Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
Have you ever wondered what fellow editors like to read? We have, too. In our interview series “By the Book,” we get the inside scoop on editors’ all-time favourite books, their top style guides, and what their alternate-universe careers would be.
Tell us about your current job as a freelancer, Tina, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.
I primarily edit books these days, though the first phase of my editing career was in magazines. For the last year, I’ve focused mainly on the substantive editing of cookbooks and health-and-nutrition books. I’ve also worked on a couple of health-oriented recipe books that have an element of crafting to them, such as a handmade soap book and a homemade herbal remedies book. The latter two combined some of my favourite skills, because I adore both words and crafts.
It’s probably not a little-known fact about me—because I yap about it all the time to my family, friends, and fellow crafters—but I love to knit and quilt. What’s quirky is my taste in projects. At the moment, I’m knitting a replica of the wicked Cowichan-style cardigan that Jeff Bridges wore in The Big Lebowski. My biggest coup, however, was a punctuation-themed quilt that a fellow editor and I made for another editor’s little boy. And I’m not afraid to toot my own horn: it was spectacular!
What is your all-time favourite book and why?
This is a little like asking someone to choose a favourite child or pet (though, luckily, pets don’t need therapy after they hear the answer). There are so many books that have suited different aspects of my personality or my psyche, and others that have come to me at particularly meaningful times in my life. If pressed very hard, I would say that the three I go back to most often are A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I love these books because all three authors have an incredible knack for weaving a narrative, making you feel like you know the characters intimately, and describing scenes and situations (Seth and Irving do it in exhaustive detail, while Lee uses words beautifully but economically). My only caution is to never read A Suitable Boy in bed when you’re sleepy—since it’s around 1,500 pages, you’ll get a concussion if you drop it on your head.
What is your favourite editing manual, style guide, or other book about editing/writing?
Again, this is a tough one to narrow down. In the style guide category, I love Words into Type, even though it’s been out of print forever. I find it offers more practical example sentences than many style guides. The AMA Manual of Style is also an excellent book, but it’s so specialized that it’s not broadly applicable. But it is clear and exhaustive, which is a great thing when you’re editing medical information that threatens to break your brain.
If you’re a writer or an editor, there are two books you should definitely indulge in: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. King writes so well on building your writing craft, and I love his unapologetic voice. He gives advice like a wonderful combination of gruff writing professor and drinking buddy; plus, a couple of his childhood stories made me laugh so hard I cried. Fadiman’s book, on the other hand, is, well, bookish. It’s a collection of essays on everyday life and how the love of reading, words, and books fits into it. It’s utterly charming and a fine piece of craftsmanship, with plenty of unfamiliar $10 words you’ll never be able to use at cocktail parties.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an editor and why?
I’ve talked with a couple of friends about opening up a combo sheep farm, wool shop, B&B, and craft-class retreat somewhere picturesque. Unfortunately, sheep aren’t cheap, and I’m pretty indoorsy, so I have a feeling I won’t ever live that fantasy life. I did teach ESL once upon a time, and I could see myself doing that if my editing and writing career hadn’t happened. I loved working with students from all over the world and seeing them blossom as their speaking and reading skills improved. I suppose that’s an option if the sheep farm doesn’t work out!
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Savanna Scott Leslie.