Christopher Hitchens begins his review of Elizabeth Edwards’ latest book (which reminds me–you stay classy, John Edwards), by complaining about the condescending fingerprints of her publisher on the text. “On page 88, [Broadway Books] makes Elizabeth Edwards tell us something that ‘Edmund Wilson, the incomparable twentieth-century literary critic, said.'” Like Hitchens, I hate the fact that so many publishers don’t think readers are smart enough to know who you’re talking about. This was one of the ongoing battles in the editing of my book–my editor would ask me to identify a source and I would complain that breaking in with an explanatory clause would disrupt the flow of the narrative, and would insult the intelligence of the reader, besides.
It came to a head when I was reading through the editing notes on a draft and came to a passing reference I’d made to June Cleaver, next to which was scribbled the words “We need to ID.” I’ll admit I’d become pretty bull-headed about such requests by then, but this one had me completely dumbfounded. What exactly would that look like? “June Cleaver, fictional mother of Wally and the Beav on the popular 1950s television show Leave It To Beaver,…”? I mean, seriously. That’s when I knew I was defeated. In the end, I simply took out the reference.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe we’ve been doing you readers a disservice with sloppy blog posts that lack the specificity of: “At a town hall this morning, President Barack Obama, the forty-something 44th president of the United States, answered questions about…” If so, our bad.