottom line is that there are occupational hazards, but good writing is worth the distractions. And we appreciate how editors invisibly facilitate our reading for pleasure!


Without contributions from CIEP members, this would be a short and dull read! My thanks go to: Caroline Petherick (especially for editorial assistance), Riffat Yusuf, Erin Brenner and Melanie Thompson, among others who prefer to remain anonymous. Thanks also to those in Cloud Club West who incidentally dropped me a tasty morsel!

About Alex Mackenzie

Alex Mackenzie is a British copyeditor and proofreader living in Asturias, Spain. She moved into editing from a 30-year career in international schools across nine countries. Alex is a published English language teaching (ELT) author with a Master’s degree in education. Areas of specialism are ELT, education, sustainability and meditation, adding creative non-fiction and fiction. She is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: coffee and cake by Pixabay, couple reading by Andrea Piacquadio, books by a window by Lum3n, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Definite articles: CIEP social media picks, February and March 2022

Welcome to the first edition of ‘Definite articles’, our social media team’s pick of internet content, most of which are definitely articles, for editors and proofreaders. If you want our pick of our own recent content, head straight for ‘CIEP social media round-up: February and March 2022’.

In this column:

  • Special days and news events
  • Reading recommendations
  • Thinking about language
  • Dashes, slashes and book stashes

Special days and news events

There were a number of special days during February and March 2022. On 11 February, the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we shared Cambridge Dictionaries’ look at how we talk about science, and on 8 March, International Women’s Day, we encouraged our friends and followers to read about Hidden Sci-Fi Women of the OED, from Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, to Storm Constantine.

3 March was World Book Day, as many parents scarred by this annual festival of competitive literary costume-creating will know. We gave them a non-costume-based chance to get their kids into literature by posting National Geographic’s ‘Seven literary destinations around the UK to inspire children’, which included Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, the inspiration for AA Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, and (checks notes) Scotland. Which sounds as if National Geographic might have forgotten that Scotland is a large and varied country until you read that 2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories.

Not long after World Book Day was World Poetry Day, and to celebrate this we posted ‘A little light verse’ by Brian Bilston: a poem in the shape of a lightbulb, which considers how many poets it would take to change one.

And we looked forward to a very special day in the summer: the Queen’s Platinum, er, ‘Jubbly’? As all sorts of souvenirs and memorabilia started to emerge in preparation for the big event on 2 June, the BBC ran a story about a particular set of crockery that celebrated ‘the Platinum Jubbly of Queen Elizabeth II’. ‘I would love to buy one of these pieces!’ declared a follower on LinkedIn. Well, move fast: there are only 10,000 available and they’re fast becoming collectors’ items, partly because of their Del Boy connotations. ‘Cushty’, as one Facebook follower observed.

The news wasn’t great during these two months. Publishing Perspectives published an interview with a Ukrainian publisher, Julia Orlova, who described the working conditions in early March for her publishing house, Vivat, and her determination to continue producing books for those in Ukraine who needed them. ‘“We provide electronic versions of books for children who are now staying with their parents in shelters,” she says. “And some of our staff continue to edit manuscripts whenever possible. We try our best not to stop the process of creating books.”’

Also in early March came the news that Shirley Hughes, children’s author and illustrator, had died. Hughes was famous for her character Alfie, among many others, and our followers paid tribute: ‘Wonderful author and illustrator. I’ve loved her books since they were read to me by my parents, and I love them even more having read them to my own children, and to the children I’ve looked after for many years. Reminiscent of a simpler and less frantic time.’

As is often the case at this time of year, the weather made news too. As Storm Eunice took hold in mid-February, we posted ‘The problem of writing poems on a wild, stormy day’ by Brian Bils … sorry, the rest of the name seems to have blown away. Who was the poet? We may never know.

Reading recommendations

At the beginning of February we posted a story from the Washington Post about a reading recommendation: by eight-year-old Dillon Helbig, of his own book, entitled The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis and signed ‘by Dillon His Self’. Dillon took his book on a visit to his local library with his grandma and while he was there slipped it onto one of the shelves. The library manager said: ‘I don’t think it’s a self-promotion thing. He just genuinely wanted other people to be able to enjoy his story … He’s been a lifelong library user, so he knows how books are shared.’ Dillon got his wish. The book has been officially added to the library’s collection and can be borrowed. In fact, there’s a long waiting list.

