April 19, 2012
Earlier this week I created a subject index for our Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, which goes to the printer this week. This is probably the tenth time I’ve done this kind of job on a dictionary of one sort or another. Needless to say, it is not my favorite task, and perhaps I should have someone else do it. Only it needs to be done very quickly. I clear the decks for two or three days and work steadily, day and night, until it is done. But before I arrive at this critical juncture, I’ve already done quite a bit of prep work in setting out the topics and the words that feed into them. But why should I be the one to do this?Continue reading "Indexed Thoughts"
Posted by Dan Reid at 9:53 AM
August 5, 2011
420 Characters, All in a Row
What can you say in 420 characters? In my previous blog I spoke of storytelling. And that reminded me that I’m finding Facebook an interesting medium for writing experiments. For instance, can you write a mini-story in a Facebook posting? It’s fun to try. Last October I gave it a spin:Continue reading "420 Characters, All in a Row"
Posted by Dan Reid at 9:57 AM
July 29, 2011
Take a Moment to Tell the Story
I come from a family of storytellers. Both of my grandfathers were masters of the art. And my maternal grandfather decided he should quit telling the story of his parachute jump from a balloon back in World War I. As a missionary evangelist, he was concerned that he was becoming better known for that story than for preaching the gospel! My parents too have maintained and passed down a vast trove of stories.
Perhaps that’s why when I’m experiencing something interesting or unusual, I very quickly start to assemble the event into a story, with the hope that it will amuse as well as relate the events. Almost unconsciously I go to work on it, trying out various renditions, working out amusing angles, chuckling at the possible responses from friends and family. And now, yes, I try out bits of stories and vignettes in Facebook postings.Continue reading "Take a Moment to Tell the Story"
July 6, 2011
Consider the Paragliders of the Air
For several years I ran a mountain trail that starts and ends in a grassy field where paragliders land. As I finished my run, I exited the trailhead and ran across that field to my car. But I quickly learned to look up, making sure I was not getting in the way of a paraglider about to land.
And this, for obvious reasons, leads me to speak of books and reading.Continue reading "Consider the Paragliders of the Air"
Posted by Dan Reid at 1:28 PM
January 31, 2011
Take a Moment to Describe
Of the many things I learned in seminary, several of them were from David Hubbard. One of these I’ve turned into a regular practice. Back in that day Hubbard was president of Fuller Seminary as well as professor of Old Testament. Now, Hubbard was a master of language, and every student knew it. So he had our attention.
It was an aside, probably sparked by an Old Testament wisdom text. Hubbard broke away from Proverbs or Ecclesiastes to speak of the value of effective language in communication.Continue reading "Take a Moment to Describe"
September 13, 2010
July 29, 2010
On Sheets of Paper
Recently I watched a few minutes of On Golden Pond (1981) on television. I was struck by Katharine Hepburn’s character, Ethel Thayer, reading to her cinematic spouse (played by Henry Fonda) a handwritten letter of several pages. The letter is from their daughter (played by Jane Fonda). Hepburn reads portions of the letter aloud, with animated interest and commentary. But it was the pages of handwritten script that really caught my attention. A letter—and a handwritten one! How quaint! And for many of us, what a lost world.Continue reading "On Sheets of Paper"
February 15, 2010
But Does He Practice What He Writes?
Publishers and readers sometimes fret over whether authors practice what they teach or preach. In reading James Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, his account of a 1773 trip with Samuel Johnson to the Hebrides of Scotland, I came across a passage in which Johnson addresses this topic.
One evening at supper, Johnson and Boswell and their host fell to discussing books and their authors and the potential lack of congruence between an author’s life and an author’s book:Continue reading "But Does He Practice What He Writes?"
Posted by Dan Reid at 12:41 PM
February 12, 2010
Good Text, Bad Analogy
Not long ago I heard a sermon series by a pastor of a tall-steeple downtown church. It was a series that took us through a book of the Bible. Throughout the series the pastor used an analogy based on one of his favorite sports, one that is outside the experience of most people. That in itself was not so deadly. But for the life of me, I could not see a consistent or compelling connection between this sport and the biblical book. The message of the biblical book seemed obfuscated rather than illuminated.
