Sunday, November 11, 2012

Proofreading and Second Chances

It has never yet happened that, reading proofs, I haven't found some dreadful if trifling error--often after 20 or 30 error-free pages, when I was beginning to wonder whether the task was, indeed, worthwhile. But there it will be, the third i in the middle of a word, the second however in a row. No matter how many times I've reread, revised, and corrected the manuscript. Is correcting proofs worth my time? Yes. Always.

I've just been correcting the proofs for Trafalgar, Angélica Gorodsicher's novel-in-stories. Sure enough, there were a few things to fix.    

Lisa Carter, in a recent post on her blog Intralingo, offers 3 Reasons to Review Galleys and Proofs. One of these is learning from the editor. The copyeditor for Trafalgar didn't make too many big changes, but there were several pointed questions (third cup of coffee? two pages ago, he ordered his fifth) I was glad to resolve. Not to mention a slew of commas I should have put in to begin with.

It's hard to read the same text again, and again, and still imagine one is reading with fresh eyes. But some months had passed since I'd last looked at the manuscript, and by forcing myself to read slowly, as if I didn't yet know the stories, I caught a number of errors (an excess letter here, an omitted  "  there) that I would have hated to see in the final, printed book. 

And, though this might seem to contradict that "fresh eyes" aspiration, this time around I also found it was fun to revisit the translation process, to remember conversations about particular points, questions I'd had, discarded solutions. I was lucky enough to meet with the author regularly while I was in Rosario, working on the translation. Reviewing the proofs was like a mini mental visit.

Finally, at a couple of points, there were still translation issues to be wrestled with, in particular a paragraph in which I found I'd omitted the verb. I read it a couple of times before I saw what was missing. The passage didn't quite make sense, but was that because I had mistranslated it, or because something odd was happening in the original? One of the challenges in translation is the need to convey the points at which the author is experimenting or playing with the source language. Maybe there was never a verb to lose. . .  

But there was. And, once I'd retrieved it, it wasn't immediately clear how to incorporate that verb into the English sentence, a long catalog that needed to accumulate and pile up and intermingle without too much interruption. Appropriately enough, the chapter in question is titled "Mr. Chaos." 

I came up with a satisfactory solution. I think. If I reread the proofs again tomorrow, there might be other things I'd want to change. But that's the case with any writing, translation no more nor less than fiction or poetry or criticism. That last-ditch chance at correction is another reason to read proofs: it's not quite as scary (though also not as thrilling) as opening the cover of the published book. There's still time.

Thanks to Small Beer Press for including this translator in the process and giving me the chance to go over the manuscript one more time. 


  1. "Thanks to Small Beer Press for for including this translator in the process and giving me the chance to go over the manuscript one more time."

    Was the for for on purpose? :)

  2. Ah, alert reader Georgiana, of course that was on purpose ;-). No, of course it wasn't. Kinda makes my point about proofreading, but still. . . mortifying. I'm going to edit now. Thanks for reading!