Thursday, December 18, 2008

Excuse me, Ivan, but I think you've got it wrong.

Editing the work of writers from other countries presents interesting challenges.

Sure, there is the inherent minefield of language errors. But the areas that have prompted the most author queries from me relate to the different culture, politics, history, and even anti-American orientation of the writers.

I recently edited a book by a Russian author and academic (working in the United States) on the closest presidential elections in U.S. history.

I more than earned my pay on the book, just in terms of the number of queries I posed to the author. Here are just two, directed at the following passages:

Conspiracy theories about the origins of September 11 and the Bush administration’s involvement in the terrorist acts are not plausible enough to consider them seriously here. What I wrote: "There are many who would disagree with your opinion. Please consider revision." What I felt like writing: "We here in the U.S. are not afraid to question the actions or authority of our political leaders."

Historically, the United States has a weak party system. What I wrote: "I believe that many readers of American history might reach a different conclusion." What I felt like writing: "Maybe our political parties don't have the power of the Communist Party, but they've served us well."

Editors have to exercise many forms of restraint, including the expression of judgments as well as personal politics and values.