My editorial mind was so distracted by this fact, that I had difficulty focusing on listening. I also wanted to shout out, “The text itself is far more interesting than your analogy is allowing for!” (Rather like what I felt when watching a production of “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” shortly after studying and teaching the narrative intricacies of the fascinating biblical story.) “Your analogy is in fact constricting it!” It would have been cruel to point this out, though I wondered how many of my fellow worshipers were feeling the same disconnect. My wife was, I know.
And yet.Continue reading "Good Text, Bad Analogy"
September 8, 2009
George Weigel Interview
C-SPAN has an interesting interview with Catholic theologian and author George Weigel. He talks about the own practice of writing and has some good advice for writers. In addition, you get a tour of his library and his thoughts on Bible translations!
April 8, 2009
Move by Move
I’ve done a good bit of mountain climbing in my lifetime, though I’ve pretty much retired from it now. Climbers learn that sometimes a particular mountain or climbing route, which when viewed from afar or as a whole can look impossibly difficult, yields its access to those who study it more closely. The ridge is too steep and sharp. The face is too sheer and smooth. But with maps, photos, route descriptions and study, it begins to look doable. And then, once close to the mountain or on the route, the climb breaks down into feasible pitches (roughly speaking, sections measured by rope lengths) and, ultimately, manageable moves. It’s amazing what progress can be made—and paralyses avoided—by focusing on just the next move or two and not the whole climb at once.Continue reading "Move by Move"
Posted by Dan Reid at 3:00 PM
March 23, 2009
Packer By Name
As Jim Packer has said about his own writing, “Packer by name. Packer by trade.” He can put a lot into a very few words. The quotable Packer was certainly in his usual fine form at Christian Book Expo in Dallas last week. Here are just a few:
Reflecting on the head injury he received as a seven-year-old when a truck hit him requiring portions of skull bone to be removed,
February 26, 2009
The Burden of Knowledge
Life is short and the burden of knowledge is great. We academics have our ways of contending with this reality. Here are some.
Living large. With grand rhetorical gestures you point to all the mountain peaks of issues with which (so you say) you’re deeply familiar. Perhaps spike it all with a detail or two to inspire the reader’s confidence that you really do know what you’re talking about. This evokes a sense of mastery and yet does not commit you to proving it. It’s a sort of Ponzi scheme of scholarship. But as they say, when the tide goes out (or the critical reviews come in), we’ll see who has been swimming naked!Continue reading "The Burden of Knowledge"
February 17, 2009
What's the Porpoise of This Sign?
Lately I’ve been thinking about indicators that go unnoticed, signals within situations (like maybe the economy) that tell us we are off course and need to make a big change in order to avert disaster. How well tuned in am I to my environment, be it social or physical, economic or political or any other? We rely on the latest science, the latest poll, the best social-science or the latest technology. So modern. And where does this leave us?
There is a story that keeps replaying in my head, a story of Bernard Moitessier and his porpoises. Moitessier was a great French sailor who in the 1950s and 1960s made some famous voyages across the great oceans—usually solo. He was a sailor’s sailor, a master of simplicity and resourcefulness, skilled in every nuance of his ancient art.Continue reading "What's the Porpoise of This Sign?"
January 28, 2009
Updike, Downdike, Updike
John Updike’s death this week is bringing forth some interesting obituaries and assessments of his career. This morning I was reading Michiko Kakutani’s piece in The New York Times (“A Relentless Updike Mapped America’s Mysteries” [January 27, 2009]). Kakutani quotes from Updike on his love of his vocation:
Continue reading "Updike, Downdike, Updike"
January 26, 2009
Of Camp Robbers, Chips and Commas: A Morality Tale
They were 8 Grain Crisps: advertised as “all natural,” “no trans fat” 8-grain (whole white and yellow corn, whole brown rice, whole oats, spelt, barley, buckwheat, millet plus black sesame seeds, golden flax seeds and quinoa) and only “slightly seasoned with sea salt.” It was practically a birdie smorgasbord of seeds from a Birkenstock bird-seed store. It’s not like I was offering Perisoreus Canadensis (or Gray Jay) a fat-soaked Frito! And nothing like the pieces of Krusteaz pancake that his kin had robbed from my camp frying pan years ago.Continue reading "Of Camp Robbers, Chips and Commas: A Morality Tale"
Posted by Dan Reid at 1:08 PM
January 19, 2009
An Editor’s January
It’s a good thing that January is dark, cold and wet, at least where I live. It’s conducive to work. Editors, as many other deliberative folks, like to start the new year with big plans for setting wrongs right, executing new initiatives and tackling new goals. So when January comes, let’s jump in and really get things going. Right?
