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Can editors read for pleasure?

Posted in: Copyediting, Language, Proofreading, Words by Sally Evans-Darby on 21 February 2014

Reading-for-Pleasure

As any proofreader or editor will know, there’s a clear difference between reading for work and reading for pleasure. With my proofreading cap on, I’m interrogating the text, seeing each word individually and scanning it in the context of its fellows to check for sense, accuracy, and the like. If I find myself swimming merrily from sentence to sentence and enjoying the content, that’s a warning sign to stop and begin the passage again, because it’s likely that in losing myself in the story I’m missing any number of pubics for publics, principles for principals, polices for policies.

While proofreading is about sustained analysis of every word both individually and how it relates to the words around it, reading for pleasure is a very different story. Our eyes flit hungrily over the words, generally only picking up the major semantic components of a sentence to garner meaning – sometimes even scanning down the page to see where that dialogue is snaking or what devastating revelation is going to precede that paragraph’s final full stop (I’m guilty of this when a book truly has me in its spell).

The trouble is, when proofreading is your job, and every day is spent looking at any text that lands on your desk with a squinted eye and a loaded red pen, you start to look at all text that way. You begin to become one of those people who can’t help gleefully pointing out that errant apostrophe on a shop sign, that quaint misspelling on a menu.* This is all well and good until you come to pick up your favourite novel at the end of a long day, and find yourself unable to concentrate on the content because your constant checks for subject-verb agreement and capitalisation consistency are just too distracting.

So my question to all you editors and proofreaders is this: do you still read for pleasure? Do you find that after proofreading all day you can’t find an off-switch when you just want to casually flick through a magazine or pore over a novel? Do you perhaps find that after looking at text all day you just can’t face looking at another printed word? Or do you consciously switch your reading style when ‘off the clock’, glossing over any words you read that might detract from your enjoyment of a piece?

I’ll throw my experience into the pot to start things off: there are certainly days when I feel I would be doing my poor, tired eyes a disservice to make them look at any more text, so I do something less ocularly strenuous (watching a film; sleeping). But then there are days when I’m keen to start the next chapter of a book I’m reading, and in doing so I find that I have to switch ‘proofreader laser vision’ off. I find myself sometimes scanning back through a passage to see if there ever was a closing comma to that parenthetical phrase, but have to tell myself to stop that, and just concentrate on enjoying what I’m reading, letting the words flow into my consciousness in a very different way to when I am proofreading.

It certainly seems a shame that as editors and proofreaders we might read less for pleasure than before we struck off on this career path; particularly as most of us would have been avid readers first, and editors/proofreaders second.

Leave your thoughts below; it’ll be fascinating to hear about other editors’/proofreaders’ reading experiences.

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*On a side-note, people who feel the need to go about correcting grocer’s apostrophes as if they are conducting a public service are probably barking up the wrong tree; see this interesting study about apostrophe snobbery.

Comments

5 Comments
  1. Same here, and I’m an indexer.
    I spend so much time with print and reading professionally, that when I sign off from work the likelihood of my reading anything (except maybe a recipe) is remote. It saddens me, indeed, as I used to love to read very much, and I still do. But now, when I do read words for pleasure, unless I’m on vacation, it takes a very special gripping piece to pull me in.

    Interestingly, this does not mean that I don’t spend time in front of screens in my off time. Moving or still pictures, art, all sorts of static electronic visuals I still enjoy, but don’t ask me to process letter symbols too much, please.

    Thanks for posting.
    You’re not alone. 😉

    Comment by Pilar Wyman on 22 February 2014 at 1:33 pm

  2. I must admit I find it hard to read for pleasure nowadays, mostly because my eyes are tired at the end of a day of editing, and, having focused all day, I find my attention wanders. But now I’ve discovered audio books, I can still have the pleasure of being read to, without the potential textual distractions. And I can do something else at the same time.

    Comment by Sue Browning on 22 February 2014 at 2:31 pm

  3. I find it very difficult to “switch off” the editing mindset. I recently was reading, for pleasure, a book (non-fiction) about a subject that has always fascinated me, but found it contained so many mistakes (115, including several errors of fact) that I ended up reading the whole thing as if it were a job, and emailed the publisher with the list of errors I’d found.
    At the risk of being an apostrophe snob, should “grocer’s apostrophes” in your side-note be “grocers’ apostrophes”, or are you talking about only one grocer? 🙂

    Comment by Martin Rickerd on 22 February 2014 at 6:01 pm

  4. Sally Evans-Darby

    Thanks for your comments, Pilar, Sue and Martin – Pilar, that is a shame that you read less now, but I know what you mean about needing a very gripping piece to pull you in. I’m currently reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger in my leisure time and the story is luckily so engrossing that I look forward to getting round to reading it.

    Sue, audio books sound like a good halfway solution – I used to listen to them on the bus to work and it certainly was a relief to be able to close my eyes and lose myself in the story. I may have to try them again!

    Martin, I can sympathise! I was recently reading a non-fiction book published by a reputable publisher, yet the number of mistakes in it was distracting. I persevered to the end but every mistake I came across was a jolt to my proofreader brain. As for the grocer’s apostrophe, well, in this case I was referring to one grocer in the general sense, as in ‘the apostrophe of the grocer’ – but thanks for pointing that out 😉

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 23 February 2014 at 11:22 am

  5. I find it really hard to switch off my editor’s brain. Often impossible. It does sometimes detract from the pleasure of reading recreationally, but I’m also always learning by having my critical eye switched on. (Sometimes I annoy myself with how pedantic I can be in my head, though. Urg.)

    Comment by Sophie Playle on 29 July 2014 at 9:51 am