Saturday, February 25, 2006

What an Editor Does

I picked up a copy of "The Years With Ross," humorist James Thurber's account of his time with New Yorker editor Harold Ross. In the introduction to this new edition, essayist Adam Gopnik offers one of the best descriptions of editing that I've read.

Editors are, he writes, "before anything else, taker-outers, lighteners of the overpacked sentence."

He also reflects on the writer-editor relationship:

"In their hearts, writers think of editors as little as society ladies think of maitre d's: one tips them heavily and listens wide-eyed to their advice on the menu, but the point is to keep that table." (And, in their hearts, all editors think of writers as maitre d's do society ladies: spoiled, demanding children -- if only, sigh, you could run a restaurant without them.)"

Not that I personally think this way.