Wrong! You see, editors are not just individuals who pursue their own goals. They facilitate the goal-making of others. It seems that while the editor is celebrating the end of the old and the beginning of the new year, a cadre of authors and would-be authors are drawing up their own new year resolutions, which include, of course, new books! So no sooner does the editor launch his or her own plan for taking the year by storm, than an avalanche of proposals hits the in box! Actually, these start in late December (there are early birds in every bunch). Oh, and there are also arriving the manuscripts that authors have proudly finished, though this is work of a more predictable nature and contributes to the editors own goals.
Now, about those proposals. Some of them just don’t fit us. Some are very much “us” and quite good. We like you just the way you are. Others show potential, but need more work, which calls for more thought and consideration. All of them need editorial attention of one sort or another. But the editor’s schedule was already quite full of things that must be done—books completed, or nearly so, that must be moved along, not to speak of, say, two big reference books at critical stages of development (as was the case for me last January).
So the incoming proposals don’t get the immediate attention they might deserve. And the editor’s guilt grows onerous. And the editor is tempted to hit “reset”—reject them all just to clear the desk and relieve the guilt. But, as I said, some of them are quite good and from friends and acquaintances, so that would be indecent and probably induce more guilt. And so January passes into February. And it’s a good thing that it’s still cold and dark and dreary because there is still much to be done.
But it also helps to blog about it, since it seems to give perspective on just how crazy this is but also just how fascinating to be at the intersection of a ceaseless flow of ideas. One could be working at an assembly line all day. . .
Posted by Dan Reid at 7:47 PM
July 21, 2008
No Time for Sharpening Pencils!
Over twenty years ago, when I was about to start my editorial career, I read something by an experienced editor who commented that when one finishes a book, there is no time to organize one’s desktop or sharpen pencils. I thought this was in Editors on Editing, but revisiting that volume, I’ve not found the passage. I’d be interested to find out whether I remember this accurately or not. Anyway, “No time to sharpen pencils” has played over and over in my head as I’ve finished one project and jumped into another. Even though it turns out that these days pencils don't figure much in editing. Perhaps the equivalent would be sorting out my email in-box.Continue reading "No Time for Sharpening Pencils!"
March 7, 2008
The 6 x 9 Canvas
As I was reading the manuscript, I knew I had stumbled on the opening line for the back cover of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Proud of my discovery, I worked up my back cover copy from that opening line. It was one of my earliest efforts—maybe my first—as a beginning editor writing back cover copy.Continue reading "The 6 x 9 Canvas"
January 13, 2008
Bypassing the Cape Horn of Editorial Persuasion
So why is it that I think getting a book on the spiritual dimensions of adventure past our publishing committee would be the Cape Horn of editorial achievement?
1. Niche. It’s not our publishing niche. This is a book for a New York publishing house.
Each of the points above calls out for further explication, but I’ll not belabor them here. Instead I’ll refer you to the best continuing education in Christian publishing on the web: Andy Unedited.
Skip Cape Horn. Take the Strait of Magellan.
Posted by Dan Reid at 2:26 PM
January 11, 2008
Cape Horn Is “Not at All a Spiritual Place”
I can’t resist commenting on this remark from one of the yachtsmen in the Barcelona World Race as they approach Cape Horn at the tip of South America. As I write, they are beginning their 60th day of a two-person-crew sailing race around the world, from Barcelona and back again. Here is what Andrew Cape (aka Capey) says (See under “Breaking News” Capey on the Cape...Updated: 10/1/2008 15:37 GMT):Continue reading "Cape Horn Is “Not at All a Spiritual Place”"
October 1, 2007
The Joy of Excellence
I’ve just completed reviewing a revised manuscript. It is well written, well argued and so very “clean.” The author has taken on board the criticisms and recommendations of his reviewers, and a good manuscript is now even better. I’m enthusiastic enough to declare that there’s very little for our copyeditor to do other than perhaps address a few incidental issues of house style—though even on that score the manuscript seems very tidy. It is a joy to work with this level of quality in a manuscript. I want to hymn its glories to the blog-reading world!
But then a dark shadow arises from the recesses of my memory.Continue reading "The Joy of Excellence"
Posted by Dan Reid at 1:29 PM