This lovely story was a good start to a couple of months during which we shared a whole host of reading recommendations, from 12 books to read in celebration of America’s Black History Month to the overlooked masterpieces of 1922, magical books you’ll keep coming back to, ten new books to read in America’s Women’s History Month, what TikTok’s book reviewers are recommending and the longlist for the International Booker Prize.

We also enjoyed The Guardian’s series ‘Where to start with’, and posted its pieces on the works of Agatha Christie and James Joyce.

Thinking about language

As if considering the works of James Joyce wasn’t already giving our language-processing centres enough of a workout, article after article about the meanings and implications of language was posted by our tireless social media team. These included new terms such as swicy (sweet and spicy) and seaganism (‘the practice of eating only plant-based foods and seafood’), and the use of light verbs which ‘get their main semantic content from the noun that follows rather than the verb itself’. Examples are take as in ‘take a walk’ or do as in ‘do battle’. There was a moderate reaction to this among our thoughtful followers, but no one made a comment.

We explored the taste of words in how food is written about, and also in the experience of synaesthesia, where ‘words have an associated physical experience as well as a meaning’. Occasionally that association can be flavour. Someone who knows all about this is James, who describes journeys on the London Underground when he was a child. Tottenham Court Road was his favourite stop: ‘“Tottenham” produced the taste and texture of a sausage; “Court” was like an egg – a fried egg but not a runny fried egg: a lovely crispy fried egg. And “Road” was toast. So there you’ve got a pre-made breakfast.’ Fascinating. And delicious.

We are always looking to learn more about inclusive language. Early in February we posted a piece about a new gender-neutral pronoun, ‘hen’, in Norwegian, and then a few weeks later we shared an OED panel discussion, ‘Language prejudice and the documentation of minoritized varieties of English’, and a response to it by CIEP member Robin Black.

Bringing new and inclusive language together, we posted an article explaining what it means to be ‘out of spoons’. Spoons have become a metaphor for energy, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty explained, which is particularly useful in helping people with a disability, condition or chronic illness explain what their lived experience is like; for example, they might start the day with only a certain number of spoons, and with every activity they might lose one or more of these spoons. Fogarty explored how the concept has proven so useful that it has become widespread, with a new self-named ‘spoonie community’ and the use of the term as a verb, as in ‘spooned out’.

Dashes, slashes and book stashes

Our social followers enjoy a quiz and we’re only too happy to oblige. During February and March 2022 we posted quizzes on dashes and slashes (both courtesy of CMOS), and book stashes: ‘How well do you know your library quotes?’ One notable quote that didn’t feature in this quiz was ‘Librarian, Happy Easter X’, a message that landed in a pink bag in Cambridge University Library, along with two priceless missing notebooks belonging to Charles Darwin, in March. After careful verification of the notebooks the story broke in early April, which is too late for our February and March survey but, a bit like Dillon Helbig’s home-made library book, it’s far too good a story not to include in our collection.


Join us again in June (after the Jubbly) for our pick of April and May’s internet gems, or if you can’t wait you can always follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. See you online!

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: fruit by Lukas, storm by Diziana Hasabekava, spoons by Vie Studio, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

My year in books

By Abi Saffrey

At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).

Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.

April 2019

I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.

May 2019

I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.

June 2019

I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.

  • How to Fall in Love with a Man who Lives in a Bush, by Emmy Abrahamson (the first of three translated novels over the year)
  • Pulp, by Charles Bukowski
  • Multitudes, by Lucy Caldwell (the only short story collection in my year)
  • This is the Ritual, by Rob Doyle

July 2019

Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.

August 2019

A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …

September 2019

Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.

  • Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)

October 2019

One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).

  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
  • After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)

November 2019

I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.

December 2019

I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).

  • The Pebbles on the Beach, by Clarence Ellis (I bought this for my mum for Christmas 2018 – she loved pebbles and I would collect one for her from every beach I visited)
  • The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking (a Christmas present from the Danish branch of my family)
  • Kind of Cruel, by Sophie Hannah (which had been on my e-reader for years)

January 2020

I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.

I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.

February 2020

One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.

March 2020

March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.

That year in numbers

So I read 31 books for pleasure:

  • I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
  • I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
  • I borrowed 13 from my local library.
  • There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.

I copyedited 15 books, and proofread two. I also dipped into two other books for CPD purposes: What Editors Do (edited by Peter Ginna) and Developmental Editing (by Scott Norton).

End-of-year summary

I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.

I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.

 

 


If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.


Photo note: I read Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design in February 2019 and Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in March 2019, but they cheekily snuck their way into the class of 2019/20 photo.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.